2015 Season Roundtable: Looking Ahead

Ohio State is fresh off a national championship, but BuckeyeSports.com is already looking ahead to the 2015 season. We answer the questions that loom for next season.

When the confetti settled inside AT&T Stadium, Ohio State stood above the rest of college football as national champions. Soon after the trophy was presented, talk turned to the 2015 season.

The Buckeyes should be loaded next season, returning key players all over the field, but there are plenty of questions about the upcoming season. BuckeyeSports.com has answers. Our panel, BuckeyeSports.com writers Ryan Ginn, Blake Williams and Marcus Hartman along with editor Jeff Svoboda, look ahead at what’s next for Ohio State.

1. We have to ask, who starts at quarterback next year?
Ryan: I’m going to go with Cardale Jones, which is not something I imagined myself saying until pretty recently. There are two big reasons for me. First, I think he’s demonstrated that at this point he has the highest ceiling of any of the quarterbacks on the roster. Furthermore, neither Braxton Miller nor J.T. Barrett will be taking full-speed reps this spring, leaving all of the first-team reps to Jones. For a guy who still needs some refinement, I think that will be big.

Marcus: Cardale Jones is going to be hard to unseat after winning the national championship and then getting all the reps in spring practice. Also he is in all likelihood the most talented of the three. No one has ever doubted his measurables going back to high school, but there are lots of big, strong, athletic guys who never put it all together the way Jones has. Of course doing it over three games, regardless of competition, is not doing it over a full season, so it's premature to say he has arrived in full. But I see him having a lot of advantages.

Blake: Jones. He will be the only healthy quarterback in the spring and is coming off an unbelievable run that saw him lead the Buckeyes to wins over three ranked opponents. Miller and Barrett are excellent in their own right, but I think Jones has the highest ceiling, especially since I am not sold on Miller’s shoulder recovering fully. Jones has the inside track with the way he has performed lately and he gets a big head start in the spring so I believe he is the clear favorite to open the season in shotgun.

Jeff: Anyone who has been reading my posts here on BuckeyeSports.com or Twitter knows that I'm going with Cardale Jones. I think he's got the obvious inside track now for a variety of reasons, including, you know, winning the national championship game. In addition, he's gonna be the only healthy guy in spring, which will help him pick up more and more reps. And honestly, I don't believe he came back to be a backup again. He's gonna have to be on point in the classroom, the film room, the weight room and any other room in which the OSU staff grades players to hold on to that No. 1 role, but I think he can taste success now and won't want to give it up. And as I've said, I'm pretty intrigued to see what he can do with a whole year to play. If Braxton Miller stays (a big if at this point, in my opinion) I believe they'll make sure he gets some time (and rightfully so), and it might be a long 2015 for J.T. Barrett, but he has a bright future ahead not to mention three years of eligibility.

2. How much will the Buckeyes miss Tom Herman next season?
Ryan: There will be moments when Ohio State misses Tom Herman. Continuity is something that is impossible to replace, and he’s the only QB coach that’s worked with Barrett and Jones at Ohio State. However, I don’t see his departure as some sort of staff-crippling void that will actively lower OSU’s chances of success. Tim Beck seems capable enough, and the offense has always had Meyer’s fingerprints on it. He’s still there.

Marcus: Hard to say. Overall one has to like the experience Urban Meyer and Ed Warinner have in terms of developing spread offenses and working with quarterbacks, so whatever Tim Beck brings might be gravy, at least in 2015. Any coach will tell you he is only as good as the material he has to work with, and Ohio State should start out with some pretty good material next season, thanks in no small part to Herman. I thought Beck did some good things with Taylor Martinez, who was unfortunately injured for much of his senior season and couldn't show it as much as I'm sure he would have liked.

Blake: Herman will be missed, but I don’t think Ohio State fans should be too worried. Yes, losing the Broyles Award winner as the nation’s best assistant coach is significant, and replacing a guy who directed the Buckeyes to a scoring offense that rivaled any in the country won’t be easy, but the offense is Urban Meyer’s first and everyone else’s second. The head coach and newly promoted offensive coordinator Ed Warinner (a magician of an offensive line coach) will keep things humming offensively. The bigger losses with Herman’s exit in my opinion are his skills as a quarterback coach and recruiter. Whether Tim Beck can replicate the production Herman got out of three different quarterbacks and the success the coach had in recruiting Texas is the big question mark for me.

