2016 Season Preview: An 11W Staff Roundtable

By Tim Shoemaker on August 26, 2016 at 1:05 pm
An 11w roundtable.
Eleven Warriors' Ohio State Football 2016 Season Preview

Eight days from now, Ohio State will take the field at Ohio Stadium for its first game of the 2016 season. The Buckeyes are coming off a 12-1 season that was capped with a Fiesta Bowl victory over Notre Dame.

After losing 16 starters and 12 NFL Draft picks, there are numerous questions about this year's version of Ohio State. How will the Buckeyes replace Ezekiel Elliott? Will the defense be better or worse? Who is going to catch the damn ball?

That's why we're here, to answer those questions — and more — as best we can with an Eleven Warriors staff roundtable. We asked 11 questions and our staff answered like only it can.


1. Which road game on the schedule are you worried about most?

Jones: The Week 3 tilt in Oklahoma clearly seems to be the biggest hurdle in front of this team. The Sooners return nearly all their offensive playmakers from a playoff appearance last year while their defense will get a nice preview of the Buckeyes' scheme two weeks earlier when they face Tom Herman’s Houston squad. Though Norman isn’t known to be quite as hostile to visitors as Madison or State College, this matchup with Ohio State appears to be one of the most anticipated home games in recent history, meaning the 16 new starters Meyer will be bringing with him will have to grow up very quickly. That combination of talent, experience, and atmosphere will be tough for the visitors to overcome.

Chris: By process of elimination, I’m going with Michigan State. My guess is Oklahoma will be the toughest test considering Ohio State’s youth at game time and the opponent’s talent, but with it being realistic the Buckeyes could still make the CFP even with a loss in Norman I can’t put that at the top of my list. I hear many people voicing concern about going to Madison and Happy Valley — and based on atmosphere I understand that concern — but I just don’t see this Ohio State team losing to either one of those squads. Going to East Lansing, however, will be a different beast for a few reasons. One, Dantonio has played Meyer to a 2-2 draw through four head-to-head matchups. Two, Ohio State will need to guard against looking ahead to hosting Michigan seven days later.  

Ramzy: I hate going to Wisconsin right after playing Indiana. That's like the deejay playing a tender ballad at the 8th-grade dance immediately after Walk This Way (the Run DMC version, not the trash Aerosmith one). You're all hyped up on tempo, tempo, tempo and then all of a sudden it's like shiiiiiit we gotta do this now. It's a very different type of dance. Be cool, man. Don't let her see you sweat. And hopefully she doesn't remember the last time we danced

2. There are 16 new starters, so who is your pick to emerge as an All-Big Ten performer?

Eric: Noah Brown. Everything Ohio State says about its passing game — and offense in general — indicates it plans to throw the ball much more this fall than it did in 2016, which makes sense because Ezekiel Elliott now plays for the Dallas Cowboys. Still, Brown seems primed for a breakout year after missing all of last season with a broken leg. Plus, J.T. Barrett loves throwing the ball his way. Ohio State needs someone to emerge as its top receiving threat. Brown is that guy.

Johnny: Sam Hubbard's experience in 2015 will serve him very, very well this season. He's still coming in well under the radar of most people, which is kind of hilarious but also pretty kickass if you enjoy quarterbacks getting dropped into the very pits of hell by a merciless demon-beast looking to take the mantle of Shruggenstein from his venerated predecessor.

Kevin: Noah Brown. He was probably ready to emerge as an All-Big Ten performer last season before he was sidelined with a leg injury. Now with Michael Thomas gone, Brown is J.T. Barrett's primary target and will see plenty of balls thrown his way. He's also a very complete receiver, an exceptional blocker and route runner who will rarely need to come off the field situationally.

3. Who will lead this team in rushing yards at the end of the season? Mike Weber? Curtis Samuel? J.T. Barrett?

Vico: Curtis Samuel. I say this without much conviction. I think he'll be more reliable as an upperclassman than Weber and quarterbacks feature less prominently in the run game under the new Urban Meyer.

D.J.: J.T. Barrett, if he stays healthy. If not, Mike Weber.  

