The Ohio State Buckeyes have battled with Clemson for the second-best program behind Alabama over the last decade or so. Their transition from Urban Meyer to Ryan Day was as seamless as it could’ve been. The improved quarterback play at the school has elevated them to perennial College Football Playoff threat.
Ohio State’s 2020 ended with a tough loss to Alabama in the championship game, but the Buckeyes have a backbone built on elite recruits. Key departures will see their position filled by another blueblood talent. But until this talent is turned into a consistent projection, there are three key areas we can point towards as to why the Buckeyes won’t win the College Football Playoff this year.
Losing Justin Fields to the NFL was a massive blow that was inevitable as soon as he transferred in from Georgia. Fields was the best player on the team last year. The Buckeyes now must turn to someone who has never started a collegiate game.
The three-way battle between sophomores Jack Miller, C.J. Stroud, and freshman Kyle McCord has no true favorite. Stroud may seemingly have the upper-hand since he relieved Fields when he came off the field last year, but that’s not nearly enough of a sign of what’s to come. Each has a solid pedigree, and there’s been an expectation for Miller in particular to win the gig.
Whoever wins the job will have high expectations placed on their shoulders. Day’s offense is loaded with great playmakers and blockers again in 2021, and being a plug-and-play starter is imperative. Tough early games at Minnesota and against Oregon put immediate pressure on the quarterback to produce.
The Buckeyes have seemingly had issues at the linebacker position for several years. Having just one lacking athlete like Tuf Borland constantly cost the unit in big moments. But simply replacing Borland failed to give a clear solution to the issue.
With three new starting linebackers set to take the field, communication gaffes are sure to happen. None of the options at the three spots have started a game despite getting second-team reps last year. Opposing offenses will be testing the Buckeyes’ ability to fill run lanes and cover crossing patterns all season long.
How they react could determine the Buckeyes’ fate. Going to Indiana, Nebraska, and Michigan starting in late October are vulnerable matchups against clever offenses. Especially mixing in the young quarterback factor, the Buckeyes’ defense must be able to get key stops and turnovers when the offense bogs down.
It’s easy to look at the secondary depth chart and see the several upperclassmen slated to play and think the unit will be fine. But we’ve seen in the unit decline since the superstar corners departed the program. It’s hard to keep producing first-round, game-changing talent every year.
Cornerback Sevyn Banks and safety Josh Proctor are the only two surefire NFL prospects among the major five jobs on the unit. That’s a scary thought for Ohio State. Another impactful outside corner starter must emerge from recruiting bust Tyreke Johnson or Cameron Brown, who is coming back from a torn Achilles. Otherwise, the Buckeyes will be relying on freshman Jakailin Johnson or unproven sophomores Ryan Watts and Lejond Cavazos.
The safety position beyond Proctor is hard to gauge as well. Slot corner/safety Marcus Williamson was nothing special last season, and he’s the best option based on what we’ve seen on the field. Again, the tough schedule could be brutal for the Buckeyes as they break in numerous first-time contributors.
Of course, Ohio State has the talent to overcome and be in the playoff. However, their lack of experience at quarterback and in the secondary will keep them from winning it all this year. This might be the toughest year the program has seen in a while unless a phenom emerges to save them from a couple of close outings.