The Buckeyes came into this season with only 6 returning starters. That’s right, only 6. The 2014 National Championship team of legend has been seen into the bright sunset of the NFL, with some of them, namely Ezekiel Elliot, Joey Bosa,and Michael Thomas, making an immediate and emphatic name for themselves. This year was Urban Meyer’s first rebuilding year since initially taking the reigns, and while the season may have ended on a bitter note with a humiliating thrashing at the hands of the eventual National Champions, Clemson, we did plant the seeds for perhaps another national title run next year and beyond. Here is the breakdown on all sides of the ball for the Buckeyes.
Offense: While the Buckeyes had the daunting task of replacing their backfield and receiving corps, they had their work cut out for them at quarterback. While J.T. Barrett didn’t play as well as he did in his phenomenal freshman season in 2014, he did show that he has the abilities to make plays, at least with his feet. His passing ability is an area of question, as the Buckeyes had an incredibly weak downfield passing game for the entire season. If the Buckeyes are to perfect their offense next season, downfield passing needs to be emphasized in camp. Speaking of the backfield, Mike Weber became just the second Buckeye freshman to ever rush for 1,000 yards, and he showed specks of brilliance, especially in a blowout win over Oklahoma. Ball control was a weak point for Weber, as he fumbled twice in the game against Clemson, however, if this is worked on, he could easily run for 1,500 yards next season. Weber wasn’t the only one in the backfield making a name for himself, either, as Curtis Samuel was easily the best player on the Buckeye offense this season. Not only was he the Buckeyes’ leading receiver, he averaged nearly 8 yards per touch on the ground as well. While the receiving corps were not nearly as strong as they were last season, Noah Brown proved that he can make big plays, particularly in his legendary performance against Oklahoma, where he caught 4 touchdowns. The offensive line struggled at times, but there is a lot of promise in the group, and the return of Billy Price for his senior season will make the unit very strong. The Buckeye offense made big steps in rebuilding, as they have a running back for the future. In addition, they averaged 39 points per game, and it’s very likely that that number will go up next season.
Defense: The Buckeyes lost 8 starters on defense, including Joey Bosa, Darron Lee, and Eli Apple, but the Buckeye defense certainly bounced back. There were five games in which the Buckeye defense held the opposition to 10 points or less, including a 62-3 thrashing of Nebraska. The best player on the defense was easily all-American safety Malik Hooker, who picked off 7 passes and returned 3 for touchdowns. Sadly, he is leaving for the NFL, as are cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore and Gareon Conley, leaving a large hole in the secondary that will need to be replaced next season, but knowing the Buckeyes, they will be able to do so. While the secondary was arguably the strongest asset for the Ohio State defense, the front seven definitely recovered from the loss of Joey Bosa. Tyquan Lewis is the leader of the defensive line and the announcement that he is returning for his senior season is definitely welcome news. Joey Bosa’s younger brother, Nick, is a promising star and should step into the spotlight next season. Jalyn Holmes and Sam Hubbard round out an amazing and young defensive line. The linebackers may be the weakest part of the defense, but even then, they boast all-Big Ten star Raekwon McMillan, another likely first round pick in this year’s NFL draft. Even though McMillan may be leaving, playmaker Jerome Baker will be back next season. While the Buckeyes may be losing a lot of their impact players on defense, if they can replace these players and their defensive line can play as well as it did this year, they will be just fine. Remember, this year was a rebuilding year, and the defense allowed only 15.5 points per game.
Special Teams: The Buckeyes definitely need the most work on special teams. Kicker Tyler Durbin started the season off great, making 16 of his first 17 field goal attempts, but afterwards went 1 for 5. He also had a game-sealing field goal blocked by Penn State, perhaps costing us that game. Special teams play was definitely the issue in that game, as in addition to a blocked field goal, one of Cameron Johnston’s punts was blocked in that game as well, which led to a Penn State field goal. The return game simply didn’t have any punch as well. The bright spot on special teams was definitely punter Cameron Johnston, and his skill will be missed. The Buckeyes need to work on their special teams play if they are to avoid another embarrassment like what happened at Penn State this season, however, knowing how good of a recruiter Urban Meyer is, I trust we will be just fine.
Final Verdict: While this season did have its low points, such as being upset by Penn State and getting shut out by Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl, one has to remember that this was a rebuilding year for the Buckeyes. Expectations were not as high as they were in 2015, yet somehow we were able to put forth one heck of a season. With J.T. Barrett returning for his senior season and with bright young stars like Mike Weber and Nick Bosa on the gridiron, the future looks promising for the Buckeyes.