No. 2 Ohio State
Ohio State is pissed off.
“Coach Meyer likes to use the word ‘angry," Ohio State center Price said about Urban Meyer's approach after they were blown out by Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl. “He was very angry after that loss. Not like tantrum or flipping-out angry. But there’s a lot of accountability he took over that.”
That accountability included changes with the coaching staff, day-to-day operations, personnel, schemes and more. Will it be enough for the Buckeyes to return to the playoff and capture their second national championship since 2014?
2016 Record: 11-2 (8-1, Big Ten)
There's no sense in sugarcoating this one.
When you — one of the elite programs in America, who expects to contend for a national championship each season — lose 31-0 in the national semifinal, nothing else matters.
Wins over Oklahoma, Wisconsin and Michigan were fun, as was another Big Ten title. But none of that comes close to making the season anything but a disappointment after the whooping Clemson put on them.
Head Coach: Urban Meyer (6th year, 61-6 overall)
The numbers are outrageous.
Urban Meyer has as many Big Ten losses and home losses (two apiece) as Ohio State head coach as he does playoff appearances. He's never failed to win fewer than 11 games in a season and is averaging 1.2 losses per season.
“Coach Meyer is big business,” senior linebacker Chris Worley said. “He doesn’t want you to talk to him about something. He wants you to show him. The more you show him, the more you gain his trust and he respects you."
Key Returning Offensive Players
QB J.T. Barrett, RB Mike Weber, HB Parris Campbell, WR Terry McLaurin, TE Marcus Baugh, OT Jamarco Jones, OT Isaiah Prince, G Michael Jordan, C Billy Price
Ohio State's offense ranked first or second in the Big Ten in rushing, total yards and scoring. The Buckeyes didn't have a flawless, multi-dimensional and powerful unit by any means, but they did have a decent attack 90 percent of the time. The other 10 percent cost them at Penn State and nearly cost them against Michigan, Northwestern, Wisconsin and Michigan State.
Then came Clemson. It was their first shutout since 1993 — 295 games — and Meyer's first-ever as a head coach.
"It was awful," Meyer said at Big Ten Media Days. ". . . Professionally, (the loss) changed how we do business on offense."
The biggest changes were co-offensive coordinators Ed Warinner and Tim Beck "leaving" for Minnesota (offensive line coach and run game coordinator) and Texas (offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach), respectively. Meyer replaced them with Kevin Wilson six weeks after Wilson was fired as Indiana head coach.
Wilson — ranked No. 2 among the best coordinator hires of the offseason — has said he has a similar philosophy as Meyer and things won't change dramatically. He will, however, focus on details, consistency and creativeness.
“When coach Wilson came in, he said, ‘As a receiver, you’re not beating a corner, but you’re beating a defensive end that the left tackle has to block. You got to beat the defensive end, you got to get open in order for me to get you the ball. If you take forever to get open, we can’t get you the ball ‘cause we didn’t beat the defensive end," said senior quarterback J.T. Barrett.
Barrett returns for his final hurrah in Columbus. His completion percentage and yards per attempt have declined in each of his three seasons but he's still one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation.
His backfield mate will be Mike Weber, who dazzled as a freshman, averaging six yards per tote (1,096 yards and nine touchdowns). Barrett's receivers aren't as proven. They return zero players who had more than 24 receptions a year ago — though both Parris Campbell (who will be used more as an H-back) and Terry McLaurin have earned praise from the coaching staff.
"The improvement from the end of fall in those two kids specifically has been night and day," receivers coach Zack Smith said of the redshirt juniors. "It’s just constant development. It’s also kind of an, ‘Okay, it’s my time to shine. Here’s this opportunity."
The offensive line will miss longtime starter Pat Elflein — a third-round pick of the Vikings — but returns four starters, including senior Billy Price (41 career starts) to replace Elflein at center. Guard Michael Jordan started all 13 games as a true freshman in 2017.
