Tomorrow the college football season starts for the Ohio State Buckeyes. Of course, the college football season never truly ends for their diehard fans in Buckeye Nation, who are focused on football, football, football the entire year round.
Most members of Buckeye Nation have ridiculously high expectations this year — just as they do every year. Even though Ohio State’s defense was porous last year and lost its two best players to the NFL, even though Ohio State’s most punishing running back is also a pro and most of his fine offensive line is gone, and even though star quarterback Braxton Miller is out for the season with a shoulder injury, fans think the Buckeyes will be better than last year’s team. Some might call that delusional; others just accept it as part for the Ohio State program, where the fans are as demanding as any fan group in the country.
In reality, though, this year’s team has a lot of question marks. On offense, the questions will start with the man behind the center. With Miller out, the offense loses its principal big-play weapon, who always kept defenses off balance. J.T. Barrett, a redshirt freshman who therefore has never played a down in a college game, will be the starter. He’s known to the coaching staff as “The Distributor” because he spreads the ball around, and Ohio State should have some offensive weapons who can handle the pigskin when Barrett gets it to them. Ezekiel Elliott showed he could be the next great Ohio State running back in limited opportunities last year, and Ohio State has other running backs who can carry the rock, too. Devin Smith is a great, big-play receiver, Dontre Wilson showed flashes of tremendous speed and elusiveness last year, and the Buckeyes have two very capable tight ends in Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett. The big questions are whether the new offensive line can provide the time to use these weapons, and whether the new QB can get the ball to them.
On defense, Ohio State is looking to get back to its traditional toughness. The Buckeyes’ defense struggled mightily at the end of last season, particularly against the pass. The defensive line has some returning talent, with Joey Bosa, Adolphus Washington, and Michael Bennett returning, but the linebacking corps and defensive backfield is filled with question marks. The roster of safeties and corners is filled with highly touted recruits — like Eli Apple and Vonn Bell — but we don’t yet know how they’ll perform when the chips are down. And they get an interesting test tomorrow against Navy, which plays a triple-option offense unlike any other the Buckeyes will see this year. A few years ago Ohio State played Navy in the season opener and barely escaped with a win, so fans should be wary. The Buckeyes had better be able to stop the run, which means those new linebackers and safeties will need to make their reads and fill the holes.
We’ll find out whether the new-look Buckeyes will be able to meet the unrealistic, but expected, expectations of Buckeye Nation starting at noon tomorrow in Baltimore. It’s time for some football!