For the last nine years, there’s been one constant in the Big Ten: Ohio State football. Coaches changed, of course. And of course the players changed even more often, with many departing early for the NFL. All that change didn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things: the Buckeyes would only lose one or maybe two games a season, tops, and play in a New Years Six bowl game. (Twice making it to the national championship game.)
So even though Ohio State only has 11 returning starters in a season where pretty much every other team is able to bring back most everybody due to the COVID-19 eligibility rules, nearly every prognosticator picked Ohio State to win the Big Ten in 2021.
But then the season began. Minnesota led at halftime in the season opener, and while the Buckeyes eventually tamed the Gophers 45-31, the game was still in doubt late in the fourth quarter. Last weekend, Oregon never trailed in their 38-31 upset over Ohio State at the Horseshoe in Columbus. So at least for the time being, let’s not just assume that Ohio State is just going to simply roll through the Big Ten and into the College Football Playoff. They still might (after all, they are “The Ohio State” Buckeyes), but let’s wait until November for that.
One reason to question Ohio State in the offseason was replacing first round draft pick Justin Fields with freshman C.J. Stroud (6’3” 215 lbs.), who had never thrown a pass in a college game. Stroud’s 64% completion rate might be lower than Fields’ 70% last season, but it was good enough to win Big Ten freshman of the week honors the first two weeks of the season. Stroud’s mobility hasn’t been seen this season (eight carries for 10 yards), but he did have a 48 yard run in his only carry last season.
At running back, Master Teague (5’11” 226 lbs.) rushed for 540 yards and eight touchdowns last season, averaging 4.9 yards per carry. But Miyan Williams (5’8” 227 lbs.) has started both games, rushing for 202 yards on 23 carries with a 71 yard touchdown run against Minnesota. TreVeyon Henderson (5’10” 210 lbs.) is second with 69 yards on 11 carries this season. Teague has only rushed six times for 29 yards in the first two games.
The Buckeyes receiver corps features both second team All-Big Ten receivers returning this season. Chris Olave (6’1” 189 lbs.) and Garrett Wilson (6’0” 188 lbs.) totaled 729 and 723 yards respectively last season. This season, Olave has 16 catches for 243 yards while Wilson has 13 catches for 197 yards. Slot receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba (6’0” 197 lbs.) has nine catches in two games for 157 yards. Phil Steele calls this the top receiving group in the nation, and there’s no reason to question that.
Three starters return on the offensive line, led by first team All-Big Ten left tackle Thayer Munford (6’6” 321 lbs.). He’s joined by right tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere (6’5” 315 lbs.) and right guard Harry Miller (6’4” 315 lbs.) Left guard Paris Johnson (6’6” 315 lbs.) was the top offensive line recruit in the country in 2020.
Where Ohio State seems to be struggling the most in 2021 is on defense, giving up 69 points the first two weeks; only Alabama in the national championship game scored more points last season than this season’s Buckeye defense is giving up. They do return All-American defensive tackle Haskell Garrett (6’2” 300 lbs.) who started every game last season after getting shot in the face at the end of August. But aside from defensive end Zach Harrison (6’6” 268 lbs.), there’s no other returning starters in the front seven. This year’s starting linebackers Cody Simon (6’2” 232 lbs.), Tommy Eichenberg (6’2” 235 lbs.) and Teradja Mitchell (6’2” 235 lbs.) combined for 11 tackles last season. That’s an awful lot of inexperience up that probably will work it’s way out by the time they get to Lincoln in November.
Ohio State was supposed to return seven of their top eight defensive backs from last season, which should have been led by cornerback Sevyn Banks (6’1” 200 lbs.) who had 23 tackles last season with an interception and seven pass breakups. But despite dressing for both games, Banks hasn’t seen the field yet. Nickleback Marcus Williamson (5’10” 186 lbs.) actually is the Buckeyes leading returning tackler, though he’s only had one tackle thus far this season. Safety Josh Proctor (6’2” 195 lbs.) suffered a season-ending leg injury against Oregon; he was Ohio State’s third leading returning tackler from last season.
The Buckeyes certainly look to get things squared away over the next few weeks with games against Tulsa on Saturday and then Akron to close out September. Tulsa, if you remember, gave Oklahoma a bit of a scare in week one, but Akron has only won a single game the last two seasons. You know that Ohio State has plenty of talented players in the lineup, so it’s the inexperience that’s holding them back. That may be less of a factor by November when they get to Lincoln.
What happens when the Buckeyes come to Lincoln?
This poll is closed
Buckeyes will figure it all out...and blast the Big Red.
This isn’t a vintage Ohio State team, but that’s enough for a Nebraska victory.
Oh what the heck... I’m a homer. Nebraska figures things out faster than the Buckeyes.
Note: Yes, these previews were supposed to have been published in August...unfortunately, life/work happens, so these are running late...