The dark and gloomy time known as football off-season is only a handful of days from ending. With the end of this barren desert on the horizon, it’s time to take a look at some of the teams who will have an impact on college football this season.
Color me biased, but here’s a good way to make a quick buck: lay a few thousand on the over side of Vegas’s 8.5 win total for the Buckeyes. You know, the team that is a combined 26-2 with a national title and Fiesta Bowl win over the last two years? The team with four consecutive top-five finishes in 247sports.com’s recruiting class rankings?
I understand that people saw all the players Ohio State lost in the draft, and the fact they only return three starters on each side of the ball. But those same people forget that Urban Meyer, a coach with four straight 12-win seasons who has won 85 percent of his games as a college coach, is still at the helm of this team and he’s got a run of tremendous recruiting classes with him.
Let’s take a closer look.
Returning Starters: J.T. Barrett (quarterback), Pat Elflein (offensive guard), Billy Price (offensive guard)
Position Group Strength: Backfield
Taking snaps this year is the single-season touchdown record holder in the illustrious history of Ohio State football, one J.T. Barrett. J.T. may be the biggest single returning starter for Ohio State, a second-time captain and redshirt junior that could find his way into the Heisman Trophy conversation (he was 5th in 2014) and a true dual threat. There’s certainly no question mark for the Buckeyes at football’s premier position.
Behind Barrett there are some question marks though. Departing from Ohio State’s backfield is career 3,961 yard and 43 touchdown rusher Ezekiel (fondly known by Buckeyes everywhere as “Zeke”) Elliott.
To summarize, Weber has warranted comparisons to buckeye legend Carlos Hyde, and there were few players that earned better reviews from both buckeye head coach Urban Meyer and running backs coach Tony Alford.
Also looking to perhaps receive a few carries is redshirt senior Bri’Onte Dunn. Dunn only has 291 yards and a single touchdown career to his name, but a ton of experience living in the shadow of other scarlet and gray backs. Urban Meyer has even been quoted as saying that he and Weber are “neck and neck” though I believe El Guapo 2.0 wins in the end. But it is worth noting Bri’Onte has had tremendous improvement through a blue collar four and a half years and competition breeds success among players. I expect Dunn and Weber to push each other to the top.
The final spot to evaluate in the backfield is the famed hybrid H-back role, a player that acts as both a slot receiver and a back. Looking to fill this position are three different players for Ohio State.
There’s all-around freak of nature athlete Curtis Samuel, whose total yards from scrimmage over his career is at 899 with 9 touchdowns.
Even faster than him (recorded at under 4.40 in the forty-yard dash) is Dontre Wilson, who entering his redshirt junior year has yet to even come close to realizing his full potential.
And finally there is Noah Brown, a relatively unheard of redshirt sophomore. Noah broke his leg prior to 2015 and missed the entire season. He’s another Buckeye ready to smash free of the prison of the unknown.
The aforementioned Curtis Samuel even said the following in an interview with the Columbus Dispatch:
“Nobody had really seen what he could do, but Noah is a big-time player. He came in every day when players weren’t here, always working on his hands, always watching film. We knew he was going to have a big season. Him having that setback, it hurt us a little bit.”
Position group weakness: Receivers
Michael Thomas, Jalin Marshall, Ezekiel Elliott, Braxton Miller. The top four Ohio State players in terms of receptions last year.
They are also four players that will don an NFL jersey next season.
The Buckeyes may have one of the nation’s best at quarterback. The question is who he will throw to outside of the listed rushers and H-backs above. The run-away candidate for number 1 wide-out is the only player with anything resembling production. That player is redshirt senior and former JUCO transfer Corey Smith.
Before redshirting as a senior due to injury, Smith reeled in 20 catches for 255 yards in Ohio State’s 2014 national championship season, and with the positive reviews coming from the Buckeye circles, he looks to be the number one wide-out. But behind him is a wealth of players that are comparable to a freshly bought steak from the farmer’s market: a lot of potential, but still raw.
A number of players are in competition for receiver spot number two and three. Most of them are, as per the usual with the recruiting blitzkrieg Urban Meyer launches each season, former four stars. There’s junior Johnnie Dixon, a player with more hype coming into his sophomore season than Tim Tebow’s NFL career, but about as much pay-off as the leg issues that have plagued him for a long time now cost him another season of incredibly small production. But if he can get those injuries behind him, he will be something to watch: he’s a gamer with strong hands and playmaking ability.
There’s highly touted redshirt freshman K.J. Hill, a former Army all-American and late get in the class of 2015 that Urban and co. were incredibly excited about.
Junior Parris Campbell is a freak of nature athlete with good route running ability, but he struggled with dropped passes last year.
Junior Terry McLaurin is another to watch.
Urban Meyer gives all newcomers a black stripe that is placed on their helmet for the first practice. That stripe stays on every player’s helmet until Urban Meyer decides he’s fit to lose it, and officially become a part of the team. True freshman Austin Mack, the first Buckeye to lose his black stripe and officially become part of the team, has his chance to make an early impact for Ohio State this season.
Now, while receiver will be a fun competition to watch, tight end is redshirt junior Marcus Baugh’s spot to lose with the departure of NFL draftee Nick Vannett. He’s been primarily a blocker in the past. If he wants to be successful this season he’ll need to develop into a great pass catcher too. At 6’5” and 255 pounds, he has the potential to provide some major mismatches.
Returning Starters: Tyquan Lewis (defensive end), Raekwon McMillan (middle linebacker), Gareon Conley (cornerback)
Position group strength: Linebackers
Ask Wikipedia, Bleacher Report, or Pro Football Hall of Famer Mike Singletary and the 1985 Chicago Bears’ famed defense: the middle linebacker is the quarterback of the side without the football. And just like on offense, Ohio State has their unit leader covered like any number of receivers playing against Night Train Lane. Their stud is Raekwon McMillan.
The godzillian junior and former five-star McMillan registered 119 tackles last year (57 solo) and defended four passes on his way to a media selection as first-team All-Big Ten.
Someone next to “Kwon” will likely be Dante Booker, who was sub number one last year and came up with 22 tackles in seven games.
The number three spot is up for grabs, and is a race between three players primarily:
There’s Justin Hilliard, a former five-star and redshirt freshman with supreme athleticism.
Chris Worley, the veteran of the contending group as a redshirt junior with 28 tackles registered over his past two seasons sporting scarlet and gray colors.
And Jerome Baker, a true sophomore.
Position group Weakness: Defensive Line
Tyquan Lewis, Sam Hubbard, Nick Bosa, and Jalyn Holmes all should be stud defensive ends at Ohio State this year. That’s not the problem.
The problem is at defensive tackle.
Tommy Schutt, Adolphus Washington, Donovan Munger, and Joel Hale are all gone. That’s number one, two, three, and five on the depth chart.
Number four is an obvious starter in Michael Hill, but even he lacks experience with only eleven games played and 15 tackles on his career. The only four star at the position recruited in 2014, 2015, or 2016 is 2016 IMG stand-out Malik Barrow, who is a stud and could look for playing time as a freshman… though a knee injury could dampen his efforts. Of the 2015 three stars Da’Von Hamilton has seemed to look the best.
But I mentioned Nock Bosa earlier at defensive end. That’s right, he’s Joey’s younger brother. And some have speculated that the five-star Nick could be even better. And a player of that caliber can be deadly anywhere on the defensive line, including tackle.
It should shape up as a fun season in Columbus.
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