Ohio State season preview | Keys to the season
KEY OFFENSIVE PLAYER
Rabinowitz: This is hardly a shocker. Dwayne Haskins Jr. had a clutch cameo appearance against Michigan, but now he’s the star of the show. We know he has the arm, but can he demonstrate all of the other essential skills a quarterbacks needs to show consistently? The early signs are encouraging, but growing pains should be expected. Still, Haskins has the tools to allow the Buckeyes to open up their entire passing playbook.
May: Of course it’s the QB. But after that, it’s Michael Jordan. He’s been a starter at left guard since he showed up in 2016, and now he could be the next in an impressive line of Buckeyes to switch from guard to center (Pat Elflein in 2016, Billy Price in '17) and then win the Rimington Award. He may be a contender now that coaches have decided he should supplant Brady Taylor at the spot.
KEY DEFENSIVE PLAYER
May: Safety Jordan Fuller. Practices were closed through the preseason, but that couldn’t keep word from leaking about the way he was rocking, rolling and leading as one of the returning defensive stalwarts. Getting his teammates lined up correctly will be one of his responsibilities, too, especially considering the Buckeyes will start the season with three new linebackers.
Rabinowitz: Chase Young. The Buckeyes lost three superb defensive ends to the NFL, but have preseason All-American Nick Bosa back. Ohio State believes it has players behind him ready to explode, and Young is atop that list. If the sophomore becomes the dominant force he’s expected to be, and the Buckeyes also get the expected production from Jonathon Cooper and others, the line could be as dominant as last year’s.
KEY EARLY GAME
Rabinowitz: TCU. Oregon State and Rutgers shouldn’t pose much of a test, but the Sept. 15 showdown in Texas against the Horned Frogs will, especially with coach Urban Meyer absent as he finishes his three-game suspension. No. 16 TCU doesn’t have a star like Oklahoma had last year with Baker Mayfield, but quarterback Shawn Robinson is promising and the Horned Frogs have an experienced defense. Gary Patterson is acknowledged as one of the top coaches in the country.
May: The biggest game in September will be at Penn State on Sept. 29. In fact, the game against the Nittany Lions arguably is Ohio State’s most important of the regular season, since the winner will emerge as the frontrunner of the Big Ten East.
NEW TO VIEW
May: Freshman tight end Jeremy Ruckert. Some questioned whether he has the size to be ready to plow through defenders, but insiders said he had an outstanding preseason camp. He likely won’t supplant Luke Farrell as starter, but offensive coordinators Ryan Day and Kevin Wilson are eager to see what his defense-splitting route-running and catching will do for the passing game.
Rabinowitz: Josh Proctor. The Buckeyes are still looking for someone to seize the job alongside Fuller at safety. The longer it goes unsettled, the more Proctor has a chance to work into the mix. The freshman from Oklahoma has long arms and excellent athletic ability. It’s a matter of time before he becomes a factor.
BEST OFFSEASON MOVE
Rabinowitz: Hiring Alex Grinch. The Grove City native had success with below-the-radar talent at places like Missouri, Wyoming and Washington State. Now he’ll get the chance to work with blue-chip players. His philosophy of emphasizing turnovers is in sync with defensive coordinator Greg Schiano. It’ll be interesting to see how Grinch makes an imprint.
May: If it sticks, the move of Jordan to center. If the Buckeyes go that way, it will free up what has turned out to be a logjam of capable guards. They include returning right-side starter Demetrius Cox plus Malcolm Pridgeon and Wyatt Davis, and Branden Bowen, an opening-day starter a year ago who is returning from a broken leg.
THE PRESSURE IS ON …
May: Offensive co-coordinators Ryan Day and Kevin Wilson. With a quarterback capable of attacking every point on the field in the passing game, two 1,000-yard running backs in J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber, a bevy of veteran receivers and the capability of the tight ends, this offense has the ingredients to become among the most prolific at Ohio State. When in doubt, air it out.
Rabinowitz: Haskins. He’s the quarterback at Ohio State, and he is succeeding a player in J.T. Barrett who rewrote the Ohio State record book. Haskins is expected to make what was an inconsistent passing game a dynamic one. He has all the tools. Now he has to perform consistently and show the intangibles — leadership and toughness among them — required of any quarterback.
STAT THAT MUST CHANGE
Rabinowitz: Ohio State ranked 113th in penalty yardage per game (67.4) and 101st in total penalties (6.9 per game). Some penalties are much more forgivable than others, but a high volume speaks to a lack of discipline or concentration. That’s not been a glaring issue with the Buckeyes in recent years, but it does bear cleaning up.
May: Ohio State was one of just seven Power 5 schools to return 30 or more punts last year (OSU had 30), and yet the Buckeyes were 98th nationally in punt return average. If it holds true that Demario McCall will handle that job out of the gate, well, he’s been champing at the bit to show his big-play potential.
IT’S A YEAR TO REMEMBER IF …
May: Haskins plays to his potential at quarterback, because otherwise the offense has the earmarks of being a touchdown machine. Based on football dynamics, that will put opposing offenses in a keep-up mode, which in turn will make them more predictable for the Ohio State defense, which in turn can make for a special season.
Rabinowitz: Well, it’s already been a year to remember because of the Meyer suspension. For it to be a year to remember on the field, the Buckeyes have to channel whatever anger they feel into their performance. That means winning a Big Ten title and making the College Football Playoff. That’s the standard for the Buckeyes these days.
May: Regardless of the Meyer suspension, the challenge for the Buckeyes is to gain 11 wins in the regular season and perhaps cap that with a win in the Big Ten championship. That should earn them a ticket back to the College Football Playoff.
Rabinowitz: Even with Meyer out early, this could be a special Ohio State team. Talent and depth aren’t the problem. Experience is an issue, but there’s every reason to think OSU is a serious contender for the College Football Playoff.