LOOKING BACK: There were several new starters, including a true freshman, and a new position coach in Greg Studrawa, but Ohio State hit the ground running in the early stages of the 2016 season. It was reasonable to expect this unit would continue to get better over the course of the season with more reps, but that did not happen. They allowed 28 sacks in pass protection, which is way too high. A lot of those can be attributed to J.T. Barrett's poor pocket presence, but this group fell apart against Michigan State, Michigan and the debacle against Clemson. There was also the Demetrius Knox disaster in the playoffs, where he was clearly not ready to play. To win the national title in 2017 this group has to be much better. Period.
RETURNING STARTERS: Four starters return, and that alone is reason for optimism. Center Billy Price has started a ton of games for Ohio State to date, and while the second team All-America honor is questionable, he's a solid player. Will he take to the move to center? It should be a seamless transition for him, and he's probably better suited for center than guard. Jamarco Jones is the most underrated player on the team, and should be their best lineman. He was really good last season. No worries with this guy. Michael Jordan hit the wall toward the end of the year, but this kid can ball. He could take a monster leap this season, and be an All Big Ten type. That leaves Isaiah Prince, who struggled greatly last season, but has as much potential as any lineman on this squad. It is reasonable to expect Prince to improve dramatically this year. If things go the way I believe it will, these are four solid starters, with Jordan and Jones having the chance to be exceptional.
THE INCOMING FRESHMEN: They bring in three highly rated guys in Wyatt Davis, Josh Myers and Thayer Munford. Can any of these three emulate Jordan and start next season? I don't see that right now. If Davis were there now, I think he would have a shot but he doesn't report until June. Myers is there now, but might need a year to improve his pass blocking. Munford is a project for down the road.
THE FIFTH STARTER: And now the fun begins at Ohio State because nobody has a clue if there is a viable fifth starter on this team. There is hope for a few guys, but nothing more than hopes and wishes for the remainder of the players in the O-line room. Malcolm Pridgeon probably is the favorite, but who has actually seen him do anything? He was hurt last year, and listing him here is all about potential, which he certainly has. Would he play guard, or move to tackle and kick Prince inside? Knox was brutal against Clemson, but if you give him a pass for that, is he still that highly thought of by Studrawa? If Knox starts it will be at guard, which keeps Prince outside. What about Brandon Bowen? He played a lot last year and appeared to be the sixth guy. He has to be in the mix.
THE PROSPECTS AND SUSPECTS: Evan Lisle and Kyle Trout have moseyed on down the road, and it's possible a few more make that move in another year unless they show more than they have to date. I would have Jack Wohlabaugh, Gavin Cupp and Tyler Gerald in the prospect category, and none of the three are expected to contribute this season unless things change drastically. I have Brady Taylor and Kevin Feder in the suspect area, and I'm not sure what to make of Matthew Burrell's lack of development. The last three better pick it up beginning today, and need to show they can be contributors over the coming months or risk being passed by completely.
THE OUTLOOK: With Kevin Wilson looking to install more of a modern passing attack, there will be more pressure on the offensive line to be much better in pass protection. Much better. The new look passing game won't fly with the quarterback on his back, so this position group is the most important to watch next season. If this group plays like they did late in the year, Ohio State has no chance at winning the national title. However, if the four starters play the way we have a right to reasonably expect, and they find a decent number-five man, this group could be one of the best in the country. The talent is there, and this is a group that should produce multiple NFL draft picks. The jury is out on line coach Greg Studrawa, and this is a big year for him as well. If this group plays to their potential next year and stays healthy, then Ohio State is going to be a total terror when they have the football in Wilson's offense. If you want to say this position group will determine the won/loss record in 2017, I won't argue with you. I have the offensive line and the defensive backs as the two key areas to follow going forward.