What's next for Ohio State football after College Football Playoff run?

Joey Kaufman
Buckeye Xtra
Ohio State right guard Wyatt Davis (52) almost certainly will leave for the NFL after the national championship game. Center Josh Myers (71) has not committed but is scheduled to play in the Senior Bowl.

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — In reaching Monday night’s College Football Playoff national championship game against Alabama, Ohio State navigated a series of obstacles left by the coronavirus pandemic throughout the fall.

They ranged from a postponed start to the season, which finally began in late in October, to canceled games due to virus outbreaks among teams. A third of the Buckeyes’ regular-season slate was wiped out.

Even when Ohio State was on the field, it was at times missing top players. A positive COVID-19 test kept leading receiver Chris Olave out of the Big Ten championship game last month. Coach Ryan Day missed a Dec. 5 win at Michigan State following his own positive results.

An offseason that begins Tuesday morning will not be without other pandemic-related challenges for the program.

With the NCAA affording players an additional year of eligibility, the size of the Buckeyes’ roster could grow in 2021 as they are allowed to surpass their 85-scholarship limit for one season. Underclassmen, facing a logjam on the depth chart, could bolt in an effort to find more playing time elsewhere.

On top of that, a one-time transfer exemption also could be granted this year, allowing all players to transfer once without the penalty of sitting out a season, easing player movement across the country.

Suffice to say, it will be worth watching how Ohio State manages its roster and staff over the coming months. The issues worth watching include:

NFL draft declarations

Right guard Wyatt Davis and cornerback Shaun Wade are expected to announce their intentions to enter the NFL draft.

Both are fourth-year juniors who previously had opted out of school, in September, to begin preparing for the draft when the Big Ten season was up in the air. They’ll likely do so again over the next week.

Others could follow ahead of the draft declaration deadline on Jan. 18.

The biggest name to watch is quarterback Justin Fields, who, if he declares for the draft, is considered one of the top passers available behind presumptive No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence of Clemson.

Center Josh Myers, another fourth-year junior, also went through virtual senior day festivities, but last week stopped short of saying whether he would be leaving.

Senior decisions

Of the Buckeyes’ 18 scholarship seniors, at least one will take advantage of the extra season of eligibility. Cornerback Marcus Williamson said last week he plans to return for an additional season in the fall.

Another returnee could be defensive tackle Haskell Garrett, who is considering staying for a fifth season in Columbus. Garrett was a breakout star on the Buckeyes’ defensive line after he had been a backup for most of his career; his presence next season would be critical in maintaining a top pass rush.

But most other seniors seem likely to pursue NFL futures or allow their eligibility to expire.

Five Buckeyes — linebackers Baron Browning and Tuf Borland, defensive end Jonathon Cooper, running back Trey Sermon and Myers — have accepted invitations for the Senior Bowl, the top all-star game for draft prospects, a sign of their intent to leave.

Transfer watch

The Buckeyes have already seen one underclassman leave with receiver Mookie Cooper, who is transferring to Missouri after one season. Cooper entered the NCAA transfer portal following the Big Ten championship game.

It’s possible there could be more attrition in the months ahead, especially after spring practice when a clearer picture of the depth chart emerges for some players.

But it will be just as important to see if anyone comes to Ohio State through the portal. In recent offseason cycles, the Buckeyes added a variety of difference-makers to their roster. Last year, they added Sermon,. from Oklahoma, and two years ago brought in Fields from Georgia, as well as all-Big Ten offensive lineman Jonah Jackson from Rutgers.

2021 recruiting class pickups

Ohio State signed 21 commitments to letters of intent during the early signing period in December. Though finalizing most of their incoming recruiting class for 2021, they could seek to add a couple of more prospects during the traditional February signing period.

J.T. Tuimoloau, a defensive tackle from suburban Seattle and one of the top overall prospects nationally in the class, remains unsigned.

He’s the top target left for Ohio State, which was also one of his five remaining finalists, along with Alabama, Oregon, Southern California and Washington.

Coaching changes

So far, no one from Day’s coaching staff has left for another job or been publicly linked to one.

During the playoff last season, then-defensive co-coordinator Jeff Hafley had agreed to be the next coach at Boston College, and there were rumblings of a departure by quarterbacks coach Mike Yurcich to Texas.

A day after the Fiesta Bowl loss to Clemson, Yurcich was announced as the Longhorns’ offensive coordinator.

If all 10 on-field assistant coaches remain with the program, it will be the first time Ohio State has kept a staff intact in consecutive seasons since 2013, when it was transitioning from year one to year two under Urban Meyer.