Buckeyes Look To Be Loaded in 2015

Moments after being crowned national champions, some Buckeyes were already looked ahead to next season.

The 2014 National Championship took a lot of hard work for Ohio State. Even for the Buckeyes youngest players, and of those there are plenty, it’s been months of work in Columbus and a lifetime on the football field in the making.

And yet, some Buckeyes gave themselves very little time to enjoy it.

“I’m at a loss for words, but I can’t wait to get back to working and get back for next year,” redshirt sophomore Mike Thomas said in the postgame lockerroom. “I mean, why not? This great group of guys, great group of coaches, I just want to soak in everything that they’re giving me and enjoy everything and get back here and win another one for the next senior class.”

Thomas, a key player for the Buckeyes this season with a team-high 54 receptions and the second most receiving yards with 799 yards, is eligible to enter the NFL draft, but all indications are that he will return. Assuming he does, he will be one of a number of talented players seeking to repeat in 2015.

If no juniors or third-year sophomore leave early, the Buckeyes will return 56 of 69 players listed on the depth chart in advance of their 42-20 defeat of Oregon in the CFP National Title Game. That doesn’t include injured quarterbacks Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett, top five finishers in the Heisman Trophy voting the last two years who could return.

Eight offensive starters will be back for Ohio State while seven starters return on the defensive side, and that’s not including freshman middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan who essentially split snaps at the position this year.

Thanks to sophomore standout Exekiel Elliott, a player who rushed for nearly 700 yards in the Buckeyes last three games, Ohio State will return 97 percent of their 3,967 rushing yards. All but 13 of their 3,707 passing yards will be back. The biggest hit offensively will be at wide receiver, where the Buckeyes will be forced to replace 1,295 of the 3,707 yards the 2014 team recorded.

The offensive line must replace just one starter, right tackle Darryl Baldwin.

“The future is bright,” junior left tackle Taylor Decker said. “I’m excited to celebrate this one, but we’ve got a lot of guys coming back so the future is going to be bright.”

The Buckeyes had five freshmen All-Americans, the most of any team in the country. Quarterback J.T. Barrett and linemen Billy Price represented the offense, while linebackers Darron Lee and McMillan and cornerback Eli Apple were the defensive representatives.

The Buckeyes return three of the four members of their starting secondary, two of three linebackers in addition to McMillan and two starting linemen, including consensus All-American Joey Bosa.

“Championships are won with defense, and our defense has been on a difficult journey the last couple years,” Meyer said. “The future of our defense is even better because there are a lot of young guys playing.”

The Buckeyes will return their top four tacklers, including team-leader Joshua Perry. The top two on the team in sacks will also be back in Bosa and Lee. Interceptions leader in Vonn Bell will also return.

While the talent is certainly going to be there next season, nothing is guaranteed. The 2013 recruiting class has often been compared to the Super Sophs of 1968. That team won a title behind their youth much like the 2014 team did, but those players didn’t secure a title the following year.

The missing leadership of the senior class cannot be discounted, especially considering head coach Urban Meyer consistently praised those seniors for fostering the closest team he has ever been around in 2014.

The skills of seniors Michael Bennett and Doran Grant on defense and Evan Spencer and Devin Smith on offense will also be missed. However, with the depth of talent he Buckeyes are set to return coupled with one of the best coaches in the country in Meyer, it’s hard to imagine the team won’t excel next season.

Spencer won’t be on the roster in 2015, but he wasn’t shy when asked how good that version of the Buckeyes could be.

“Frightening,” he said. “Frightening because we are pretty damn good now, so next year we are going to be pretty good too.”

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