Just a couple days into spring drills, the tenor of things around the Woody Hayes Athletic Center suggests a palpable confidence permeating the happenings.
The unwavering belief Ohio State will once again be a national title contender abounds from players to coaches to the assembled media despite a need to replace a quarterback departing as the owner of every meaningful school record at his position, a center who captured the Rimington Trophy, a trio of pass rushing specialists, an underappreciated stud at left tackle and a cornerback on his way to earning a top-10 pick in the upcoming NFL Draft.
Such is life for a program churning out pro talent since Urban Meyer arrived ahead of the 2012 season.
While all the holes vacated by proven performers loom large, one particular position group hit hard by attrition is defensive end where Sam Hubbard, Tyquan Lewis and Jalyn Holmes comprised the majority of a Rushmen Package that wrecked havoc on opposing offensive lines.
The stats say the trio tallied nearly 10% of the team's total tackles in 2017 and even more impressively, accounted for nearly 23% of the tackles for loss and almost 36% of the squad's sacks.
Searching for perspective on just how big of an issue this could be, I looked at the lost production from the defensive end spots each year since Meyer's arrival and whether or not the guys called upon to replace the departed where able to deliver.
Meyer took over in Columbus after the 2011 Buckeyes went 6-7 under Luke Fickell and of the few things he didn't have to worry about was lost production at defensive end.
Adam Bellamy and J.T. Moore were gone but took with them just 2.5 tackles for loss and 2.0 sacks.
Returning for the 2012 season, Meyer-favorite John Simon anchored the defense posting 14.5 tackles for loss and 9.0 sacks in 11 games on the heels of his 16.0 tackles for loss and 7.0 sacks in 2011.
On the other side, Nathan Williams, a kid who played just one game in 2011, came along nicely posting 40 stops with 3.5 tackles for loss and 2.0 sacks in 10 games while Adolphus Washington saw some snaps on the edge and tallied 3.5 tackles for loss and 3.0 sacks.
With Simon off to the NFL and Williams no longer in the fold, the void left behind by the duo was the largest production gap Meyer had to face since his arrival as 28% of the tackles for loss and 37% of the sacks vanished.
Five-star talent Noah Spence, who tallied just one sack while seeing action during parts of 11 games in 2012, did his part exploding onto the scene with 52 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss and 8.0 sacks during an electric 2013 campaign.
An even younger player, a true freshman by the name of Joey Bosa announced his arrival in Columbus alongside Spence going for 13.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks.
A host of other guys complemented the dynamic tandem including Steve Miller (6.0 / 3.0) and versatile talents that while not true defensive ends, saw at least some time on the outside of a four-man front including Jamal Marcus (2.0 / 2.0), Chase Farris (1.5, 1.5) and Adolphus Washington (4.0 / 2.0).
The key storyline however was obviously Bosa and Spence as the duo easily outpaced the production received from Simon and Williams the year prior.
Heading into what would become a magical 2014 season, the lost production at defensive end came almost solely in the form of Spence's untimely departure. Marcus also transferred to Akron but again, he was kind of a man without a position who did see some time on the edge in 2013 but was significantly more replaceable.
Fortunately for Meyer, the Joey Bosa Experience was just getting revved up as the sophomore went off for 21.5 tackles for loss and 13.5 sacks during Ohio State's run to the national title.
Bosa's 13.5 sacks are still good for second place in school history behind Vernon Gholston's 14.0 in 2007 and the 21.5 tackles for loss rank fourth in school annals.
Complementing Bosa on the opposite edge, Miller turned in a solid season though his numbers don't jump off the page (6.5 / 1.0) as did fellow senior Rashad Frazier (3.5 / 2.0).
In fact most of the complementary tackles for loss and sack numbers came via the interior defensive line as Michael Bennett 14.0 / 7.0) and Adolphus Washington (10.5 / 4.5) turned in spectacular seasons.
Despite winning the initial College Football Playoff, Meyer's outfit returned a ton of starters heading into 2015 including Bosa.
Yes, Miller and Frazier were gone but that duo combined for just 9% of the tackles for loss and 7% of the sacks compiled by the 2014 defense.
Bosa would go on to post 16.0 tackles for loss and 5.0 sacks during the 2015 season and while those numbers weren't in the same stratosphere as his 2014 production, his impact on opposing game plans before even stepping on the field was real.
Meanwhile, Tyquan Lewis and Sam Hubbard took advantage of their talent and opportunities posting a combined 22 tackles for loss and 14.5 sacks as teams loaded up to stop Bosa.
With Bosa off to San Diego as the third pick in the NFL Draft, Meyer and Larry Johnson were forced to replace one of the most dominant pass rushers in the history of the program.
And even though Bosa's 2015 numbers weren't as strong as what he churned out in 2014, he still accounted for 19% of the team's tackles for loss and 13% of the sacks.
With Johnson in the midst of a ridiculous recruiting and development run, replacing the third pick in the Draft turned out to be hardly a chore as Hubbard, Lewis, Holmes and freshman Nick Bosa turned in a collective monster campaign with 34 tackles for loss and 18.5 sacks paced by 10.5 tackles for loss and 8.0 sacks from Lewis.
Last year was the anomaly within Meyer's first six years in Columbus as all the meaningful contributors on the edge from the 2016 squad returned ready to dominate.
Essentially, 2016 standouts Hubbard, Lewis, Holmes and Nick Bosa picked up where they left off in 2017 going for a combined 42 tackles for loss and 24.5 sacks.
With the defensive ends leading the way, the Buckeye defense finished with 45 sacks on the year, just two shy of the school record set in 1998 and tied in 2000.
As much as 2017 was a boon for Johnson and Meyer as four studs returned, 2018 is quite the opposite as the duo must replace the second-most production lost since Meyer took over.
With Hubbard, Lewis and Holmes no longer in the fold, along with them goes 23% of the tackles for loss and 36% of the sacks registered by the Buckeyes a year ago.
Of course, a silver lining is the return of Bosa for his junior season after leading the Buckeyes in both tackles for loss (16.0) and sacks (8.5) in 2017.
Beyond Bosa, the talent appears to be there in Chase Young in particular after he posted 6.5 tackles for loss and 3.0 sacks in spot duty as a freshman last year. Junior Jonathon Cooper is also drawing praise from Meyer this spring and the time is now for him to take the leap after posting 3.0 tackles for loss and 2.0 sacks last year, also in limited duty.
Unless a true freshman not yet on campus like Tyler Friday, Javontae Jean-Baptiste, Tyreke Smith or Alex Williams emerges as a fourth rotational defensive end, Johnson might have to alter his rep distribution a bit this season or force a slimmer defensive tackle or a lighter linebacker to potentially learn the ropes in a hybrid role. That said there are indications Jashon Cornell will get a legit look as Johnson clearly wants to deploy a four man rotation.
For now, the safe bet is on Bosa, Young and Cooper to do the heaviest lifting which is a situation over 95% of power five teams would love to have.