Preseason college football rankings are inherently flawed.
There’s good reason for that: They are inevitably based on incomplete information.
» PRESEASON POLL: Where do Buckeyes rank?
Returning starters and recruiting rankings can tell us only so much about how good a team might be this fall, but they are the only tools we’ve got in a sport where annual turnover is the rule, not the exception.
With football fans’ insatiable thirst for information and prognostication, we in the media are forced to press forward and make do with what we have, providing our best guesses about what is in store, stuff to pass the summer months and keep message boards, social media and talk radio humming.
Ohio State offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson has been in the business for 35 years with stops at Miami University, Northwestern, Oklahoma and Indiana along the way.
He knows how the game works, but he had a bone to pick with people portraying the Ohio State offense as a question mark heading into 2019 because record-setting quarterback Dwayne Haskins and six other starters from last season’s Big Ten champions have to be replaced.
"You know, you guys always analyze all the numbers, and you sit there and say look at all the guys lost, but this has been one of the best preseasons because we actually have some experience, but it's youthful,” Wilson said.
The word “youth” tends to be treated as a pejorative by college football coaches, but Wilson explained how it can be a positive in the right circumstances.
“A youthful guy is really not quote burned out with practice or thinks he has a routine now,” Wilson said, citing sophomore receiver Chris Olave as an example.
Olave has not started for the Buckeyes, but he was part of the rotation last season and enjoyed a breakout game against Michigan when he caught two touchdown passes and blocked a punt in the Buckeyes’ 62-39 win.
“Chris Olave has played a lot, but he's a young guy still learning how to play,” Wilson said.
The tight ends coach also sees examples at his position group, where Luke Farrell is a returning starter but also perhaps the most anonymous member of the offense. Behind him, Rashod Berry, Jake Hausmann and Jeremy Ruckert have played but not been full-timers.
Similarly, the offensive line returns starting left tackle Thayer Munford, but he is only a true junior so the development arrow can still be seen as pointing upward for the Cincinnati native.
Munford will be joined in the starting lineup by classmates Josh Myers (center) and Wyatt Davis (right guard), five-star prospects who redshirted in 2017, finished last year strong and appear poised to deliver on their promise in year three, often viewed as the prime time for a college lineman to step into the lineup.
The other guard, fifth-year senior Jonah Jackson, has more than a year’s worth of starting experience at the college level, but it came at Rutgers, so he is learning a new way of doing things this preseason.
The tackle opposite Munford will be Branden Bowen, a fifth-year senior who started at guard two years ago before suffering a nasty broken leg, or Nicholas Petit-Frere, a redshirt freshman who was rated the No. 1 high school prospect in the country at his position two years ago.
In Bowen, Ohio State has a veteran looking to show he is again healthy and worthy of a starting spot while Petit-Frere would like to prove those recruiting rankers right.
>>READ MORE: Right tackle remains open as camp continues
Munford is something of a question mark too this preseason as he works his way back from an offseason surgery, but his backup, Josh Alabi, is a fifth-year senior who has seen spot duty already and is facing his last chance to make a major impact at the college level.
As for the rest of the offense, seniors Austin Mack, Binjimen Victor and K.J. Hill (who could end up as Ohio State’s all-time leading receiver) are looking to step out of the shadows cast by Parris Campbell, Terry McLaurin and Johnie Dixon last season while junior running back J.K. Dobbins is hungry to return to his dynamic freshman form when he averaged 7.2 yards per carry rather than the more pedestrian 4.6 of a season ago.
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Then of course there is Justin Fields. The quarterback has only been at Ohio State since January, so everything is new to him, but the 2018 five-star recruit has a year of college experience to refer to after spending last season as the backup at SEC runner-up Georgia.
Like many of his new teammates, Fields is not completely callow, but he still has to prove he can excel at this level.
Is that more burden or opportunity?
Time will tell.
“So you got all those guys that are new guys, but you don't feel like they're rookies and you think they understand where to go,” Wilson said. “You think they understand how you want them to practice, so the educational side of what we want to do is not like every day you feel like you're at ground zero.
“You've got a young football team that has the energy and the youthfulness that they want to practice, but you also have some experience that you don't feel like you're in right field and you're always teaching so they understand.”
Nevertheless, youth and inexperiences typically are viewed negatively for a reason. Sometimes those variables take a turn for the worse, but Wilson has liked what he has seen in the preseason.
“it's kind of neat every day in practice you feel like you're going out there with a lot of energy, a lot of young guys that want to get after it, learn and grow,” Wilson said. "It’s been a fun preseason. Preseason is tough. Everybody talks about the grind. Our guys are getting after it, and we're (figuring out) when it's kind of time to be zeroed in. It's been a lot of fun this preseason working with this crowd.”