When the sixth-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes take the field on Sept. 3 against Bowling Green, grab a program.
Urban Meyer has never had a larger roster turnover in his five seasons as OSU’s coach. After last season, he has to replace 16 starters — eight on offense and eight on defense — which includes a senior class that won 50 games in their time in the Scarlet and Gray. It’s quite the daunting task, even more so when one considers 14 of those departed players were drafted into the NFL.
Despite all that, presumptions remain the same.
“Coach Meyer don’t change the expectation,” said redshirt junior strong-side linebacker Chris Worley. “Either you reach it or you got to get out.”
There are new names and faces in 2016, yet the hype continues to pulsate out of the program. Here’s the OSU football season preview.
No Ezekiel Elliott, no Michael Thomas, no Braxton Miller and no Jalin Marshall. All of these playmakers are gone for the NFL.
However, left behind on the dock is one of the most important members of the 2014 national championship team — redshirt junior quarterback J.T. Barrett.
OSU’s offense under Meyer has been near the top of most offensive statistics in the every year of his four seasons in Columbus. Now entering season number five with the Scarlet and Gray, Meyer says he hopes his signal caller can lead the young group at OSU. Meyer thinks that Barrett could be better in 2016 than his national freshman of the year season in 2014.
“I anticipate he’ll be as good a quarterback as we’ve had,” Meyer said at Big Ten Media Days. “It’s his show, and he knows it, and he’s prepared.”
Albeit, the 2016 Buckeyes may not have the experience last year’s team had, junior H-back Curtis Samuel and redshirt sophomore wide receiver Noah Brown seem most ready to become the dominant forces around Barrett.
“This year I just got to have a mindset of a starter,” Samuel said. “I feel like I’m more mature this year.”
Barrett has said on multiple occasions that Brown — returning from a season-ending leg injury — is his go-to receiver, and he doesn’t care how Samuel gets the ball, he just has to.
As far as the offensive line is concerned, the unit known as “The Slobs” has a newer look, but a resounding mentality with new offensive line coach Greg Studrawa and redshirt senior captain Pat Elflein. Redshirt freshman running back Mike Weber will likely be named starting running back in the near future, so having a guy like Elflein leading a young group is vital to the offense’s success.
“(Elflein) is a great leader that demonstrates what Ohio State’s offensive line stands for,” said redshirt freshman offensive lineman Isaiah Prince. “He’s everything that an offensive guy should want to be.”
For what can be said about Barrett on offense, the same applies to junior linebacker Raekwon McMillan.
Contributing significantly as a true freshman in the 2014 national championship season, McMillan stepped up his game in 2015. leading the Buckeyes in tackles. As one of three members returning on the defense, McMillan will be asked to be more a force on the field and a mentor off of the gridiron.
“We have been working with each other the whole summer, so we built that bond and that chemistry on the field,” McMillan said about his linebackers. “Once you build that chemistry on the field, you can work together and play together.”
OSU ranked No. 9 overall in team defense and tied ninth in sacks last season, but lost a substantial part of their pass rush, most notably Joey Bosa.
Bosa, a two-time All-American for the Buckeyes, saw double-, even triple-teams on nearly every play on defense last year, leaving room for now-redshirt sophomore Sam Hubbard and redshirt junior Tyquan Lewis to rise as the next elite “Silver Bullets” pass rushers.
“I feel a lot more confident in my game (this year). I have a lot of faith in my teammates, the guys on the line with me,” Hubbard said. “There are a lot of guys hungry to make a name for themselves.”
OSU has to replace both safeties from last year and although no starter has been named yet, redshirt sophomore Malik Hooker and junior Damon Webb are practicing with the first team.
After Meyer finds his pick of 16 guys to fill the starting roles that are up for grabs, he will settle in for one of the most difficult schedules in his time with the Buckeyes.
Highlighted by a week three game at No. 3 Oklahoma, OSU will go on the road to face Wisconsin, Penn State and No. 12 Michigan State. Then, the Buckeyes will await their home finale against rival seventh-ranked Michigan in Ohio Stadium.
Fans around Columbus never change their expectations for the team, and Barrett expects to live up that hype.
“The way we practice, it’s not easy by any means,” Barrett said. “The guys are going to stand out there on the first snap against Bowling Green, and I’ll have confidence in them.”