New head coach Marcus Freeman, a Wayne High School grad and former Ohio State player, has seven starters back on offense and eight on defense.
The Fighting Irish offense must replace its top quarterback, running back and receiver, but the offensive line will be mostly veteran and tight end Michael Mayer might be the best in the country at his position.
The defense brings back most of its major contributors, and that side of the ball is Freeman’s specialty.
Last year, the Buckeyes opened the season beating Minnesota on the road and then losing to Oregon at home.
2. Their annual in-state opponent should be no pushover.
After facing an Arkansas State team expected to be one of the worst in the country, Ohio State hosts Toledo in Week 3.
The Rockets are perennially one of the best teams in the MAC, and this is expected to be one of their stronger versions. At No. 60 in SP+, a metric that combines several factors including efficiency and explosiveness on each side of the ball, Toledo is ahead of three of the Big Ten teams on Ohio State’s schedule.
The Rockets have 15 starters back, including a potential star quarterback in Dequan Finn.
The defense, potentially a top 25 unit, returns six of seven starters in the front seven and added Ohio State transfer Dallas Gant at linebacker, but the Rockets must replace two of their best defensive backs, including Bengals draft pick Tycen Anderson.
Ohio State opens Big Ten play Sept. 24 at home against a Wisconsin team looking to reclaim its status as the king of the champion of the west (division).
The Badgers are coming off a disappointing 9-4 season after going 4-3 in the COVID-shortened 2020 campaign.
History says they will be one of the better teams in the Big Ten West, but they have questions at quarterback, where Graham Mertz has been unable to live up to his five-star recruiting ranking thus far, and receiver, where Northmont grad Markus Allen is part of a green receiving room looking for new stars.
A typically tough defense also must rebuild after losing eight starters, but Wisconsin has earned the benefit of the doubt on that side of the ball.
From the West, the Buckeyes also get defending division champion Iowa and occasional division champion Northwestern instead of also-rans Nebraska, Purdue and Minnesota.
4. There is a potentially harrowing three-game stretch in the middle of the season.
The Buckeyes host Rutgers a week after playing Wisconsin.
Then they go to Michigan State, get a week off, host Iowa and travel to Penn State in a stretch that could set Ohio State up for another memorable November or destroy their dreams of returning to the top of the Big Ten.
The Spartans could be due for a regression to the mean after overachieving last season, but coach Mel Tucker has already shown he can retool a roster on the fly.
With Northmont grad Jestin Jacobs at linebacker, Iowa may have the best defense in the Big Ten, but the Hawkeyes lost their best player (running back Tyler Goodson) from an offense that was abysmal last season.
Penn State started the season hot last season before quarterback Sean Clifford was injured. He’s back along with a handful of weapons at running back and receiver, but the offensive line is perennially a problem in Happy Valley. A traditionally tough defense is under new management but gets back stud tackle P.J. Mustipher and cornerback Joey Porter Jr.
For the first time in a decade at Penn State, this won’t be a night game.
5. November is all about Michigan.
As it should be.
The Buckeyes might be tempted to look ahead to the Wolverines after losing in Ann Arbor last season — especially because the last month of the season starts with Northwestern and Indiana, a pair of programs who have had high points recently but are coming off down seasons.
The week before hosting Michigan, Ohio State gets a Maryland team that could be on the rise with quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa and standout receivers Rakim Jarrett and Dontay Demus, but memories of a scare in College Park in 2018 should keep the Buckeyes’ eyes on the prize.