It’s no secret that Ohio State is reloading once again, both on the field and within the coaching staff. The Buckeyes are two weeks into spring practice with the annual spring game slated for April 15.
The talent exodus isn’t anywhere near the level it was a year ago, but Ohio State still must replace three starters in the secondary for the second consecutive season. So what should we really expect from the Buckeyes this upcoming season? Is a third playoff appearance in four seasons in the cards for 2017?
At this time last year, Ohio State was preparing to replace 16 starters and the Buckeyes ultimately qualified for the College Football Playoff with one of the youngest and most inexperienced teams in the country. Granted, the team looked like it in an uncompetitive 31-0 shutout loss to eventual national champion Clemson, but the season overall was an unexpected success. If Ohio State can pull off an 11-1 record, which included a win over Michigan and a playoff appearance with just six returning starters, 2017 should be a breeze right?
Without question, the Buckeyes will contend for a Big Ten title and be amongst the teams vying for one of the four coveted playoff spots. However, it will be anything but a breeze. Before we start talking playoff or national championship, let’s not forget that Ohio State has failed to even make the Big Ten title game each of the previous two seasons. But Ohio state fans have reason to be extremely optimistic considering head coach Urban Meyer has delivered a national championship every season following a bowl loss, both at Florida and Ohio State.
My honest opinion is that Ohio State makes it a third consecutive season without a conference championship game appearance just because it feels like it’s Michigan and head coach Jim Harbaugh’s time to finally beat their rival, especially with The Game being played in Ann Arbor this season. But that’s a whole different conversation.
Following the Clemson debacle, Meyer promised the media that we would see a vastly improved offense, specifically the passing game, and that a performance like the one Ohio State displayed that night “won’t happen again.” So you can pretty much take that to the bank. New offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson is certainly one of the best. I think it’s fair to expect the Ohio State offense to perform at a level closer to what we saw early in the 2016 season against Oklahoma.
Is Ohio State going to put up over 40 per game and throw the football with ease once the Big Ten schedule gets underway? Of course not, but the consistency will be much more evident. I just can’t see ineffective and sloppy football continue with Meyer at the helm.
And that brings us to fifth-year senior quarterback J.T. Barrett. Will Barrett revert back to the inconsistent and inaccurate passer many Buckeye fans have labeled him or will he return to the Heisman Trophy contender that he was in 2014 prior to a season-ending broken ankle? I believe it will be the latter for Barrett’s final season in Columbus.
The guy is too accomplished and is going to go down as one of the best quarterbacks, at least statistically, in the history of the program. Following a broken ankle, quarterback controversy and inconsistent play, it would be a storybook ending for Barrett to lead to lead and ultimately finish a national championship season for Ohio State. I’m not going to go that far, but I do believe Barrett will find himself in New York as Heisman Trophy candidate. With everything Barrett has been through, he will most assuredly finish on a high note.
Defensively, losing safety Malik Hooker and cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore and Gareon Conley will be tough. However, we said the same thing a year ago when Hooker and Lattimore possessed minimal to no experience. Once again, three new starters in the secondary may need a little time to gel, but talent certainly won’t be an issue.
With former co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell now at the University of Cincinnati, Bill Davis steps in to coach the linebackers after 24 years of NFL coaching experience. That makes me feel good. Davis, Meyer’s longtime friend since they went to Cincinnati together, has quite the task since he will not have the services of former stud linebacker Raekwon McMillan, who should be a first-round lock in next month’s NFL Draft.
The 2017 is still five months away but the upcoming spring game will give us a little taste of where the Buckeyes are at. It’s safe to assume that there won’t be much of a drop-off in terms of talent and we can expect another typical season from Ohio State, a season where the Buckeyes once again contends for both a conference and national title. Not because the Buckeyes were able to in 2016 with 16 starters lost, but because it’s Ohio State and it’s Urban Meyer we’re talking about.
E-mail Mark at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @msilverman25
Photo: Flickr by Paula R. Lively