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College Football Preview 2017-2018: 4. Ohio State Buckeyes

4. Ohio State Buckeyes

They'll be elite defensively, but can the offense keep up?

  • Location: Columbus, OH.
  • Conference: Big Ten (East)
  • Schedule
  • Roster
  • Coach: Urban Meyer (sixth year)
  • Last Years Record: 11-2 (8-1 Big Ten)
  • Bowl Result: Loss in Fiesta Bowl


Considering how much Ohio State lost prior to the 2016 season, it's hard to call last season a disappointment. The Buckeyes wound up 11-2, earning the program's second Playoff bid, and beating archival Michigan for the fifth straight time. However, Ohio State's two losses and the nature in which they lost really put cast a shadow on an overall successful season. The Buckeyes' loss to Penn State eliminated them from Big Ten Championship contention, while their 31-0 loss in the Playoff to eventual National Champ Clemson was overall embarrassing, and the first time ever that an Urban Meyer team has been shutout. That brutal loss should serve as motivation for a team that should be well equipped to win the conference in 2017 and do even more, behind the arm of a veteran quarterback and a deep, talented defense.

J.T. Barrett
Offense:  J.T. Barrett enters his final season in Columbus hoping to define a legacy as one of the best Ohio State quarterbacks ever. Barrett is just 1,166 yards away from becoming the leading passer in OSU history, and he has won plenty of big games for the Buckeyes. However, Barrett did have some rough patches throughout 2016, and his numbers do leave something to be desired (2,555 yards, 24 touchdowns). The veteran is a very accurate and precise passer and his running ability adds a dangerous element to this offense. But, he has struggled completing passes down the field and the Buckeyes' pass offense hasn't really been able to instill fear into opponents. Enter new offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson, the former Indiana head coach. Wilson led some impressive offenses while at Indiana, and he should work extensively with Barrett, looking to really open this offense up and attack down the field. If Wilson can work some magic, there is no reason why Barrett can't have a huge year and be in the mix for the Heisman. He will be joined in the backfield by sophomore tailback Mike Weber. Weber really impressed in his first season as starter, racking up 1,096 yards and nine touchdowns. Weber doesn't have the speed of past Ohio State running backs like Ezekiel Elliott or former teammate Curtis Samuel, but he's a hard-nosed runner with decent burst. He should only improve with another season of Big Ten football under his belt. Sophomore Demario McCall had 270 yards a season ago in limited action and will also be sure to get snaps along with newcomer J.K. Dobbins, who has wowed coaches in the spring and early fall camp. The biggest question on the Ohio State roster has to be on the outside, where the Buckeyes lack much experienced options at receiver. Their leading returning receiver is tight end Marcus Baugh, who is rock-solid, but not exactly a star, with 24 catches for 269 yards in 2016. The Buckeyes are hopeful H-back Parris Campbell can have a breakout campaign, after showing flashes of potential the past two seasons. The H-back spot (a hybrid running back/receiver role) has produced plenty of elite playmakers over the past few years, such as Samuel, Braxton Miller and more, and Campbell, a quick, versatile athlete should have no trouble being the next in line. Meyer and Wilson will also be hopeful somebody else emerges between the collection of junior Terry McLaurin, sophomore K.J. Hill and sophomore Binjimen Victor. None have seen very much action on the collegiate level, but there is certainly plenty of potential there. Baugh will be an important asset at that tight end spot; the sturdy veteran has solid hands and could evolve into a very dangerous red zone threat. On the offensive line, Ohio State will have to replace All-American Pat Elflein, a third-round Draft selection. Elflein was an absolute monster for the Buckeyes over the course of his career, and was really the leader of the unit. The good news is that nearly everybody else is back on the O-Line, and there should be no shortage of experience. Senior Billy Price is expected to shift from the guard spot he normally plays to take over Elflein's center position. It should be a slight adjustment but the reigning All-American should still have a fabulous final season in Columbus. The tackle spots should be especially strong; left tackle Jamarco James earned All-Big Ten honors a year ago and will protect Barrett's blindside, while right tackle Isaiah Prince has NFL size (6'7", 310 pounds) and plays with tenacity. Depth is no concern either, with names like Malcolm Pridgeon, a former junior college transfer, and Demetrius Knox, who has appeared in 15 games over the last two years, sure to help out in reserve roles.

