- Marcus Hartman
With the Buckeyes’ winter workouts up and running, the 2018 Ohio State football season is more or less officially underway.
Most of the recruiting class has signed, and everyone who is leaving early for the NFL draft has declared so.
Here is what you need to know about the Buckeyes with a new year dawning:
1. Ohio State will return about a dozen starters combined on offense and defense.
Four defenders who started at least half the games at their position last season graduated (Tyquan Lewis, Tracy Sprinkle, Jalyn Holmes and Chris Worley) while three more (Sam Hubbard, Jerome Baker and Denzel Ward) opted to enter the NFL draft with eligibility remaining.
On offense, the Buckeyes need two new offensive line starters, a new tight end and of course someone to replace J.T. Barrett at quarterback.
2. There is lots of experience waiting in the wings.
Life is pretty good when the reigning Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year could arguably be considered a new starter.
Nick Bosa officially logged seven starts last season but was part of a large rotation up front for coach Larry Johnson, who also gets back veterans Dre’Mont Jones, Jashon Cornell and Wayne graduate Robert Landers inside.
At end, super-talented sophomore Chase Young and junior Jonathan Cooper can look for expanded roles.
Malik Harrison also saw lots of snaps at linebacker while Kendall Sheffield started three games at cornerback as a true freshman, so there is no shortage of experience at any level of the defense.
The offense brings back more experience than one would think on first glance, too.
That includes Brandon Bowen, who started the first five games at guard before breaking his leg, and Dwayne Haskins, who finished the Michigan game when Barrett aggravated knee injury.
Aside from starters Parris Campbell, Terry McLaurin and Austin Mack, many snaps at receiver were also taken by K.J. Hill, Binjimin Victor and Johnie Dixon. They are all back.
3. Most of the focus will surely be on the offense.
After three consecutive campaigns in which there has been a sense not everything was quite right despite gaudy overall numbers, everyone wants to know how the offense will look with someone new at the controls.
“We've got a lot of fast guys,” McLaurin said. "You want to be able to stretch the field vertically. I feel like we did a good job stretching it horizontally last year with our slot guys and bubble screens and things like that.”
Of course, there will also be two 1,000-yard running backs to get the ball to with J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber returning.
4. Who wins the quarterback competition should tell us a lot.
Dwayne Haskins Jr. is considered the favorite to win the job after overtaking an injured Joe Burrow to be the backup last season. Haskins performed well in relief of Barrett at Michigan and brings a different look to the offense as a strong-armed drop-back passer.
Burrow’s skill-set compares more to Barrett’s, though he could prove to be a more consistent passer if not as physical a runner.
The wildcard is Tate Martell, a true dual-threat quarterback who impressed running the scout team as a true freshman last fall.
If Martell is the upset winner of the QB derby, there may be fewer changes from the attack Barrett directed for most of the last four seasons.
If Haskins or Burrow turn out to be the man, the attack might be more reminiscent of the strategy Ohio State used with Cardale Jones at the controls to win the 2014 College Football Playoff.
That personnel would also resemble what current Ohio State offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson had when he was the head coach at Indiana and the Hoosiers led the Big Ten in total offense in 2015.
5. Can they put it all together?
After achieving the height of heights three years ago, Ohio State has been close but failed to get back to the top.
Dobbins said unequivocally he felt Ohio State was the best team in the nation last year even though the Buckeyes were left out of the four-team playoff field in favor of eventual national champion Alabama.
The lesson, then was simple: “Just leave no doubt. Just keep working hard and do what we do and it will take care of itself.”
How do the Buckeyes do that?
“If anything it just shows us every single rep matters,” McLaurin said of missing the playoff after losing two games last season. "You see the national championship game can come down to the last plays, and you can gain those advantage in those workouts. You never know when you're going to gain that extra inch.”