LOOKING BACK: A look at the numbers shows that Ohio State had the 13th ranked scoring offense in college football, and they averaged nearly 40 points per game. They probably even set lots of school records if you're into that type of stuff. You can average 40 when you roll it up on Bowling Green, Maryland and Nebraska, and to some this might over shadow the fact that late in the year they barely scored at all against Michigan State and Michigan, and they DID NOT SCORE A POINT against Clemson. There was also an offensive failure against Penn State that led to a loss, which led to no Big Ten title game appearance. In short, this was an offense that absolutely rolled hapless teams, but couldn't cut it against teams with a pulse. And to win a national championship things could not stay the same with the offensive coaching makeup. So needed changes were made to the staff. MUCH needed changes.
THE COACHING CHANGES: Trading Tim Beck and Ed Warinner for Ryan Day and Kevin Wilson is a HUGE WIN. Shoot, trading Beck and Warinner for Wilson and Doris Day would be an upgrade. Letting Wilson run the show, without Urban Meyer's interference is the key. Let Wilson do his thing, and let Meyer spend more time on game situations, clock management, timeouts, and other matters that weren't sharp the past two years. If Day can get Barrett coached up as a passer, and Wilson can devise a modern offense that uses all the talent, this team will be able to kill the bad teams, BUT LEGITIMATELY threaten any defense in college football. And that's EXACTLY what I think Kevin Wilson can do for Ohio State.
THE RETURNING STARTERS: At the quarterback, runningback and tight end spots, Ohio State returns J.T. Barrett, Mike Weber and Marcus Baugh. While all three had good seasons last year, they all need to improve their production this year for the Buckeyes to win the national title. For Barrett, he must throw the football better, and that means more accurately, getting the ball out quicker, and making better decisions. With Weber, a 1,000 yard season is darn good, but he needs to be more dynamic this season and produce bigger plays. And to ever have the football thrown in his direction, he cannot repeat last season's 3.9 yard per catch average, or they could just throw it to Billy Price. Baugh has never lived up to the vast potential he has, and it's now or never time for the senior. Catching 24 balls for 269 yards is the very definition of average. Can these three be better in 2017?
THE INCOMING FRESHMEN: Don't see either Tate Martell or J.K. Dobbins challenging for a starting job, with Martell a certain redshirt candidate. But I do see Dobbins on the field in some capacity, possibly taking reps that last year went to Curtis Samuel and Dontre Wilson in the backfield. I think Dobbins has play-maker written all over him, especially the ability to score from long distance. I see him getting lots of reps early in the year, provided he is fully recovered from last year's leg injury. Ohio State did not bring in a tight end in the freshman class.
THE QUARTERBACK POSITION: They brought Barrett back for one reason and one reason only, and that's to be the starter. So Wilson will have to shape this offense around Barrett's strength running the football, but put him in a position where he is able to scare defenses throwing the football. Can that happen? We are going to see, and I'm not interested in practice reports or spring game flashes. I want to see it in the opener against Wilson's old team. Who backs up Barrett? Probably two guys Kevin Wilson is more in tune with their skill sets, as both can throw the football better than Barrett. Should Barrett go down, who would get the call? All the buzz the past few months was definitely about Dwayne Haskins, and how well he threw it in practice. But I'm not read to count out Joey Burrow just yet, and I believe in that kid totally. If Wilson can turn Barrett into a QB that gets the linebackers off the line of scrimmage and keeps the safetys honest, it's going to open up so much of this offense. It should make things easier to run the ball, easier for the linemen to pass protect, and it gives the wide receivers a chance to expand their route trees from basic to advanced. For Ohio State to win the national title, Wilson and Day need to take Barrett to the next level as a passer. Period.
THE RUNNINGBACK POSITION: Mike Weber is a darn good football player, but what if he gets hurt in the first quarter against Indiana and is lost for the season? At that point, Ohio State has to hope that Antonio Williams is a PLAYER, and nobody knows that right now. The early returns were not all that promising, but he has a year in the system and was highly regarded coming out of high school. I believe Demario McCall and Dobbins can fill in and split 10 carries between them, but Wilson has always been known for his power running attack that perfectly compliments his passing schemes. If Weber goes down, Williams HAS to be able to step in and power-run the football against good teams. Can he do that? He is a guy to watch this spring to see how he looks.
THE TIGHT END POSITION: Watching Jake Butt last year I'm always surprised that Baugh isn't that type of player. Maybe he will be in Wilson's offense? Baugh has talent, but whether it's the offense to blame, or he's just an under achiever, the production has not been there. A.J. Alexander is decent, and Jake Hausmann has a ton of potential. The early reviews were not all that glowing for Kierre Hawkins or Luke Farrell, but they are both very young. Can you imagine how this offense could hum with a legit tight end like Butt running down the seam, or catching third down throws across the middle in the soft spots of the defense? Can Baugh be Jake Butt in Wilson's offense?
THE OUTLOOK: When Chris Ash was hired and nobody had ever heard of the guy, I wrote that he was one of the top young defensive minds in the country. And that Ohio State's coaching on defense just went from average to exceptional in an instant. Which it did. I wrote that Schiano would continue that excellence as a replacement for Ash, and he sure did. Well, the Wilson hiring takes the offense from below average with Meyer/Warinner/Beck, and to the same level of brilliance that Ash and Schiano brought to the table. What is my expectation for Wilson and Day being added to Ohio State? An undefeated season, and a national title. That's what I think will happen.