Nick Bosa
Defense: Despite the fact the defense has been absolutely raided by the NFL over the past few seasons, Ohio State still boasts one of the most talented defenses in the country, and one that is especially strong up front. You could easily make the case Ohio State has the most defensive line in all of the land, with four returning starters and impressive young talent. Junior defensive end Sam Hubbard and senior Tyquan Lewis pressure opponents off the edge, and both do it very well. Hubbard has had 16 tackles for loss the last two seasons and gets in the face of quarterbacks with his long, 6'5" frame, while Lewis led the Buckeyes in sacks in 2016, finishing with eight (he also earned Big Ten Defensive Linemen of the Year honors). Up the middle, Ohio State features senior tackle Michael Hill and impressive youngster Dre'Mont Jones. Jones was a huge playmaker on defense for OSU last season, with 52 tackles. Hill doesn't play a very flashy game, but finds a way to make an impact and knows the system. Expect to also see senior Jalyn Holmes and sophomore Nick Bosa feature in aplenty this year. Holmes is a proven pass rusher, while Bosa is well on his way to becoming an absolute star. The younger brother of former OSU star end Joey, Nick had five sacks in his true freshman campaign, and showed flashes of dominance. If he can improve even more, he will be an All-Conference linemen without a doubt. Ohio State will miss leading tackler Raekwon McMillan in the linebacker corps, but returns plenty of experience there as well. Junior Jerome Baker and senior Chris Worley both are well-built linebackers that make plays. Both are players that can really execute in run support or pass coverage, giving this defense a ton of versatility. Senior Dante Booker is expected to take over a starting role with the absence of McMillan, and the veteran seems to have the playmaking abilities necessary to make a real impact right away. The Buckeyes' secondary has been the unit hit the most with early NFL departures as a long list of elite defensive backs have moved on over the past two years: Malik Hooker, Marshon Lattimore, Gareon Conley, Eli Apple and Vonn Bell to name a few. Conley and Lattimore's departures will leave Ohio State searching for two new cornerbacks. Expectations are high for newcomer Kendall Sheffield, who began his career at Alabama. Sheffield did show potential with the Tide but ultimately was forced out and played junior college last year. Coming from a place like Alabama, Sheffield shouldn't be intimidated at all by the physicality of the Big Ten and should be able to contribute quickly. Sophomore Damion Arnette and junior Denzel Ward are also expected to see snaps at corner, with neither very experienced. Arnette looked great over the spring and may have some real potential at the position. Safety Malik Hooker's departure really hurts, as the interception machine (finished 2016 with seven INTs) was outstanding. Senior Damon Webb doesn't have Hooker's game-changing abilities but is a smart, reliable defensive back who had 57 tackles a season ago. Replacing Hooker will be a tough ordeal, and the Buckeyes may turn to a committee approach early on. Sophomore Jordan Fuller is very good but could be pushed by newcomer Isaiah Pryor and others.

Special Teams: Ohio State's special teams was frighteningly inconsistent throughout 2016, and if needs to improve this season. Kicker is overseeing a competition between former starter Sean Nuemberger and newcomer Blake Haubeil. Nuemberger saw a ton of action in 2014 and 2015 but redshirted last year, while Haubeil is considered one of the best placekicker recruits in the country. At punter, redshirt freshman Drue Chrisman is expected to replace big-legged Cameron Johnston.

In terms of pure talent and depth throughout their roster, few teams can compete with Ohio State. Four and five-star recruits are always ready to step up, and ready to take over for some of the big NFL departures that would cause other teams problems. That should hopefully solve some of the questions the team still has about its pass defense and in the receivers corps. If OSU can mitigate those problems, and get a resurgent year from Barrett, there is no doubt Ohio State will be able to return to the Playoff, and snatch up their first Big Ten title since 2014.

Player to Watch
Parris Campbell, RB/WR
With Curtis Samuel departing, Ohio State is looking for a new versatile offensive weapon to handle the H-back duties of the offense, and Campbell seems like an ideal fit. Campbell is incredibly quick and agile, and always a threat to break something deep. New OC Kevin Wilson will be creative with how he gets Campbell the ball and let him run.

Five-Year Trend
2012: 12-0 (8-0 Big Ten)
2013: 12-2 (8-1 Big Ten)*
2014: 14-1 (9-0 Big Ten)*
2015: 12-1 (7-1 Big Ten)*
2016: 11-2 (8-1 Big Ten)*

*= Bowl appearance

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