The Ohio State Buckeyes continued to make history last season. After all, they were the first team to not win their division and make the College Football Playoff.
It didn’t end well, as the Buckeyes were dropped hard by the Clemson Tigers in the College Football Playoff semi-final. You know, something about a 31-0 loss.
However, that was last year and the 2017 Buckeyes are certainly going to look a lot different thanks to graduation and players once again leaving early. There are also changes on the coaching staff in the hopes of re-sparking a sputtering offense and to give more control to one person on defense.
Can the Buckeyes get back to winning Big Ten titles and play for another national championship? Spring ball is going to go a long way in telling us the answers.
Spring Football Start Date: March 7
Spring Football Game: April 15
Key Players Lost: Noah Brown, WR; Corey Smith, WR; Pat Elflien, C; Curtis Samuel, H-Back; Raekwon McMillan, LB; Marcus Lattimore, CB; Gareon Conley, CB; Malik Hooker, S;
Key Players Returning: J.T. Barrett, QB; Mike Weber, RB; KJ Hill, WR; Jamarco Jones, LT; Billy Price, RG; Sam Hubbard, DE; Tyquan Lewis, DE; Chris Worley, LB; Damon Webb, S
Offensive To-Do List:
— Get Comfortable With Kevin Wilson: Yes, that Kevin Wilson…formerly of the Indiana Hoosiers. He returned to the sideline quickly as the offensive coordinator for the Buckeyes and opposing Big Ten defenses have to be shaking at the thought of Wilson getting to work with top talent once again.
It is no coincidence that Oklahoma was at its best with Wilson at the helm of its offense, but just how quickly can Wilson and a veteran offense get on the same page? That is especially true at the quarterback position, where J.T. Barrett seems to have hit a ceiling.
Can new blood at the top of the offensive coaching staff help change that? Will Wilson’s scary ability to get the most out of the passing and rushing games show through? Spring ball needs to showcase changes if we’re to be confident that OSU can become the scary-good offense it once was.
— Find Big-Play Receivers: Explosive plays are the name of the game in Kevin Wilson’s offense. Ohio State certainly lacked them in the passing game last season, having just seven receptions of 20-plus yards. That wasn’t good and neither was the news of Curtis Samuel and Noah Brown — the only two big play threats in the passing game — were off to the NFL early.
Is K.J. Hill, who eventually started as redshirt freshman, ready to be a big play receiver? What we do know is it is put up or shut up time for juniors Paris Campbell and Terry McLaurin. Hill will be moving to H-back in this offense, so look for another player to have to step up in the receiving game.
Perhaps the best battle to watch at receiver this spring will be the one between Binjimen Victor and Alex Mack at X-receiver. Both have flashed early in their careers, but need to step up after being big-time recruits coming out of high school.
— Get Barrett Back on Track: One of the more interesting coaching moves for the Buckeyes this offseason was the hire of Ryan Day out of the NFL to become co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Most assumed that would be Wilson’s role given his previous work at the position.
Instead it was an outside hire for the QB position, and it is a critical time at QB1 for senior J.T. Barrett. Much was expected of him last season as he had firm control on the starting job, but he failed to power this offense the way many believed he was going to do before the season. He completed just 61.5 percent of his passes for 2,555 yards and 24 touchdowns to seven interceptions.
No doubt the numbers weren’t terrible, but they were all down from his career high numbers of his freshman season at OSU. Can a coaching change at the position help reinvigorate Barrett and take his game to the next level?
Saying it is make-or-break for Barrett this spring may be a bit much, but there are a ton of talented quarterbacks behind him. If one or two of them push Barrett hard in spring ball, it could be time to really watch for a battle heading in to fall camp.
Defensive To-Do List:
— Find Chemistry: One thing that there is no substitute for in sports is chemistry. Having it can be as key to winning championships as having the best talent is. With Ohio State having to replace three-quarters of its secondary and its unquestioned leader, middle linebacker Raekwon McMillian, chemistry certainly is a question mark for this team.
Who steps up to take the vocal and experienced leadership role that McMillan had? Could that be the four returning starters up front or a name like fellow linebacker Chris Worley?
Additionally, OSU needs to find a chemistry that works in the defensive backfield in a big way. While position battles and the depth chart may not be settled, find a group of four or five players that can play well with each other coming out of spring would be huge for the Buckeyes’ defense.
— Stay Healthy: If there is a strength to the Buckeyes on paper heading in to this spring it is the defense. Part of that is the fact that they are completely loaded on the defensive line and have arguably the top four defensive ends in the conference on the same roster.
Keeping that kind of talent and depth healthy and away from any major injuries is going to be very helpful to the cause come the fall. Let’s see if OSU’s defense can avoid the injury bug during spring ball.