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College Football Preview 2018: 8. Ohio State Buckeyes

8. Ohio State Buckeyes

Urban Meyer's future is completely unclear, but the Buckeyes' talent level keeps them afloat in the Big Ten East

Parris Campbell
Offense: For the first time since 2014, Ohio State will not have J.T. Barrett under center. There is no denying Barrett's ability to win in Columbus and he will be missed, but many Ohio State fans are actually excited about the prospect of a new signal-caller. Barrett left a little bit to be desired as a passer at times and was never incredibly consistent. The hope is sophomore Dwayne Haskins can learn quickly and showcase his astounding arm talent. Haskins did face some resistance for the starting job at first, but redshirt frosh Tate Martell is too raw, and veteran Joe Burrow transferred to LSU. He is not super experienced, but people have long raved about Haskins' talent, and he looked superb against Michigan a season ago.

With Haskins still learning and figuring things out, the Buckeyes should lean heavily on the ground game early and often. That could well be the strength of this entire team, as budding star J.K. Dobbins returns, along with rock-solid Mike Weber. Dobbins took advantage of Weber's ill health to have a booming arrival 2017's opener, notching 181 yards against Indiana. Dobbins finished with 1,403 yards on the season, and looked like he was just getting started. It isn't unreasonable to think he can become a serious Heisman favorite, especially if he improves his touchdown numbers (seven a year ago). Weber is no slouch either, with 626 yards and ten scores in '17, proving to be quite the force in short yardage situations. The combo should be the Big Ten's best and one of the most fearsome in the entire country, particularly if Weber stays healthy.

Ohio State is still searching for a clear No. 1 receiver entering 2018, but there are a good list of candidates. Junior K.J. Hill has emerged as a well-rounded wide out with plenty of upside, although he needs to get stronger and more aggressive. Junior Austin Mack and senior Terry McLaurin are two other receivers sure to get plenty of targets, with McLaurin really emerging as a deep threat down the stretch last year. Then, there is senior Parris Campbell who fill the H-back role, a spot resided for Urban Meyer's most explosive athletes (ahem, Percy Harvin) and a hybrid runningback/receiver role. Campbell had 584 yards receiving last season and averaged over 13 yards per carry. Tight end is a concern without a proven playmaker returning, but junior Rashod Berry looks like he is about ready to breakout.

The offensive line won't have things easy entering 2018 without their unquestioned leader, All-American Billy Price. With that being said, the Buckeyes should still be a formidable force in the trenches, with senior Isaiah Prince and junior Michael Jordan back. Jordan, in particular, looks like he has the most upside out of anybody in this talented group. Senior guard Demetrius Knox is another veteran blocker back with significant experience. 

Life without J.T. Barrett is going to be different, but Ohio State's offense should prove to be awfully potent in 2018. Haskins has the potential to be something special, although there will be some huge growing pains. That should only mean more reliance on a ground attack that will be among the best in the country. That is an awfully huge advantage to have for a team losing a four-year starter.

Defense: It was a weird off-season for Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano, who was set to become Tennessee's next head coach before a Twitter mob descended and essentially blocked the hire. It isn't a bad consolation prize for Schiano to return to Columbus and continue leading a Buckeyes defense stocked with future NFL talent. He will aided by the addition of co-DC Alex Grinch, who did a superb job leading Washington State's vastly improved defense the last few years.

Schiano and Grinch have the luxury of possessing one of college football's best defensive lines, which will constantly be causing chaos in opposing backfields. Junior end Nick Bosa is the big-time returnee to the group; the younger brother of former OSU star Joey, Nick won Big Ten Defensive Linemen of the Year in 2017 with 8.5 sacks and 16 TFL. Bosa will likely see constant double teams in '18, but he has the high motor and explosive first step to still be a major force. Up the middle, juniors Dre'Mont Jones and Robert Landers are slated to start at the tackle spots. Jones is a skilled pass rusher with significant upside, while Landers will keep the rush defense (which was sixth-best nationally a year ago) top-notch. Then, there is sophomore Chase Young, who is set to have a huge campaign. In very limited action last season, Young had 2.5 sacks and showed he could really pressure the quarterback. With Sam Hubbard off to the NFL, Young is now likely to start and he isn't dampening expectations, saying he expects himself to manage at least ten sacks. 

That D-Line will have to play well, because the linebacker situation is not very good. Sophomore middle linebacker Tuf Borland is the only player back with much experience, but suffered an Achilles injury in the spring and will miss a big chunk of time. Borland will be a pretty tough player to replace, as he had 58 tackles last season, but sophomore Baron Browning has shown flashes and should be able to lock down the MLB spot until Borland returns. Neither outside linebacker starting job is set in stone, although there is talent. Junior Malik Harrison has potential to evolve into a real dangerous edge rusher but is still learning, while sophomore Pete Werner looks like the favorite on the other side.

Ohio State has become a factory of defensive back talent over the last few seasons, with six defensive backs being taken in the last four NFL Drafts. Don't expect that trend to halt this season, as the Buckeyes are loaded with talent on the back-end. Juniors Jordan Fuller and Damon Arnette are the real veterans of the unit, with Arnette the No. 1 cornerback and Fuller starting at strong safety. Arnette will be joined by a cornerback group with experience and significant upside. Alabama transfer Kendall Sheffield is a talented veteran, but youngsters Shaun Wade or Jeffrey Okudah could start over him. Okudah in particular has OSU coaches very excited, as the sophomore already has proven his insane athleticism and impressive ball skills. 

Bringing in Grinch from Washington State was a huge get for Meyer and Ohio State. The 37-year-old is an innovative mind who specializes on the secondary, which should really help the immense talent there come out in full force. Add in the returns of Bosa, Jones, Young and a healthy Borland and this Buckeyes' defense shouldn't miss a beat from the unit that allowed just 19 PPG last season, 15th in the nation.

Special Teams: This is going to be a real strength for this Ohio State team, as they return their kicker and punter, along with a number of return weapons. Placekicker Sean Nuernberger was very important to get back for his senior season; he was 17 for 21 on field goals last year. Parris Campbell and Mike Weber are very dangerous on kick returns.

Prior to a couple weeks ago, Ohio State was my pick to win the Big Ten and be the representative from the conference in the Playoff. However, the Urban Meyer situation, which is still ongoing at the time of publishing, changes the narrative quite a bit. Even if Meyer is not removed from his post, the drama resulting from it could be quite a large distraction for this team, which already has a number of things they need to figure out. Taking a look at the Buckeyes' schedule is also pretty concerning. Ohio State will have a scary neutral site test with TCU in Arlington halfway through September, then must deal with road trips to Penn State and Michigan State once they start Big Ten play. It wouldn't surprise me if Meyer comes back with a vengeance, Dobbins becomes a Heisman favorite and Haskins is terrific, which would likely result in a great season. With that being said, there are just too many questions at this point for that to be the case. Right now, they look like a really talented team that should contend for the Playoff, but sits on the outside looking in.

Team Projections
Projected Record: 10-2 (7-2 Big Ten)
Offensive MVP: RB J.K. Dobbins
Defensive MVP: DE Nick Bosa
Breakout Player of the Year: DE Chase Young

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