Jeff: You never know until you get the cooks into the kitchen, but I don't think they'll miss him a ton. Herman did an absolutely fantastic job rewriting scoring records at Ohio State so you can't just assume the next guy will mesh into the program without any speedbumps. And personality wise, you never know how Tim Beck will interact with OSU's crowded QBs room (though Herman wasn't exactly Mr. Popular to start, either). But Beck comes with pretty strong credentials, having run entertaining and similar offenses at Nebraska, so I have no reason to believe he'll be a major downgrade from a knowledge and schematics standpoint, and he obviously has a rapport with Ed Warinner, who deserves his promotion to offensive coordinator. Right now, everything sounds good, but the proof will eventually in the pudding.

3. What senior will be the hardest to replace?
Ryan: I’m going to go with Michael Bennett, the guy I also chose as the MVP of the season for Ohio State. Guys like him don’t come around too often. He’s maybe the most thoughtful athlete I’ve ever covered, and his vocal leadership helped keep the defense together in a few games toward the end of the season. Oh, and there’s also the fact that he’ll have a tree in the Buckeye Grove and happens to play a position at which Ohio State isn’t too deep.

Marcus: Despite how well Ohio State has recruited at his position, I will say Bennett. Defensive linemen who make plays like he did are still hard to find, and his leadership is uncommon as well. The lack of depth on the front was a storyline that was easy to let fall by the wayside when all was said and done this year, but it is something to think about in moving forward. Someone needs to step up.

Blake: The Buckeyes lose eight seniors who played significant roles this season and I think defensive tackle Michael Bennett is going to be the toughest to replace. While he didn’t really turn the corner until switching positions with Adolphus Washington for the Michigan State game, Bennett was a disruptive force late in the season that made everything easier for the rest of the defense. Furthermore, the captain seemed to be the pulse of the front seven. His mindset and aggressive play fueled the defense and made it harder for teams to focus solely on Joey Bosa. I suppose the hope is that Washington steps into Bennett’s role, but that could have a domino effect that leaves the Buckeyes wanting along the D-line. While other seniors will be missed, the lack of experienced interior defensive linemen behind Bennett makes me think he will be the toughest loss.

Jeff: I'm sure a popular answer will be Michael Bennett, and it's going to be my answer. Bennett was what you want in an OSU football player -- more than capable on the field and a solid human being off of it. Plus he plays a position where there's no obvious stand-in for 2015, though there will be plenty of potential entrants into that derby. His leadership will also be hard to replace as Urban Meyer pointed to Bennett as a guy who really helped make the defense rise to a different level at the end of the season. (Meanwhile, in the interview room, the answer is Jeff Heuerman, but that's neither here nor there).

4. Which 4-5 players do you think could be captains next season?
Ryan: I think the most obvious answer is Taylor Decker. I’d also consider Joshua Perry an absolute lock, given that his head coach thinks it will happen. Jacoby Boren strikes me as a guy who fits the mold, and if they’re going to give one to an underclassmen I think it will go to Ezekiel Elliott. Braxton Miller would also be in consideration if he remains at Ohio State.

Marcus: Taylor Decker would seem to be a lock. So is Joshua Perry. Despite his age, I would also throw Darron Lee into the mix along with Jacoby Boren and Ezekiel Elliott.

Blake: Weirdly, I’ve thought about this a lot throughout the entire season and feel like I can do a pretty good job of projecting who will be representing the 2015 senior class. Taylor Decker, entering his third season as a starter, seems to be a logical candidate along the offensive line while Joshua Perry is a no-brainer to me on defense. The fact that many of the Buckeyes best players will be juniors and not seniors next seasons complicates things some after that. I would peg Washington and center Jacoby Boren as captains as well. If any juniors make the cut, my money would be on Tyvis Powell.

