That'll happen when you lose a two-time Big Ten MVP at quarterback, a 1,500-yard rusher, the team's leading receiver and four of the top five offensive linemen.
So how good can the Buckeyes expect to be on offense in year three of the Urban Meyer area? We enlisted BSB's Ryan Ginn, Jeff Svoboda and Marcus Hartman to explore the subject and the personnel to see what could be on tap.
Is J.T. Barrett ready for this new role?
Ryan: He’s more ready than he could have been. If Braxton’s first shoulder injury had never happened and he went down in the second game like he did last year, I think Ohio State would be in trouble. But that’s not what happened, obviously. He’s split meaningful reps with the first team since March. Right now, is he as good as the two-time Big Ten Player of the Year? No. But he’s a good quarterback who appears to be more mature than most underclassmen (as evidenced by his spot on the leadership council last fall). There will be growing pains, but I don’t think he’ll be a disaster.
Jeff: All indications are he's as ready as he can be, at least as far as being a redshirt freshman taking over for a three-year starter and two-time Big Ten MVP. A natural leader and a cool customer, Barrett seems to at least have a good approach to the whole thing. But is he ready to be the starting quarterback at a place like Ohio State after having not taken a meaningful snap in two years? I am skeptical until I see him in action, which speaks more to the situation than anything else. It's an incredibly tough spot he's been put into, so if he handles it well, it will say a lot about him.
Marcus: This is an interesting question because while we have heard a lot about Barrett's maturity and leadership skills, a quick rearranging of priorities is bound to upset some rhythms. Sometimes we hear about guys who go about their business the same no matter what while others work harder when they know they are going to be in the spotlight. Which is Barrett? If I had to guess, it's the former, but only time will tell.
Who will be the leading rusher?
Ryan: I’ll play it safe and say Ezekiel Elliott. His wrist injury is a concern, but he’s the most talented back that Ohio State has and over the course of a full season that usually wins out. I will say, though, that I’d probably take the “over” on whatever yardage a Las Vegas sportsbook would set as the over/under for Rod Smith this season.
Jeff: A year ago, this was either Miller or Carlos Hyde, but now there's a lot of potential candidates. It could be someone like Elliott, who seems to be the odds-on favorite given the fact he'll likely be the starter barring a recurrence of his wrist injury. It could be Curtis Samuel, whose name has been on everyone's lips throughout the preseason. It could even be Barrett -- though he's no Miller, he'll have the ball in his hands quite a bit as compared each individual player among the deep stable at running back. That's not even accounting for Roderick Smith or Brionte Dunn. I want to be a contrarian and pick someone other than Elliott, but I just can't see that happening.
Marcus: The obvious choice is the best here: Ezekiel Elliott. He brings the most to the table, and his status as the backup last season despite being the youngest of the competitors is telling about what the coaching staff thinks of him.
Who will be the leading receiver?
Ryan: If we’re talking catches, I think I’ll take Dontre Wilson just because I do think Ohio State will utilize some quick passes that allow him to get to the perimeter and do his thing. From a yardage standpoint, though, I’ll take Michael Thomas – although I’m very high on Corey Smith. With all the talent at this position, I don’t expect the leader in either category to do so by a significant margin.
Jeff: This one is just as tough as the above question because just about anyone can break out here. I will be a contrarian here and go with Jalin Marshall. I just happen to think he's in line for a breakout year and will be someone the staff tries to get the ball to on a regular basis. Ginn makes a good point about Thomas, though, who showed during the spring he has the ability to go up and get the ball on deep passes. I feel bad not including Devin Smith on here but his unfortunate offseason -- which included injury and bad luck -- scares me a bit.
Marcus: Everything is shaping up for Dontre Wilson to be the guy who gets the ball in the most different ways. I look for him to become the guy the QB looks for when in trouble while Devin Smith remains mostly a deep threat.
Who is your choice for a breakout player?
Ryan: The Ohio State offensive line. That’s more than one person, but the average offensive lineman gets about 1/5 the attention of a skill player so I’m counting it anyways. I believe Ed Warinner will find a way to get it done. It may not be perfect in September, but I think the offensive line will be hitting on all cylinders by Nov. 8. I don’t think it’s possible to overstate how important they’ll be this year in terms of the need to protect Barrett and open holes for Elliott.
Jeff: OK I gave it away but I really think Marshall, a five-star recruit in the class of 2013, is someone who is primed for a huge season. He just makes plays with the ball in his hand that other people can't make, and I think his skills will be pretty obvious by the middle of the season.
Marcus: If we consider Wilson already fairly well known, Jalin Marshall could be the guy who benefits the most from Miller's absence because it means the coaching staff will redouble it's efforts to find as many ball handlers as possible. He could even be a Wildcat option depending on his things shape up with Barrett's running. Look for him to touch the ball a variety of ways.
Urban Meyer has said the Buckeyes need to find 100 yards of offense to make up for Braxton Miller's injury. Is it there?
Ryan: The potential is there, I suppose. Is it realistic? I doubt it. One thing to keep in mind is that the youngest three classes currently making up the team were all ranked in the top five in the country. From a raw talent standpoint, this is the most talented team that Urban Meyer has had in Columbus. I don’t think they can all instantly come in and provide the dependability of Carlos Hyde or Philly Brown in their senior years or Braxton Miller as a junior, but I also don’t anticipate this offense falling off a cliff. I think the overall numbers will be worse than last year and worse than they would be with Braxton under center, but they’ll find a way to make it work.
Jeff: I just don't see it. Maybe they can make up 50 yards, but 100? Two reasons to have confidence -- as Ginn said, this is the most talented team the Buckeyes have had at the skill positions, and I think the offensive brain trust is pretty sharp. But think of things this way -- there were close to 1,000 football players on scholarship in each of the past two years in the Big Ten, and Braxton Miller was named the best in each of those seasons. So can someone who's never taken a collegiate snap direct an offense at the same level? I can't see it, but I could be proved wrong.
Marcus: There are enough candidates that each new guy could account for only 25 yards and the answer could be yes, but it remains to be seen if that's how it works out. We know this head coach has been more used to spreading the ball around in the past than previous staffs that talked about using multiple weapons but never did. Maybe we'll finally see it.