By Urban Meyer standards, 2016 was a really bad year. In fact, it was Meyer’s worst season at Ohio State. No Big Ten championship game (thanks to a loss to Penn State), and then Zero Dark Thirty-One on New Year’s Eve. Never before had an Urban Meyer team been shut out, but Clemson did it in the Fiesta Bowl playoff semifinal.
Much of the blame for that pratfall went on the Buckeye’s offense, though credit should go to Clemson’s outstanding defense. Meyer’s response was to snag former Indiana head coach Kevin Wilson as his new offensive coordinator. Wilson left Indiana in December due to concerns about how injured players were treated. While there may be questions about Wilson’s treatment of players, there’s no question about the results Wilson gets on the field. His offenses at Oklahoma (where he was the offensive coordinator from 2002-2010) and Indiana were always potent.
Senior quarterback J.T. Barrett (6’2” 220 lbs.) returns for his final season in what has been an illustrious career. Barrett finished fifth in the Heisman balloting as a freshman and was first team all-Big Ten last season. Last season, he completed 61.5% of his passes for 2,555 yards, 24 touchdowns and just seven interceptions. He also rushed for 845 yards and nine touchdowns, averaging 4.1 yards per carry. Sophomore Joe Burrow (6’3” 215 lbs.), son of former Husker defensive back and graduate assistant Jimmy Burrow, completed 22 of 28 passes for 226 yards as a backup.
Sophomore Mike Weber (5’10” 214 lbs.) returns after rushing for 1,096 yards and nine touchdowns, earning him second team all-Big Ten honors as a freshman. Replacing All-American slotback Curtis Samuel would be difficult for most programs...but Urban Meyer simply can plug in true freshman JK Dobbins (5’10” 208 lbs.), who enrolled this spring and impressed.
Ohio State’s top three receivers from last season depart, leaving senior tight end Marcus Baugh (6’5” 250 lbs.) as the leading returning receiver (24 catches for 269 yards and two touchdowns). But since it’s Ohio State, you can simply assume that there’s a pretty good prospect waiting in the wings to take over. Right now, it looks like sophomore Binjimen Victor (6’4” 195 lbs) and junior Terry McLaurin (6’1” 204 lbs.), who combined for 15 catches for 208 yards and three touchdowns last season. True freshman Trevon Grimes (6’4” 202 lbs.) could also get a look as well.
Four starters return on the offensive line, though Ohio State will need to replace all-American center Pat Elflein. The plan is to slide second team all-American right guard Billy Price (6’4” 312 lbs.) over to center. Senior left tackle Jamarco Jones (6’5” 310 lbs.) was second team all-Big Ten last season, and sophomore left guard Michael Jordan (6’7” 310 lbs.) started the entire season as a true freshman.
Last season, Ohio State only returned three starters on defense; that uncertainty lit a glimmer of hope that if the Buckeyes struggled, Nebraska might be able to pull off an upset in Columbus. Well, that glimmer actually turned out to be the headlights on a oncoming freight train. And this year, seven cars from that freight train return, including six of the front seven. Senior defensive end Tyquan Lewis (6’4” 265 lbs.) turned down the NFL after earning Big Ten defensive lineman of the year honors last season. The team leader in quarterback sacks the last two seasons, he’ll probably end up in the top five all time at Ohio State this season
The guy they’ll miss is all-American linebacker Raekwon McMillan. Junior weakside linebacker Jerome Baker (6’1” 225 lbs) is the Buckeyes leading returning tackler with 83 last season. He replaced senior Dante Booker (6’3” 240 lbs.) after Booker suffered an knee injury in the season opener. This season, Booker slides over to the strong side, with senior Chris Worley (6’2” 240 lbs.) sliding into the middle to replace McMillan.
The secondary is the big question mark for the Buckeyes defense, thanks to three starters declaring early for the NFL Draft. It’s hard to argue with that when all three were drafted in the first round. The sole returnee is senior safety Damon Webb (5’11” 195 lbs.) who had 57 tackles last season. Sophomore cornerback Kendall Sheffield (6’0” 183 lbs.) might be one to take advantage; the five star Alabama recruit transferred to a junior college last season then joined the Buckeyes this spring.
Last year, Ohio State only had six returning starters...and still managed to finish 11-2 and make the College Football Playoff. This year, the Buckeyes have 15 returning starters, and are pretty much consensus favorites to win the Big Ten’s east division in 2017. Last year, the uncertainty about Ohio State were enough to give me some real optimism for an upset bid; this year, not so much.
What’s your prediction when Ohio State returns to Memorial Stadium?
This poll is closed
Ohio State is still Ohio State, but Nebraska still isn’t quite Nebraska. This one gets ugly, folks.
It’s a valiant effort by the Huskers, but the Buckeyes win a close one in the end.
Shades of Joe Bauserman as the Huskers pull off the upset at home.
A dysentery epidemic decimates the Buckeyes roster, who finish the game with seven walkons on offense. Huskers roll unexpectedly.