ANALYSIS: Ohio State football: 6 questions facing Buckeyes entering preseason

The ultimate success of Ohio State’s 132nd season of football will come down to a few factors.

To continue our preview of the 2021 season, we take a look at six of the most important questions the Buckeyes must answer if they want to win a fifth straight Big Ten championship and make a third straight College Football Playoff appearance.

1. Who will be the quarterback?

Head coach Ryan Day did a great job hiding his cards all spring, and he can be counted upon to do the same thing when he meets with reporters at Big Ten Media Days in Indianapolis this week.

If he handles the competition the way his predecessor Urban Meyer, then C.J. Stroud is the best bet to get the first chance.

He may be the best of the three anyway, but his status as the backup at the end of last season could be the tiebreaker if everything else is the same. As was the case with Dwayne Haskins Jr. and Joe Burrow in the spring of 2018, Jack Miller III or Kyle McCord likely has to clearly outplay Stroud to get the starting nod to begin the season.

However, this is not a perfect comparison because Haskins had orchestrated the comeback win at Michigan the previous season. Stroud does not have anything like that to fall back on.

2. Who will be the running backs?

Master Teague III by all rights should be the heavy favorite to be the starter, but his straight-up, north-south running style has left a little to be desired over the past two seasons despite impressive production.

Teague has the speed and power to exploit a hole, but he has not displayed the wiggle to make a man miss if there is a mess waiting for him at the line of scrimmage. Some of that could be a result of an Achilles injury last year, so it bears watching if he shows more this fall when the lights go on.

Miyan Williams impressed anyone who saw him run roughshod through southwest Ohio tacklers at Winton Woods, and he looked good in very limited action last season in scarlet and gray. He could possess some of that running ability that Teague lacks, but he is unproven.

TreVeyon Henderson was the No. 1 running back recruit in the country last year, and he looks too good to keep off the field. Look for him to at least find some niche for the Buckeyes even if carries are limited.

Marcus Crowley is a wild card as he was also seen as a back with more wiggle than Teague, but a knee injury slowed him last season. Now he has to hold off a trio of young pups (Williams, Henderson and four-star freshman Evan Pryor) and try to catch Teague in a race for carries.

3. Will the secondary be better?

Veterans Sevyn Banks and Cam Brown (when healthy) should be better overall with more experience, and youngsters Lejond Cavazos, Ryan Watts and others should have a much better chance to succeed with normal access to coaching and a regular practice routine. That is opposed to having to do a lot of meetings over video conference and having practices frequently disrupted by COVID-19 protocols.

A return to normalcy should also help the coaching staff better develop players and plans for how to use them to their best ability.

4. Will someone step up at defensive end?

The Buckeyes got solid play on the edge last season, but they sorely missed a game-wrecker in the mold of Chase Young or one of the Bosa brothers. Those guys who not only demand extra attention from the offensive line (and quarterback) make everyone else’s job easier, and they make plays that change games, sometimes instantly erasing a handful of mistakes in the process.

The lack of a pass rush also exacerbated the problems in the secondary.

Zach Harrison and Tyreke Smith are both talented and experienced, so it would not be a surprise to see either of them take the next step to become a dominant pass rusher, but the Buckeyes need that to become reality rather than just theory.

5. How good is Oregon?

The Ducks, whose 2020 season was even more abbreviated and disjointed than Ohio State’s, were 18th in SP+ ranking (a measure of consistency and explosiveness similar to OPS in baseball) last season and are projected at No. 5 entering 2021.

Coach Mario Cristobal has upgraded the recruiting and tried to make Oregon into more of a power program (rather than basing all its success on speed), but there is still at least one more step for the Ducks to take before being considered a true powerhouse like Alabama, Clemson and OSU: Beating a true powerhouse like Alabama, Clemson or Ohio State.

6. Can anyone in the Big Ten beat Ohio State?

Ohio State has won its last 21 games against Big Ten foes, and including conference championships games the Buckeyes are 74-5 against Big Ten teams since 2012.

When Ohio State takes the field at Minnesota on Sept. 2, a total of 1,047 days will have passed since the Buckeyes last lost a Big Ten game.

None of Ohio State’s nine regular season conference foes are projected to be top 10 teams by either SP+ or Pro Football Focus, but the Buckeyes could run into Wisconsin (ninth in SP+ and 14th at PFF) in the Big Ten Championship game.

Of course neither of the last two teams to beat the Buckeyes — Iowa and Purdue — were world-beaters that season, so anything can happen on a given Saturday.

The highest-rated Ohio State conference opponents heading into the 2021 season are Penn State (14th in SP+, 19th at PFF), Michigan (23/25), Indiana (27/24), Nebraska (30/51), Minnesota (31/38) and Maryland (32/56).

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