Develop or Disappoint. That is the mandate for the Ohio State coaching staff this offseason as they prepare for the 2023 campaign. For various reasons — transfers, the NFL draft, coaching decisions, recruiting misses — the 2023 season hinges on a bunch of young players seeing the first significant playing time of their Ohio State careers.
C.J. Stroud is off to the NFL Draft, as are Paris Johnson Jr., Luke Wypler, and Dawand Jones. On defense, there was also a mass exodus as a senior-laden defensive line — led by Zach Harrison — either ran out of eligibility or took their talents to the NFL. For the first time in a long time, Ohio State does not have a stable of upperclassmen waiting in the wings to step in and take over from the next crop of NFL players leaving the program.
Instead, the Buckeyes will have to rely heavily on the 2021 and 2022 recruiting classes in order to try and recapture the Big Ten, beat Michigan, and win a national championship. Looking at the roster for the 2023 season, 15 of the 24 enrollees from the 2021 class will be starters or be heavily involved in the game plan for the Buckeyes.
On offense, Kyle McCord is looking to secure the starting quarterback job, while TreVeyon Henderson, Emeka Egbuka, and Marvin Harrison Jr. are returning starters. Evan Pryror is bouncing back from injury, and Jayden Ballard is fighting his way on the field, making it hard for Brian Hartline to keep him on the sideline.
On the offensive line, Donovan Jackson is the starting right guard. Zen Michalski is in competition for the starting right tackle job and, at a minimum, will be the sixth or seventh offensive lineman in the rotation.
As juniors, it may be expected for the 2021 class to step in to fill the gaps, however, many of these players have already played significant snaps or held down starting jobs as true sophomores. The 2022 class will need to step up with Carson Hinzman and Tegra Tshobola in competitions at center and right tackle, respectively. Devin Brown is competing with McCord for the QB spot, and after finishing the season strong, Dallan Hayden will need to get carries this season.
Lastly, Kaleb Brown, Kojo Antwi, Caleb Burton, and Kyion Grayes are all fighting to see the field behind the WR trio of Harrison, Egbuka, and Fleming.
On defense, J.T. Tuimoloau, Jack Sawyer, and Mike Hall are almost certainly to be starters, and Tyliek Williams will likely be heavy in the rotation as well. They will be among the elder statesmen of the room as members of the 2021 recruiting class. Senior Ty Hamilton is also going to contend for a starting tackle position.
Their recruiting classmates Jordan Hancock and Denzel Burke, along with 2022’s Jyaire Brown, are in a competition to be the starting cornerbacks. While not an original member of the Buckeyes 2022 class, Ole Miss transfer Davison Igbinosun is fighting for the starting CB spot this spring.
The 2022 class features heavily on the defensive side of the ball, especially in the two-deep, as Caden Curry and Kenyatta Jackson will be backup defensive ends, and Hero Kanu may have to step up to fill a gap at defensive tackle. Safeties coach Perry Eliano has talked about creating a package for Sonny Styles, and Kye Stokes will feature as the backup adjustor.
Overall 15 out of the 21 commits from the 2022 class will either be starters or on the two-deep for the 2023 season. This list doesn’t include C.J. Hicks, a five-star linebacker who has not worked himself into a starting spot yet, but will probably work his way into the two-deep before the season ends — if not before it begins.
Ohio State will count on 30 out of the 45 players in the 2021 and 2022 classes to play significant snaps this season. This is not ideal; Ohio State is paying the consequences for employing coaches who could not recruit or develop talent leading to a bunch of transfers and a roster full of players who can not play at this level.
This puts major pressure on the coaching staff as they need to develop these young guys or risk a season of disappointment. Ohio State has the star power at running back, wide receiver, linebacker, and defensive line to compete for a national championship, but much of its success will depend on two second-year players on the offensive line and a second or third-year quarterback with less than 60 total passing attempts combined in their careers.
On the defensive side of the ball, despite the age, many players are going into their third year as starters, but the depth behind them is all young guys.
Despite the lack of experience, Ohio State is in the enviable position of having to compete for a national championship this season. Ryan Day cannot lose three games in a row to Michigan or go three-straight seasons without winning the Big Ten Championship.
Develop or disappoint; there is no other way to live. The mistakes of the past always come back to hurt you, and though the current staff has done a good job on the recruiting trail, those recruits no longer have the luxury of developing slowly, as they will have to turn into stars if Ohio State wants to reach its goals in the 2023 season.
The coaches must develop these young players into the class of the Big Ten or risk disappointing the fanbase and potentially losing their jobs. No Pressure.