Ohio State comes into the season as the betting favorite to win the Big Ten, but things aren’t that simple. The school is stuck in a complex situation, and the fate of head coach Urban Meyer will be determined in the coming days after a meeting of the Ohio State Board of Trustees. Supposedly, suspension is the most likely outcome.
For the team itself, that outcome isn’t as bad as Meyer being fired outright. Still, it would be hard to claim that entering the season with a different head coach in charge isn’t something that will negatively effect the players. Especially when the pressure is already tremendous this year, with the Buckeyes starting out in the top five of the AP Poll.
What is expected of Ohio State entering this season?
Every team that begins the season in the top ten, let alone the top five, believes that they can win the championship. Only four teams will have the chance to play for a title, however, and Ohio State starts off as the last team out. But championships aren’t decided by preseason predictions, and making the playoffs is definitely the expectation for the team that is the favorite to win one of the toughest conferences in college football.
It’s true that Ohio State doesn’t have an experienced quarterback this year. They’ll have to pick between redshirt sophomore Dwayne Haskins Jr. and redshirt freshman Tate Martell, and it looks like Haskins will be the one to come away with the starting job. While neither player has significant playing time, Ohio State doesn’t necessarily need to win with just their quarterback carrying the team.
They have a loaded backfield with J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber returning, forming one of the best one-two punches in the nation. Dobbins had 1,403 yards as a freshman, and an average of 7.2 yards per rush. Dobbins isn’t the most physically intimidating of football players, but while defenders may assume that he’ll be an easy tackle, his strengths lie in his speed and his movement.
Dobbins’ 2017 highlight reel was filled with outside runs and cuts to the outside, with the freshman displaying how light on his feet he is. He also uses his low center of gravity better than many would expect, meaning it’s not a given that he’ll go down on first contact. He’ll surely have more than seven touchdowns in 2018, and his impact will be combined with that of Mike Weber, who rushed for 10 touchdowns last season.
Their defense returns Jordan Fuller, who had the second most tackles on the team with 62. Junior defensive end Nick Bosa is also being hyped up for good reason. The Buckeyes lost defensive line talent to the NFL, but that means that Bosa will have more time on the field in addition to a larger role.
Bosa has shown himself to have a good sweep move to get outside of the offensive tackle, and that combined with his pure athleticism should help him improve on his 8.5 sacks from last year.
It all doesn’t mean that the team won’t be without its challenges. Ohio State won’t start any senior linebackers this season, and that could negatively impact the organization of their defense. But that’s something that should work itself out over the course of the season, as a leader emerges.
That leader may just be outside linebacker Malik Harrison. “Malik is a playmaker thatâ€™s got a lot of people looking at him,” said linebackers coach Bill Davis, back in the spring. He also spoke about some of the other members of that unit. “Itâ€™s exciting to watch them take their leadership role. We talk about leadership being more about actions than words, and I think thatâ€™s kind of what theyâ€™re trying to do.”
Perhaps the biggest question mark is Dwayne Haskins Jr. The redshirt sophomore had some playing time as the backup to J.T. Barrett, but wasn’t a starter last season. He threw for 120 yards and two touchdowns in the spring game earlier this year, but there’s always risk involved with introducing a new quarterback that hasn’t played as a starter in the past. He flashed his deep arm in the spring game and made some precision strikes downfield to decently covered receivers, but it’s hard to judge a player fully from his performance in a scrimmage.
Overall, Ohio State has playmakers on both sides of the ball and whether or not they make the playoffs should be determined by if they slip up in a select group of games against other elite teams. Namely, their games on the road against Penn State and Michigan State and their home game against archrivals Michigan. They also face a top 20 team during nonconference play in TCU, and that presents an interesting challenge.
The Urban Meyer scandal may just be the difference between the Buckeyes coming away with the Big Ten title, and not even playing for it. Looking atÂ this forum surrounding Meyer’s odds on keeping his job, it looks like he won’t be fired. Even if Meyer only receives a suspension, it’s something negative that will hang over the season. And it’s the reason why few will be surprised if the playoffs come around and the Buckeyes are on the outside looking in. The Big Ten will likely have a playoff team, but there’s a reason why Wisconsin is trending up and Ohio State is trending down.