Ohio State Buckeyes
Head Coach: Ryan Day
2018 Record: 13-1, 8-1 Conference
Bowl: 28-23 Win over Washington at Rose Bowl
Season Win Prop: 10 wins (O -120, U -110)
Make 4 Team Playoff: Yes +220; No -280
Urban Meyer’s retirement was hardly a surprise, but that by no means assures a smooth transition to first-year head coach Ryan Day. If last season counts for much (and it does), the Buckeyes did go 3-0 while he served as interim head coach following Meyer’s stepping away.
Day first has to address a couple of key personnel losses. But he was a true protege of Meyer’s and should be able to keep this programming ticking just fine.
In fact, the issues begin not with Day, but with a new quarterback that will have to prove himself all over again after coming in as a five-star recruit.
Justin Fields has all the tools to be the next great OSU quarterback, at least if the (lack of) experience is not counted against him. Replacing Dwayne Haskins is a tough task, and it will take all of Fields’ massive arm strength and fancy footwork to do it. Haskins threw for 4,800 yards and 50 TDs while completing over 70 percent of his looks last season. That bar is set high.
One thing that should help Fields is the return of JK Dobbins in the backfield. He rushed for 1,053 yards and 10 TDs, and though Mike Weber is departed, Dobbins can easily function as that No. 1 ball carrier this season. Brian Snead transferred out, as well. Master Teague and Demario McCall are the No. 2 and No. 3 backs, and McCall is a strong receiver as well, so he will get his fair share of plays run in that capacity, as well.
The actual wide receivers are loaded with depth, as well. The Buckeyes suffer the losses of Parris Campbell, Johnnie Dixon, and Terry McLaurin— but KJ Hill returns. Hill had 885 yards last year, and he has plenty of help to line up with him. Austin Mack, Binjimen Victor, and Chris Olave are all solid option. Olave had seven catches for 127 yards and three TDs in the wins over Michigan and Northwestern, and that teaser shows just what kind of potential he could have this entire season. Tight end is also stockpiled with depth and talent, with Rashod Berry, Luke Farrell, and Jake Hausmann. Waiting in the wings is Jeremy Ruckert, who has a ton of upside.
The Buckeyes do lose two offensive tackles and center Michael Jordan. Greg Studraws will have to replace those three key players, but Thayer Munford and Branden Bowen both should be good leaders for whichever three players he decides to match with them.
The Buckeyes uncharacteristically allowed 4.5 yards-per-carry last year. Defensive lineman coach Larry Johnson will have to improve on that while losing Nick Bosa and Dre’Mont Jones. While those are certainly two (massive) losses, the Buckeyes still have Chase Young, Jonathon Cooper, and Tyreke Smith back. Young had 9.5 tackles last year. Zach Harrison is also a tremendous athlete with hometown appeal.
The middle of the Buckeyes’ defense presents more questions, and it has hardly been strong in the past few seasons. Tuf Borland did decent last season but spent the offseason recovering from an Achilles’ injury. Justin Hilliard might be done for, due to the same injury. Malik Harrison is the only reliable player in the middle of this defense, and the only one with sufficient experience to say that definitively.
In the secondary, Keandre Jones transferred to Maryland, which threw the coaching staff in something of a bind. Safety Brendon White has been looked at as a replacement as a hybrid outside linebacker. While White appears small, he packs more power than guys seemingly twice his size, so this could be a “sneaky” strength of the Buckeyes’ defense. Jeffrey Okudah and Damon Arnette are the cornerbacks, and Arnette enters his senior season with plenty to prove. Shaun Wade will see time as a backup, too, and he has some upside as a sophomore this season. Jordan Fuller’s return is a blessing because he had an NFL Ticket punched, more or less, and he tied Harrison for the lead in tackles last year with 81.
Blake Haubeil and Drue Christman are both monster kickers. That is to say, they can hit and tackle with both standing 6’3” and 220-plus. Christman also downed 20 of his 29 kicks inside the 20 last year with just one touchback. Demario McCall will be the kick returner, while KJ Hill will handle punts.
The excitement surrounding Justin Fields’ potential is real. But this is a team that may be an offensive line short of being great. The defense should be better this season, and it hopefully cuts down on what it allowed from opposing rush offenses. If that happens and Fields is the real deal, this OSU team can come close to repeating last season’s success and without all the turmoil of it. Even so, Vegas oddsmakers lowered the over/under to ’10 wins’ on the expectation that this team has some rebuilding to do. Ryan Day will try to minimize that aspect and aim for another Big Ten title, though.
Prediction: 11 wins (over)