Big Ten Spring Football Preview: Ohio State Buckeyes
They are turning the page in Columbus as the J.T. Barrett era ends and a new quarterback takes over. It’s a fascinating time for a program that sets the tenor and tone of the Big Ten.
The Urban Meyer era has been pretty darn good with Barrett at the helm, winning the 2014 national title, making the playoffs on another occasion and winning two Big Ten titles. Last year was spectacular as the Buckeyes won the Big Ten title and capped a 12-win season with a victory over USC in the Cotton Bowl. If not for a confounding 55-24 loss at Iowa in November, Ohio State may have reached the playoff.
The offense didn’t have consistent success with its vertical pass game, but it still was a potent attack. Ohio State ranked No. 1 in the Big Ten in scoring (41.1 yards per game) and No. 1 in total offense (506.0 ypg). The defense ranked fourth in scoring (19.0 ppg) and fourth in total defense (300.9 ypg).
Meyer’s staff underwent some alterations. At one time, it looked like defensive coordinator Greg Schiano would leave for the same post with the New England Patriots after coming close to becoming coach of Tennessee. But Schiano opted to remain in Columbus. Ohio State added Washington State DC Alex Grinch, a rising star in the coaching ranks. The Buckeyes received a blow when cornerbacks coach/special teams coordinator Kerry Coombs left to work with the Tennessee Titans. The ultra-intense Coombs was a boffo recruiter in Cincinnati. Meyer hired former Buckeye assistant Taver Johnson to replace Coombs. Johnson was DC at Temple.
Here are three positions to watch.
Quarterback: J.T. Barrett leaves campus as an all-time Big Ten great. Now what? Perhaps we got a glimpse of the future late last season when Dwayne Haskins played for an injured Barrett … and excelled. The sophomore came on in the Michigan game and hit 6-of-7 passes for 94 yards to rally the Buckeyes to a 31-20 win in the Big House. Junior Joe Burrow has turned heads in practices in the past. Redshirt freshman Tate Martell is an exciting prospect with speed to burn. This will be one of the most scrutinized QB derbies in the nation.
Linebacker: Some big personnel losses, including Jerome Baker and Chris Worley. But don’t weep for the Buckeyes. Junior Malik Harrison looks like a strong candidate on the strong side. Sophomore Tuf Borland looks like a great one in the middle coming off a sensational debut in 2017. Senior Dante Booker and junior Justin Hilliard are in the mix, too. There may be a learning curve for this unit. But, when they get up to speed, these linebackers should be excellent.
Secondary: The Buckeyes have a boatload of talent in the back-end even with CB Denzel Ward off early to the NFL and S Damon Webb gone. Sophomore Jeffrey Okudah may be the next stud cornerback. Junior Damon Arnette is back to start at the other corner slot, with junior Kendall Sheffield and sophomore Shaun Wade also in the hunt with Tyreke Johnson. Junior Jordan Fuller and redshirt freshman Isaiah Pryor could be the top safeties with sophomore Jahsen Wint and redshirt freshman Brendon White in the mix.
OHIO STATE SPRING INFO
2017 record: 12-2 overall; 8-1 Big Ten/1st East (beat USC in Cotton Bowl)
Spring ball starts: early March
Spring game: April 14
Key players back: CB Damon Arnette; LB Donte Booker; LB Tuf Borland; DE Nick Bosa; WR Parris Campbell; P Drue Chrisman; WR Johnnie Dixon; RB J.K. Dobbins; S Jordan Fuller; DT Dre’Mont Jones; G Michael Jordan; G Demetrius Knox; DT Robert Landers; WR Austin Mack; K Sean Nuernberger; OT Isaiah Prince
Key players gone: LB Jerome Baker (turned pro); QB J.T. Barrett; TE Marcus Baugh; DT Michael Hill; DE Sam Hubbard (turned pro); OT Jamarco Jones; DE Tyquan Lewis; C Billy Price; DT Tracy Sprinkle; CB Denzel Ward (turned pro); S Damon Webb; LB Chris Worley