By Scott Dryden –
The 2015 Buckeyes 12-1 season was capped off with a 44-28 victory over Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. In most seasons, 12-1 with a dominant 42-13 thrashing of rival Michigan and a major bowl victory would meet or even exceed expectations. However, an inexplicable November home loss to Michigan State put a damper on an otherwise successful 2015 campaign.
The 2016 Bucks will be missing some legendary faces. Twelve Buckeyes were selected in the 2016 NFL Draft (five in the first round). Despite the immense losses, the cupboard is far from bare.
Coaching Staff: Urban Meyer is one of the elite coaches in all of college football. His staff suffered few losses which will be key – especially on the offensive side of the ball. Ed Warinner will head to the press box to direct the offense. The unit struggled at times adjusting to life without former OC Tom Herman and no direct responsibility. On defense, the addition of former NFL Head Coach Greg Schiano should help stabilize a young secondary.
The straw that stirs the drink will once again be quarterback J.T. Barrett. The junior will not suffer from any quarterback controversy this season. He is the clear leader on offense and barring injury will be under center to start each contest. His running ability is lethal in Meyer’s spread power attack. His passing skills will need to improve if the Buckeyes are to contend for a National Championship. With that said, Barrett will no doubt be in contention for Big Ten Player of the Year and potentially the Heisman Trophy.
The running game will look much different. Ezekiel Elliott was one of the greatest to ever suit up at Ohio State. Redshirt freshman Mike Weber should carry most of the load. Look for versatile Curtis Samuel to be a big factor as well. True freshman Antonio Williams will see the field.
The wide receiver group lost a ton of talent but Noah Brown should help ease some of the pain. Brown, a projected starter in 2015, suffered a broken leg which forced him to miss the entire season. He is a big physical receiver that should be a big time end zone target. Originally recruited as a quarterback, the speedy/rangy Torrance Gibson will continue to develop. The experienced Corey Smith will likely start giving Barrett a solid deep threat. Will this be the season Dontre Wilson finally contributes? Keep an eye on freshman Austin Mack. Mack is a future star. The tight end may finally be a focal point with talented junior Marcus Baugh. The aforementioned Samuel will get plenty of work in the slot along with carries out of the back field.
The offensive line suffered some attrition but with some experience could once again be an elite unit. Junior Jamarco Jones will try to fill a huge void at left tackle while at left guard the competition for playing time will be intense. Sophomore Demetrius Knox will likely get the nod but fast charging freshman Michael Jordan will no doubt see the field. The center and right guard positions are in great shape with Pat Elflein and Billy Price. Both will likely be All-Big Ten selections. At right tackle, extremely talented sophomore Isaiah Prince should develop into an elite tackle.
The defensive line will not be the same without stalwart Joey Bosa. Bosa was an all-time great but fortunately for Ohio State, experienced veterans return along with yet another Bosa. Sophomore defensive end Sam Hubbard is athletic and versatile. He will bring the heat from the get go as will returning starter Tyquan Lewis. Jaylyn Holmes and true freshman Nick Bosa will see snaps. Inside, experienced juniors Michael Hill and Tracy Sprinkle will start. Redshirt freshmen Robert Landers and Davon Hamilton will get plenty of playing time. Landers could develop into an elite tackle before he leaves Columbus.
The linebacking unit will sorely miss Darron Lee and Joshua Perry. However, returning middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan is one of the best in the nation. Filling Lee and Perry’s positions will be juniors Dante Booker and Chris Worley. Both have been chomping at the bit for an opportunity. Youngsters Justin Hilliard and Jerome Baker will see action. Redshirt freshman Nick Conner will backup McMillan. Conner has the potential to be the next great Buckeye middle linebacker.
The secondary will be missing some familiar faces. However, Gareon Conley and the oft-injured Marshon Lattimore should play well. If not, plenty of depth resides at the position. Much ballyhooed Erick Smith could finally nail down the free safety position. If not, the talented Damon Webb will get the nod. At strong safety, Malik Hooker should get lock down the position but the competition for playing time will be intense throughout.
The 2016 slate will feature nine conference games. The Buckeyes will open at home on Sept. 3 against Bowling Green, then Tulsa on Sept. 10 followed by the much anticipated trip to Norman, Oklahoma. The prime time showdown versus the Sooners will not make or break the season but will be a great measuring tool. From there the conference season begins with a home date versus Rutgers on Oct. 1.
Key conference games include primetime road trips at Wisconsin and Penn State, then a two game slate that will make or break the season. Ohio State faces nemesis Michigan State in East Lansing on Nov. 19. No doubt there will be more at stake than just revenge. The regular season ends on Nov. 26 with “The Game” which will take place in Columbus. This season’s version has the potential to have everything at stake including a trip to the Big Ten title game in Indianapolis.
The Buckeyes certainly have a chance to reach the national semifinals despite youth in many key areas. It will be difficult to run the table with four very difficult road games on the schedule. The absurdity of the selection process makes an early loss less important which could benefit Ohio State. Expect the Buckeyes to have a great November on their way to the Big Ten Championship Game. From there a national championship is certainly a possibility.