Jones: Despite the fact that I believe Samuel and Dontre Wilson will steal a number of carries that would’ve have gone to the starting running back were it still Ezekiel Elliott, and not Mike Weber, I still think we see Weber come away with this title. No Buckeye quarterback has filled the Tim Tebow role as the top inside runner for Meyer, the most important piece to his offensive attack, and with so much on the shoulders of Barrett this fall it would be irresponsible to overextend his presence as a ball-carrier outside of crucial moments late in the game (like Penn State in 2014).

4. Of the three captains — Barrett, Pat Elflein, Raekwon McMillan — which is the most indispensable player this season for Ohio State?

Eric: Tough question due to the lack of returning starters on both sides of the ball, but I'll go with J.T. Barrett. The guys behind him on the depth chart have yet to play a snap of college football. Ohio State will count on him quite a bit this season — possibly more than people realize — and the quarterback is always your most important player. If Barrett goes down this season, things could get interesting very quickly for Ohio State.

Kevin: The obvious answer here is J.T. Barrett since nobody behind him has ever taken a snap in their Buckeye careers, but I'm not going that route in part because I have an irrational amount of confidence in Joe Burrow or even Dwayne Haskins for that matter. I'm going with Raekwon McMillan. Right now, he's one of the best defensive players in the country and is really the anchor to a defense that has just two returning starters. His MIKE linebacker role goes far beyond physically making plays, he's essentially the quarterback of the defense, responsible calling plays, organizing shifts and making sure everyone is on the same page. If he goes down, you lose a leader with three years of game experience and likely replace him with a redshirt freshman with none.

Ramzy: Elflein. I love me some JTB but he's backed up by Cardale Burrow, Cardale Haskins and Cardale Collier. Elflein is that unit's anchor. McMillan is the QB of the defense. And yet JTB will end up being the team's MVP. Football is weird.

Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett in the 2016 Fiesta Bowl.
5. The Buckeyes' offense averaged 35.7 points and 434.1 yards per game in 2015. Over or under on each of those numbers in 2016?

D.J.: I’ll take the over, although it might take a few weeks to get the offensive machine gelled up. There won’t be a QB controversy, nor trying to shove a square peg like Cardale Jones into an unchanged offense. It will be more balanced and harder to defend. (By the way, I’m blown away they averaged that much last year.)

Johnny: About the same on the former but under on the latter. In terms of points, five touchdowns a game seems pretty reasonable for any Urban Meyer-coached team. There's a lot of unproven talent at Ohio State, but there's also a lot of unproven talent in the Big Ten, which even an inexperienced Buckeyes team should feast on.

Vico: Over! Ohio State scored 37 points a game and tallied 423 yards a game in 2012, the worst offense of the Meyer era. We'll be fine in 2016.

6. Conversely, Ohio State's defense allowed just 15.1 points and 311.3 yards per game last year. Over or under on each of those this season?

Chris: I’m not as bullish on the defense. Last year’s Bullets were the best of Meyer’s tenure, but in each of the three years prior the defense gave up over 22 points with yards averaging between 342-377. With the secondary breaking in three new starters, I’m thinking the pass defense will need some time to gel and I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if a few big plays via missed assignments aren’t seen through the opening third of the schedule before things start to come together. I’m thinking something in the neighborhood of 18-19 points and 340-350 yards is a fair guess with the defense improving as the season unfolds.

Kevin: There's no way they match those numbers. No chance. They ranked No. 2 in scoring defense and No. 9 in total defense – there is absolutely no chance they replace eight starters and top that production. I'd be more than happy if they did, but it's just not happening. I do want to point out that this is less of an indictment on the 2016 squad and more a testament to how incredible the 2015 team was. The Silver Bullets were unbelievable from the start last season and honestly kept games within reach until the offense could get going far too many times. Only allowing 15.1 points per game is just absurd.

Eric: I'll take the over on both this time. Ohio State's 2015 defense had six draft picks and a two-year starter at safety in Tyvis Powell that should have been drafted. Three of those guys — Joey Bosa, Eli Apple and Darron Lee — came off the board in the first round. You just don't replace that kind of production with ease, at least not right away.