Key Returning Defensive Players
DT Robert Landers, DT Dre'MOnt Jones, DE Sam Hubbard, DE Joey Bosa, DE Tyquan Lewis, LB Chris Worley, LB Jerome Baker, CB Denzel Ward, S Damon Webb
Ohio State lost four stud defenders to the NFL and will still field one of the best defenses in college football.
Greg Schiano's unit ranked in the nation's top 10 in scoring, passing, red zone defense, defensive touchdowns and turnovers gained, among other areas. They didn't allow more than 24 points until their final two games.
Schiano gets back most players from a dominant front seven, including linebackers Chris Worley and Jerome Baker, both of whom have been challenged to take it the next level without Raekwon McMillan. Baker is the second-highest graded returning linebacker in the country, according to Pro Football Focus.
"He’s in a whole different place now," linebackers coach Bill Davis told Eleven Warriors. "He's got one of the highest football IQs that I’ve been around. You tell him once, he gets it, he understands it."
In front of Worley and Baker is a defensive line with depth, depth and more depth. Tyquan Lewis and Sam Hubbard combined for 19 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks on the edge, while tackles Dre'Mont Jones and Robert Landers added a combined 12 tackles for loss. Defensive line coach Larry Johnson has so many studs that he's been toying with with a "Jack" position that puts FIVE defensive ends on the field at the same time.
“It looks funky,” Holmes said. “It just gives the offense a different look and throws them off guard a little bit . . . it’s a great change up.”
The secondary needs to be rebuilt — again — after losing three first-round picks. Senior safety Damon Webb (57 tackles, three passes defended) and junior corner Denzel Ward (nine passes defended) are the leaders.
Notable Player Losses
WR Curtis Samuel, WR Noah Brown, C Pat Elflein, LB Raekwon McMillan, CB Gareon Conley, CB Marshon Lattimore, S Malik Hooker
Another year, another parade of Buckeyes to the NFL. This time they had six players drafted, five of whom left early.
Curtis Samuel and Noah Brown combined for 22 touchdowns more than 2,000 yards from scrimmage. Their production was aided by the best center in college football, First-Team All-American Pat Elflein.
The defense lost sure-tackling linebacker Raekwon McMillan and three elite defensive backs. Conley, Lattimore and Hooker combined for a staggering 15 interceptions last season.
Notable Player Additions
RB J.K. Dobbins, DT Haskell Garrett, S Isaiah Pryor
Four-star running back J.K. Dobbins arrived in Columbus over the winter and started at fourth on the depth chart. He quickly beat out Antonio Williams for the No. 3 spot, then jumped Demario McCall for the No. 2 spot.
"J.K., without question," running backs coach Tony Alford said during fall camp about who the No. 2 option is behind Mike Weber. "This guy loves football. He is smart. In my 22 years, this guy has picked it up faster than anyone I have ever been around. He has picked it up, understands the offense. He plays hard. He goes so hard, which is part of the culture of this program."
Defensively, tackle Haskell Garrett is running alongside Jashon Cornell in the No. 2 spot behind Dre'Mont Jones, while IMG Academy product Isaiah Pryor is backing up Damon Webb at free safety.
Ohio State is a trendy upset victim pick in Week 1 against Indiana in Kevin Wilson's return to Bloomington. Don't fall for it; Memorial Stadium will be rocking but the Buckeyes will roll in the Thursday opener.
They host Oklahoma a week later before finishing non-conference play with Army and UNLV, also both in Columbus. Their Big Ten schedule is highlighted by a home date with Penn State (Oct. 28) and visit to Michigan (Nov. 25).
|Thursday, Aug. 31||at Indiana|
|Saturday, Sept. 9||vs. Oklahoma|
|Saturday, Sept. 16||vs. Army|
|Saturday, Sept. 23||vs. UNLV|
|Saturday, Sept. 30||at Rutgers|
|Saturday, Oct. 7||vs. Maryland|
|Saturday, Oct. 14||at Nebraska|
|Saturday, Oct. 28||vs. Penn State|
|Saturday, Nov. 4||at Iowa|
|Saturday, Nov. 11||vs. Michigan State|
|Saturday, Nov. 18||vs. Illinois|
|Saturday, Nov. 25||at Michigan|