Prior to Brett McMurphy’s blockbuster reporting of Ohio State receivers coach Zach Smith’s marital issues, the Buckeyes looked like a safe bet to win the Big Ten East division, advance to Indy and probably then the College Football Playoff. Now all of that talk is secondary to the ongoing investigation about what head coach Urban Meyer knew, when he knew it and what, if anything, he did about the situation. Until Ohio State’s investigation is completed, Meyer remains suspended and the future of the football program is now cloudy for the second time this decade. Will Meyer coach this team this season, or even ever again?
That uncertainty isn’t apparent looking at the football team’s prospects, at least prior to the scandal breaking just prior to Big Ten media days. Ohio State looks loaded, especially on offense. Yes, there are a few on-the-field questions, but knowing Urban Meyer and his recruiting, you have to assume there are football solutions waiting in the wings.
Start at quarterback. Replacing a four-year starter in J.T. Barrett won’t be easy, but since it’s Ohio State, there’s no end of options. Even considering that Joe Burrow transferred to LSU this summer. The heir apparent is sophomore Dwayne Haskins (6’3” 214 lbs.), the hero of last year’s Michigan game. Trailing 20-14 when Barrett left the game with an injury, Haskins came in to complete six of seven passes for 94 yards and rushed three times for 24 yards to lead the Buckeyes to a 31-20 victory. For the season, Haskins completed 70% of his passes for 565 yards, four touchdowns and one interception, and averaged 3.6 yards per carry on 24 carries. A pro-style quarterback, he proved he could make plays with his legs last season. Redshirt freshman Tate Martell (5’11” 205 lbs.), a former Gatorade national player of the year awardee in high school will back him up.
Most teams would be excited to have a returning all-conference running back; Ohio State has TWO. Sophomore J.K Dobbins (5’10” 208 lbs.) rushed for 1,403 yards and seven touchdowns as a true freshman last season, earning him second team all-Big Ten honors last season as a true freshman. Dobbins opportunity was the result of a summertime hamstring injury to junior Mike Weber (5’10” 214 lbs.), who was limited to 626 yards and a mere ten touchdowns last season. As a freshman in 2016, Weber earned second team all-Big Ten honors, rushing for 1,096 yards and nine touchdowns, averaging 6.0 yards per carry. There might not be a better running back duo in the country this season.
Eight of Ohio State’s top nine receivers back, and that’s huge for transitioning to a new quarterback. Senior H-back Parris Campbell (6’1” 208 lbs.) led the Buckeyes with 584 yards receiving. In Ohio State’s offensive scheme, the H-back is a hybrid running back/receiver that will be similar to the Duck-R position that Scott Frost will be implementing at Nebraska. Campbell averaged 13.2 yards per carry on 10 carries last season. And then you get to the rest of the Buckeye receivers, seven of whom had at least 17 catches in 2017. Junior K.J. Hill (6’0” 198 lbs.) caught 56 passes for 549 yards and three touchdowns, senior Terry McLaurin (6’1” 204 lb) caught 29 passes for 436 yards and six scores while senior Johnnie Dixon (5’11” 195 lbs) only caught 18 passes for 422 yards and eight touchdowns. Junior Binjimen Victor (6’4” 200 lbs.) caught 23 passes for 349 yards and seven touchdowns and junior Austin Mack (6’2” 215 lbs.) caught 24 passes for 343 yards and two touchdowns. One word to describe the Ohio State receiver corps? YIKES.
Ohio State does need to replace a couple of NFL draft picks on the offensive line, but do return two other honorees from last season. Junior left guard Michael Jordan (6’7” 310 lbs.) is a two-year starter and was first team all-Big Ten as a sophomore. Senior right tackle Isaiah Prince (6’7” 310 lbs.) also has started the last two seasons and was third team all-Big Ten last season. Senior right guard Demetrius Knox (6’4” 308 lbs.) started the last eight games last season and has played extensively since his freshman season. While this line might not be quite as strong as last season, knowing the Buckeyes’ talent level, you can’t expect much of a dropoff.
Most of the season, Ohio State was solid defensively. Yes, Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield hung 31 on them, and Penn State maximized their opportunities in scoring 38, but otherwise, they were solid. Well, then there was that 55 point ass-kicking back behind the outhouse by the Iowa Hawkeyes. (Seriously?) Even factoring in those front-end-alignment-wrecking bumps in the road, Ohio State still remained in the upper third of the Big Ten in just about every defensive category. Only five starters return on defense, though, led by junior defensive end Nick Bosa (6’4” 263 lbs.) The All-American led the Buckeyes as a sophomore with 8.5 sacks (second in the Big Ten) and 16 total tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Junior defensive tackle Dre’mont Jones (6’3” 290 lbs) is a two year starter who earned third team all-Big Ten honors last season. Sophomore defensive end Chase Young (6’5” 265 lbs.) had six tackles behind the line of scrimmage as a true freshman last season; look for him to put up bigger numbers as a starter this season.
Sophomore middle linebacker Tuf Borland (6’1” 239 lbs.; doesn’t that name sound like a linebacker?) is the only returning starter for the Buckeyes in the linebacking corps. Borland started eight games last season with 58 tackles, 3.5 for a loss. An Achilles injury kept him out of spring practice, but he’s expected to be ready to go this fall. Junior Malik Harrison (6’3” 240 lbs.) started one game last season, but played in all 14 with 36 tackles; he’s expected to start at strongside linebacker. Sophomore Baron Browning (6’4” 238 lbs.) is expected to be the weakside linebacker after a 14 tackle true freshman season.
Junior safety Jordan Fuller (6’2” 207 lbs.) is Ohio State’s leading returning tackler from last season with 70 tackles, earning him third-team all-Big Ten honors. Both Fuller and junior cornerback Damon Arnette (6’0” 195 lbs.) intercepted two passes each last week; Arnette is Ohio State’s third leading returning tackler with 44 last season. Arnette’s eight pass breakups last season trailed only junior Kendall Sheffield (6’0” 193 lbs.), who had nine as reserve.
Up until former wide receivers coach Zach Smith’s marital issues became the lead story on SportsCenter, Ohio State looked like a squad with the cruise control set on Interstate 70 heading for Indianapolis. What few holes on the roster have plenty of blue-chip options to fill them, which would make the Buckeyes the clear favorite to win the Big Ten. However, the uncertainty of when or if Urban Meyer will return as head coach can be nothing but a distraction.
What happens when the Huskers return to the Horseshoe in November?
This poll is closed
Urban Meyer is back on the sidelines, and Ohio State disembowels the Big Red yet again. Sigh.
Not sure who’s in charge in Columbus, but it doesn’t really matter. The game is closer, but Ohio State still wins.
The ongoing scandal makes what was previously unthinkable possible; the resurgent Huskers pull off the upset of the Buckeyes.