Jeff: We'll see what happens with Miller, because if he returns he should be a captain just as he was this year. Looking at other seniors, Taylor Decker and Jacoby Boren look like potential captains, as the slobs were recognized for their hard-working nature this year; Decker seems to be a lock. On the defensive side, Joshua Perry is a shoo in as well. I think you might also have to look to some of the juniors because guys like Ezekiel Elliott and Joey Bosa aren't just amazingly talented youngsters; they're well-respected members of the team who encapsulate what the Buckeyes want out of their leaders.

5. Which player who redshirted will have the biggest impact in 2015?
Ryan: I suspect this will be a common choice, but I’m going to go with Sam Hubbard. I’ve spoken to enough of his teammates to know that Urban Meyer isn’t putting anyone on when he praises Hubbard, who was shuffled through three positions as a true freshman before finding a home at defensive end. It’s hard to say for sure that he’ll find regular playing time because Joey Bosa eats up a spot, but he’ll have a chance. I’ve also had people rave to me about Parris Campbell, who will reach the ripe old age of 18 a couple months before the season opener.

Marcus: Well I would say Braxton Miller if I knew how healthy he will be, but aside from him I'll go with Sam Hubbard. Not only is he perhaps the most talented member of his class, he also could move into a spot vacated by Steve Miller, whose backup also graduated. Johnnie Dixon could be a guy to watch on offense with deep threat Devin Smith out of eligibility.

Blake: I’m going to go with Johnnie Dixon, which is a bit of a copout since he did see the field in 2014 before he was forced to take a medical redshirt. Before he got hurt, Dixon was pushing for time at wide receiver and the former four-star recruit has tons of talent. With the departure of Evan Spencer and Devin Smith, the Buckeyes will need some receivers to step up if they are going to continue to have the rotations that they want at that spot. That makes Dixon a logical choice for me, even if I might be taking the easy way out.

Jeff: There are a few that stand out -- Sam Hubbard, Marshon Lattimore, Demetrius Knox and wideouts Parris Campbell and Terry McLaurin come to mind with the open spots there. Then there's Kyle Berger, whose redshrit was a medical one but is someone who could add depth at linebacker as well. I'm going to go with Hubbard, who I think has a very real shot to be a starter at a defensive end spot given how much the coaching staff raved about him near the end of the year. I think the guys I mentioned will all compete for starting spots but Hubbard at this very moment seems like the one most likely to win one.

6. Does Ohio State belong as the national championship favorite for next season?
Ryan: I think that’s safe to say. TCU will have a loaded roster and a decent path to the playoff (although everyone said that about Oklahoma last year), but I think Ohio State will be better. The biggest question mark is how this team comes together. Last year’s team was forged out of something special. For now, though, just looking at the roster must have Buckeye fans dreaming of a repeat.

Marcus: Without a doubt. Ohio State won it all this year and brings back many of its most talented players. Let's not discount the loss of Bennett, Devin Smith, Jeff Heuerman, Doran Grant and Darryl Baldwin, but there are talented players waiting in the wings to fight for those spots. And there are enough standouts elsewhere that none of the new starters probably has to be outstanding for the Buckeye machine to continue humming at high efficiency.

Blake: Absolutely. The Buckeyes were dominant late in the season and return a ton of playmakers. Sure, there are players to replace, but the return of Cardale Jones, Ezekiel Elliott, Michael Thomas, Jalin Marshall and nearly the entire offensive line makes it hard for me to believe the offense will be anything but better. Defensively, Joey Bosa with another year in the strength program is a terrifying thought while Darron Lee will be a year better at linebacker. The defense has to find replacements for Bennett and cornerback Doran Grant, but have stud middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan ready for full-time reps with the departure of Curtis Grant. Plus, another year in the new defensive system should only help. There is no reason the Buckeyes shouldn’t be the odds on favorite for another title.

Jeff: I don't see why not. I've been saying for a few weeks now that the only thing that can seriously derail Ohio State in 2015 is a team-splitting quarterback controversy, but I'm not sure that's gonna happen. I don't really think complacency is going to be at a play -- Urban won't let that happen, and these kids are pretty self-motivated as it is -- and the talent level is obviously through the roof when you consider I'd say at least seven of the team's top 10 players, the true game breakers, should return. There are some other teams that will have an argument but considering OSU's non-conference schedule, and really the whole schedule before the brutal MSU/at Michigan finish, OSU should be at the top of the polls for quite a while next year.

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