In Phoenix last night, Alabama and Clemson played an epic game between two worthy championship teams. Unfortunately, it is the last college football game we will see for 232 days.
This is even less fortunate for Ohio State Buckeyes fans, who witnessed the end of an era on New Year’s Day at the Fiesta Bowl. The Bucks beat Notre Dame 44-28 to cap off possibly the most bittersweet 12-1 season of all time, but more importantly it ended a 4-year run with a 50-4 overall record. Only two other programs have ever won 50 games in a 4 year stretch, Boise State from 2008-2011 and Alabama from 2012-2015.
The Buckeyes will be experiencing a massive player exodus this offseason. Overall, 19 of around the 30 most important players from the 2015 squad will be heading to the NFL. This includes 9 early entrants, second most all time behind LSU in the 2013 draft cycle.
These departures, combined with a relatively tough 2016 schedule (at Oklahoma, at Michigan State, at Wisconsin, at Penn State, Michigan) have many Buckeye fans pessimistic about the team’s possibilities this coming fall. The optimists both see an incredibly talented group of freshmen and sophomores and remember the work this coaching staff did with a similarly young team in 2014.
In any event, lots of new players with have critical roles starting on September 3 against Bowling Green. Today, we’ll look at the OSU offense. Who will line up where?
With Cardale Jones off to the pros, this is the most obvious answer on the roster: J.T. Barrett will be the starting quarterback. Having a full offseason of 1st team reps for the first time in his career will only help Barrett get used to working with a new center, running back, and wide receivers. The backup role will be more interesting; Stephen Collier, Joe Burrow, Torrance Gibson, and maybe even a TBD blue-chip true freshman will challenge for the role.
This is the most complicated position on the roster moving forward. Curtis Samuel will likely get the most touches out of the backfield this season, the only question is if they will come as an H-Back (i.e. Braxton Miller/Jalin Marshall) or as the pure running back (i.e. Zee Elliott). Either way, a log jam could pop up at the position he doesn’t choose. Dontre Wilson and true freshman Demario McCall will be used in the H-Back role. Mike Weber, Bri’onte Dunn, and Antonio Williams will compete for time in the downhill running back role.
The position with the least returning star power is wide receiver. But that doesn’t mean these guys aren’t good players. Parris Campbell is an Evan Spencer-type thumper as a blocker and will get a chance to see the field first. If he stays at wide receiver, Torrance Gibson is probably the best athlete on the team, so he’s in the mix here. Noah Brown was in line to play a lot this season before a training camp injury. True freshman Austin Mack, Terry McLaurin, K.J. Hill, and others should also see the field a lot. But it will take time to figure out who will be the main options.
Marcus Baugh performed well when Nick Vannett was limited in the Fiesta Bowl and he’ll step into the starting role next fall. True freshmen Luke Farrell and Jake Hausmann are both talented, though you’d expect at least one to redshirt. The other will play a big role down at the goal line.
The only pre-determined starters are Pat Elflein, who will move from right guard to center, and Billy Price, who should hold down the left guard spot. Jamarco Jones and Isaiah Prince (one of only 4 Ohio State true freshmen to take the field last year) are expected to be the starting tackles. Right guard could be one of several hulking giants, most likely Matthew Burrell, Evan Lisle, or Demetrius Knox. Every one of these guys is plenty talented, but just like in 2014, the challenge will be getting them to work together as a unit. At the beginning of the year, they were embarrassed by Navy and Virginia Tech, but by the end of it the “Slobs” were pushing around Wisconsin, Alabama, and Oregon.