We are back again with another Way Too Early Preview, and this time we are looking at the team who many of you know as my favorite college football team. Yes, THE Ohio State Buckeyes (I realize some you will stop reading there. No, I do not care.). Ohio State made it to the College Football National Championship after beating Clemson in the Sugar Bowl and winning the Big Ten. Ryan Day heads into year three and will be looking for a new quarterback as well as needing to replace a couple key players. Let’s dive into it.
Quarterback: This will be the most talked about position this off season for Ohio State because of the departure of Justin Fields. Fields was a Heisman finalist and the Big Ten’s offensive player of the year during his tenure as a Buckeye. Behind him there will be a three way battle between C.J. Stroud, Jack Miller and Kyle McCord. Stroud and Miller both saw snaps in mop up duty in 2020 but neither threw a pass. McCord will step on campus this winter and enter the competition. Currently, the odds on favorite is Stroud who was a five star QB in the 2020 class. McCord was also a five star in the 2021 class so do not count out the freshman. No matter who wins, they have talent at the position, just a massive lack of experience.
Running Back: Trey Sermon transferred into Ohio State and then entered the record books breaking Eddie George’s single game rushing record in the Big Ten Title game. With him leaving for the NFL, there are a few candidates to replace him. Master Teague had moments where he looked the part, and then times where he struggled to help move the chains. He averaged less than 5 yards per carry while others competing with him average well over that mark. Next in line could be Miyan Williams. He showed big play ability in the Big Ten Title game and the Sugar Bowl. Marcus Crowley and Steele Chambers will also be involved in the competition. Lastly is true freshman TreVeyon Henderson. He is the highest rated running back since Beanie Wells and should push for snaps early in his career.
Wide Receiver: Ryan Day was the recipient of great news when he found out Chris Olave was going to return for his senior year. Olave was expected to be a late first round or early second pick and chose to return to school. He played in just seven games and had over 700 yards receiving. Opposite of Olave is Garrett Wilson who may be more talented than Olave. The duo could very well be the best combination of wide receivers in college football next year. Ohio State has depth at receiver as well. Jameson Williams, Julian Fleming, and Jaxon Smith-Njigba all saw considerable playing time this fall and should improve before the 2021 season. Ohio State also adds the number one wide receiver in the 2021 class in Emeka Egbuka. Brian Hartline is arguably the best wide receiver coach in America.
Tight End: Ohio State loses their starting tight end in Luke Farrell but lucky for them, Jeremy Ruckert returns and he is more of threat in the passing game. Farrell was a very good blocker and was an asset in the run game. Ohio State tends to rotate tight ends so Cade Stover and Joe Royer are expected to step into roles where they will be the second tight end on the field. Tight ends tend to be a safety net for young quarterbacks, so I expect Ruckert to see an uptick in his targets in 2021.
Offensive Line: The Buckeyes will be looking to replace two offensive linemen. Both Wyatt Davis and Josh Myers declared for the NFL Draft. Offensive tackles, Nicholas Petit-Frere and Thayer Munford, are returning for one more season after strong seasons allowing almost no pressure. Harry Miller is expected to move from guard to center to replace Myers. At guard, former five star Paris Johnson will compete for one of the positions. Enokk Vimahi, Matt Jones, and Dawand Jones are also expected to compete for the starting positions. Matt Jones started for Harry Miller in a few games including the Sugar Bowl and National Championship.
Defensive Line: The heart of the defense was defensive end Jonathon Cooper. He has moved onto the NFL as has DT Tommy Togiai. The Buckeyes did get good news with DE Tyreke Smith and DT Haskell Garrett declaring their intentions to return. At end, Zach Harrison, Tyler Friday, Javontae Jean-Baptiste, and Smith will rotate. Incoming freshman and five star defensive end Jack Sawyer should also contend for playing time. Along with Garrett, Jerron Cage, Taron Vincent and Antwaun Jackson will control the interior of the defensive line.
Linebackers: Ohio State used numerous linebackers last season but the core four consisted of Justin Hilliard, Tuf Borland, Pete Werner, and Baron Browning. All of them are off to the NFL Draft so Ryan Day will be looking for new linebackers this year. Teradja Mitchell, Dallas Gant, and K’Vaughn Pope appear to be the first in line to get a shot at starting. Following them will be Cody Simon, Craig Young, and Tommy Eichenberg. Linebacker coach, Al Washington, will have his work cut out for him this off season.
Defensive Backs: Shaun Wade declared for the NFL draft after many considered it to be an underwhelming season. The Buckeyes return the rest of their defensive backs. Sevyn Banks started for a majority of the season after Cam Brown went down with an ACL injury. Both should be in line to start at outside corners. Marcus Williamson was the slot corner and should hold down that spot next year. Ryan Watts, Tyreke Johnson, Lathan Ransom, and Lejond Cavazos are a few names to watch out for at corner. At safety, the Buckeyes switched between Marcus Hooker and Josh Proctor. Proctor ended the season starting and should start again next fall. Hooker will rotate in when two safeties are needed as well as Ronnie Hickman and Ransom. Freshman Kourt Williams could work his way into the rotation as well after tearing his ACL prior to the year.
Special Teams: Ohio State will be replacing both their punter and kicker. Blake Haubeil started at kicker but missed a few games this season and Jake Seibert filled in nicely for him. Seibert made all of his extra points and went 1 for 2 on field goals. At punter, replacing Drue Chrisman will be a tall task. Walk-on Zach Hoover filled in during the Big Ten title game and was named special teams player of the game. Day also brought in an Australian named Jesse Mirco who will compete for the position.
Analysis: Ohio State has needs they have to fill this spring in quarterback, running back, offensive line and linebacker. Finding a quarterback could be the hardest part because Day needs to make the right choice. I would not expect him to name a starter until near the first game this fall. The starter will not need to play lights out for them to win the Big Ten, but they have to be above average. Having weapons such as Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson will make the quarterback’s job that much easier. With a full spring, I expect Day to have his team ready to play this fall. I have the Buckeyes going 11-1 and making the Big Ten title game this season. I cannot point out the exact loss, but I think having a young quarterback could cause a potential upset during the year.