Nick Bosa by David Heasley

The Bucks Are Back in Town

Amoment of silence for the departed.

Thank you. As you know, we lost many young men to the next world this past April, and they will all be missed. One of their absences will be felt more than the others’: number 16 in your programs, number two in most fans’ hearts, Joe Thomas “J.T.” Barrett IV.

No, J.T. isn’t dead. Hell, he’s entering the prime of his life. Even his professional career (as of the writing of this article) is still very much alive—as much as any undrafted rookie’s is one week into training camp. But the Barrett era is over at Ohio State, and some people—fans and media alike—seem happy to move on. Everyone loves a new toy, after all.

The preseason furor this time around is predictably and patently illogical. The Buckeyes don’t rebuild. They don’t reboot. They reload. See, losing Barrett is addition by subtraction. He was limited. He was boring. He was practically an anchor to that offense.

Now that he’s gone, this team can finally fulfill its potential, and anything short of an undefeated National Championship season would be an unmitigated disaster. Because, of course, they can only be better than the year before, right?

Well, if you trust complex industry projections, the Buckeyes are better than they were a year ago. With recruiting numbers and statistical consistency, season-to-season roster attrition, astral alignment, tea leaves, and whatever other horseshit finds its way into these metrics, it sure seems like Meyer’s squad is fit to tap dance all over people’s heads this year. Even with a sophomore first-timer behind center. Shrug emoji.

All that juice notwithstanding, there are three road games on the slate (TCU, Penn State, Michigan State) that any normal person would have to see as coin flips. What you do then, is calculate the odds of none of those 50/50 games going the wrong way and subtract that value from one. If you believe that logic, then there’s an 87.5% chance Ohio State loses at least one regular season game. Shrug emoji again.

The 2018 football Buckeyes will have to forge their own way through their own challenges, but one thing won’t have changed: whosoever doesn’t deliver a championship may one day know the feeling of being licked by the fickle flames of fandom. Warming one moment—searing the next. Here are the next contestants.

When We Have the Ball

Dwayne Haskins Jr. takes over at quarterback. He’s done nothing yet to draw anyone’s ire. In his meaningful playing time last season against Michigan, he exceeded expectations. We’ve seen it before. Recently, even. A young kid with a big arm gets called in from the bullpen late in the season and catches fire, setting fans and media hyenas afire and erasing the perception of limitations. Don’t believe me? Turn on a local sports radio station.

This is a position of concern. Behind Haskins are fellow sophomore Tate Martell (whom people will absolutely start chanting for the second Haskins falters, citing his electrifying athleticism) and true freshman Matthew Baldwin. Haskins likely has the job already.

In the backfield, the coaching staff has one of the best “good problems to have” this program has ever seen. Junior Mike Weber and sophomore J.K. Dobbins combined for over 2,000 yards and 17 scores in 2018 and averaged nearly seven yards per carry. Sophomore Demario McCall will demand touches too. Getting 2,500 yards out of these three looks downright obscene on paper, but it’s a real possibility if the Buckeyes find themselves leading in many of these games.

From a receiving standpoint, the only meaningful loss from a year ago was tight end Marcus Baugh, who is now fighting for a roster spot with the Oakland Raiders. K.J. Hill and Parris Campbell will slot in at H-back after combining for 96 catches and 1,133 yards a season ago. Johnnie Dixon, Austin Mack, Terry McLaurin, and Binjimen Victor top the depth charts on the outside, and every one of them is an upperclassmen. There is talent behind them, of course, but this is as strong a unit as you’re going to find on this team. And now they have a real coach, to boot.

The Buckeyes do have to replace the best center in college football (again) in Billy Price and all-conference left tackle Jamarco Jones. No small feat. But guard Michael Jordan and tackle Isaiah Prince are ready to lead, and two other upperclassmen (Brandon Bowen and Demetrius Knox) have combined for 14 starts.

Offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson had people believing that the OSU offense would trample people a year ago. That didn’t always materialize on the field. (It was almost as if they were playing against human beings with their own will to resist!) The offense wasn’t as airborne as Wilson typically dictates, but then, that’s how you wind up with a 1,400-yard freshman tailback.

Whatever the offense looks like, it is the strength of the team, if only gauging by experience.

When They Have the Ball

There are more pieces to replace on defense than offense. A lot more. And as much experience as a lot of these guys do have, defensive units need cohesion as much as any other.

Three important defensive linemen are gone. Jalyn Holmes, Sam Hubbard, and Tyquan Lewis were all stellar college players.

But Nick Bosa (who is sporting actual Heisman odds) is there. He is a terror by anyone’s measure, and terrors gain more on most with extra years of strength and conditioning. His 16 TFLs from a year ago put him in rare space. Joining him on the line will be standouts Jonathan Cooper and Chase Young. In the tackle rotation, you’ll find the much-ballyhooed Dre’Mont Jones, along with Jashon Cornell, Davon Hamilton, Tommy Togiai, and Taron Vincent. All of these guys can wreak havoc, but Bosa and Jones will need to lead the pack.

At linebacker, Jerome Baker and Chris Worley are gone after combining for 102.5 tackles and 13 tackles for loss. The third starter, sophomore-to-be Tuf Borland, injured his Achilles in the spring. Meyer expects Borland back this fall, but this hurts from a practice perspective.

But it’s not all doom and gloom: juniors Malik Harrison, Keandre Jones, and Justin Hilliard are around, as is senior Dante Booker. They each made between 12 and 29 tackles last year, and sophomore and former all-world recruit Baron Browning looked this spring like he might be ready.

At safety, junior Jordan Fuller’s back, but the next two names (Damon Webb and Erick Smith) are not. There’s as much potential here as anywhere on the roster, but the unit will be young—someone from a batch of sophomores (Isaiah Pryor, Brendon White, Jahsen Went) or freshmen (Josh Proctor, Marcus Hooker) will need to step up. Pryor, another former all-world recruit, could be ready.

Cornerbacks Damon Arnette and Kendall Sheffield are likely to edge out Jeffrey Okudah, and picking up after the cavalcade of recent stars (Denzel Ward, Marshon Lattimore, Gareon Conley, Eli Apple, et al) will be a real challenge.  

Ohio State plays three home games this month (9.1 vs. Oregon State, 9.8 vs. Rutgers, and 9.22 vs. Tulane). For more, visit ohiostatebuckeyes.com.

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