COLUMBUS, Ohio (BVM) — After a heartbreaking end to last season in a 29-23 loss to Clemson, Ohio State will be looking to get back to the College Football Playoff for the fourth time.
The chance was almost taken away from them when the Big Ten decided to postpone the 2020 fall football season. But ultimately, the decision was reversed, and the season is set to start on Oct. 24.
“Duke is playing Notre Dame, and Clemson is playing Wake Forest,” Ohio State head coach Ryan Day said in a letter to the Big Ten on Sept. 10. “Our players want to know: why can’t they play?”
The Buckeyes were ranked as the No. 2 team in the nation in the preseason poll behind only Clemson. The team was removed from the rankings after the announcement of the season being postponed, but returned at No. 6 in the most recent poll.
On offense, the Buckeyes return one of the top quarterbacks in the country in Justin Fields — a Heisman finalist from a season ago who threw for 3,273 yards and 41 touchdowns, with only three interceptions.
“First, from a team standpoint, we want to start by beating that team up north [Michigan],” Fields said in a press conference. “Then we want to win a Big Ten championship, then we want to go on and win the first game of the playoff and then the national championship. I think that’s what the team is focused on most right now.”
Fields will have an offensive line that returns three starters, including Wyatt Davis, who will be allowed to return after initially forgoing the season. Left tackle Thayer Munford, and center Josh Myers, also return. Harry Miller and Nicholas Petit-Frere appear to be the leaders in the competition for the two open lineman positions.
Chris Olave will lead a young group of wide receivers after catching 49 passes for 849 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. Garrett Wilson also returns for his sophomore season, and will move into the slot receiver role this year.
Four highly touted true freshmen will compete for playing time at receiver as well, along with promising sophomore Jameson Williams, and senior Jaylen Harris. Senior Demario McCall will also contribute as a playmaking weapon at both running back and receiver. Wide receiver coach Brian Hartline feels that his group goes three deep at all three positions.
“I have no issues moving anybody to any position if it gets the right guy on the field,” Hartline said in a press conference.
Three tight ends return to compete for playing time as well. Jeremy Ruckert and Luke Farrell combined for 21 catches and six touchdowns last season, while Jake Hausmann added two catches as well. One intriguing option is Cade Stover, who has switched from defensive line to tight end this season.
Running back will be an interesting battle as the Buckeyes look to replace J.K. Dobbins. Oklahoma grad transfer, Trey Sermon, chose to play at Ohio State, and will compete with sophomore Master Teague III, who rushed for 789 yards and four touchdowns last season.
On defense, Ohio State will have to replace three first-round draft picks, including two of the top three players drafted overall.
A familiar face returns to coach the defense as former cornerbacks coach, Kerry Coombs, is back in Columbus to be the defensive coordinator.
The defensive line will look to use many players to replace the production lost with Chase Young now in the NFL. Senior Jonathon Cooper will be the most experienced player and leader of the line. Meanwhile, rising juniors Tyreke Smith and Tyler Friday will also be involved in the rotation, looking to step into more prominent roles.
Two sophomores, Zach Harrison and Javontae Jean-Baptiste, make up the rotation and fill out what should be another impressive season from the Buckeye defensive end position.
On the inside, replacing Davon Hamilton and Robert Landers will be Tommy Togiai, and former five-star recruit, Taron Vincent, who is returning from a shoulder injury suffered last season. Seniors Antwuan Jackson and Haskell Garrett, as well as junior Jerron Cage, should make up the rest of the interior rotation.
“Up front we have to really replace Chase and Davon,” Day said on his radio show on 97.1 The Fan in Columbus. “I think it’s really important for our team that our defensive line is strong.”
At linebacker, there is a lot of experience returning for the Buckeyes including four seniors. The trio of Tuf Borland, Baron Browning and Pete Werner have all played over 700 snaps in their careers and have experience in big games. This trio had their best season last year, and will look to continue that in 2020.
Sixth-year senior Justin Hillard joins the group and will look to be a leader as the most tenured player on the team. Juniors K’Vaughan Pope, Teradja Mitchell and Dallas Gant will also be looking to make an impact.
“I think this particular group of guys is one of the more special groups I’ve been around,” linebacker coach Al Washington said during a media availability on Oct. 1.
The most fascinating position for the Buckeyes defense this season will be defensive back. Junior cornerback Shaun Wade — like Wyatt Davis — has been cleared to return to the team after opting out before the announcement of the return of Big Ten football. This was huge news, as it was possible that all four starters from last season could have left.
Wade will move to one of the outside corner positions this season after playing inside last year. Competing on the other side will be juniors Sevyn Banks and Cameron Brown, who served as the primary backups last season. They will be joined by sophomore and former five-star recruit, Tyreke Johnson. On the inside, senior Marcus Williamson looks to take over from Wade.
At safety, junior Josh Proctor will be looking to step into the lineup after getting some playing time last season. Sophomore Marcus Hooker will see time on the field in two safety looks this season as well. Others to watch at the safety position are redshirt freshmen Bryson Shaw and Ronnie Hickman, as well as true freshman Lanthan Ransom.
The Buckeyes will open their schedule on Oct. 24 against Nebraska, as they look to become Big Ten champions for the fourth straight season. Penn State will welcome the Buckeyes for their second game in what should be a top-10 matchup. The last game of the season will be against Michigan on Dec. 12. The Buckeyes will hope to compete for the Big Ten Championship the following weekend.