7. Most expect Noah Brown to be the No. 1 wide receiver, but there are a number of options for that No. 2 spot. Pick one and tell us why he will emerge as the team's secondary option on the outside.

Jones: Although he has seen only limited playing time throughout his career for various reasons, including a broken leg last fall, Corey Smith has made some big plays in the past. With the Buckeyes looking for a deep threat to play opposite Brown, Smith’s skill set appears to be a fit while a number of young, untested wideouts work to separate themselves from the pack.

D.J.: Parris Campbell. Urban Meyer said earlier this week he “doesn’t know how he doesn’t start.” That makes two of us, Urbz. I predict he supplants Smith by the middle of the season. I think he’s quicker, has better hands, and more of a playmaker. 

Ramzy: Parris Campbell in September, but by November it will be Austin Mack. I've got lingering concerns about Campbell's health.

8. How many true freshmen will actually see the field this year? Pick a number.

Vico: Five. Ohio State redshirted 85% of last year's class, which amounts to a lot of good prospects with eligibility to burn and a year of experience under their belt. Don't be surprised if a comparably large percentage of 2016's class sits this year as well.

Johnny: Maybe four. The Urban Meyer M.O. is that he plays anyone who is good enough, regardless of age or class, which is definitely the default position of every edgy as hell coach looking to prove to the rest of the country how much of a wildcard he is. In truth, no coach is that cavalier about freshmen unless they have to be out of necessity. A big part of football is knowing exactly what to do in almost every conceivable situation, and an upperclassman will generally provide that over a slightly more talented greenhorn.

Chris: That’s hard to say considering how Meyer loves to talk about not liking to redshirt guys, only to redshirt a ton of guys. That said, he needs to start the eligibility clock on guys for roster management reasons. I’ll say 10 true freshmen see the field.

Ohio State defensive end Sam Hubbard last season.
9. Who will lead the Ohio State defense in sacks and interceptions this fall? 

Jones: Sam Hubbard is the likely favorite to lead in sacks for a reason, as he possesses all the tools needed to become a great player at that position while receiving every opportunity to do so. In terms of interceptions, I’ll guess Damon Webb, whose ball skills as a former cornerback will help him snag some passes that most safeties wouldn’t as he transitions to that spot this fall.

Eric: I think Sam Hubbard will barely edge Tyquan Lewis for the sack crown because he is a freak and made some outstanding plays last season. As far as interceptions go, I'll pick Malik Hooker. That guy just always seems to be around the ball.

Vico: Tyquan Lewis will lead the Buckeyes in sacks. He actually led the Buckeyes in sacks last year. Gareon Conley will lead the Buckeyes in interceptions at the cornerback position.

10. Who wins on Sept. 17 in Norman, Oklahoma?

D.J.: CAN A BROTHER AT LEAST WATCH THE OKLAHOMA-HOUSTON GAME? No? Well, let me put it to you like this: I have yet to predict a loss for Urban Meyer’s football team. On one hand, that makes me a homer. On the other hand, I’m 50-4 in my predictions—a rate for which most professionals would kill. The Buckeyes will 100% cover, but if you’re twisting my arm, fine: Buckeyes dump the Sooners in primetime and put the rest of the country on notice.

Johnny: The Sooners. They have more proven talent up and down their roster, including a quarterback who should easily challenge for the Heisman. They've got two of the best running backs in college football, and a lot of talent at receiver. It is going to be an enormous challenge for a very young defense to keep up with these guys. I don't think a victory is completely out of the realm of possibility, but Ohio State will have to hold Oklahoma under 20 points at the half.

Ramzy: Ohio State by two TDs, which will bring back that big stupid target.

11. What will be Ohio State's record in 2016?

Kevin: I'll go with 10-2. I think every team on the schedule is very beatable, but I just don't see Ohio State playing road games against Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Penn State and Michigan State with 16 new starters and coming away totally unscathed. You should definitely bet the over, though.

Chris: My wild guess is Ohio State finishes 12-2 with losses at Oklahoma and in the CFP semi-final. 

Vico: I'll be conservative and predict 10-2. Depending on the circumstances (i.e. one conference loss), that might be enough to win the Big Ten East and compete for a Rose Bowl berth.

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