Last season, Ohio State took advantage of good matchups, and was similarly taken advantage of. We saw Oklahoma's passing attack decimate Ohio State's linebackers, while the Buckeyes defensive line rolled USC's offense to the tune of eight sacks.
This year, similar matchup nightmares could be on the docket for Ohio State. Let's take a look.
Ohio State's Defensive Line vs. TCU's Offensive Line
For the last four years under the tutelage of coach Larry Johnson, Ohio State's defensive line has been one of the strengths of the team. This season, led by defensive ends Chase Young and Nick Bosa—who perhaps could be the #1 pick of the 2019 NFL Draft—, the Rushmen don't appear to be slowing down. The Buckeyes will also return defensive tackles Dre'Mont Jones and Robert Landers, the former of which could have gone in the first few rounds of this year's NFL Draft, but elected to return to Columbus for one more season.
TCU's offensive line, on the other hand, is a patchwork of sorts. Four offensive line starters depart, along with the starting tight end, leaving gaping holes for the Horned Frogs and coach Gary Patterson to fill.
From the Star-Telegram:
In talking to a few of the offensive coaches, their assessment of the position group is “young” and “raw.”
Typically those descriptions mean “not” and “good.” At least not yet
The Horned Frogs have two tune-up games against Southern and SMU before focusing on Ohio State when the Buckeyes roll into Dallas on September 15.
Michigan's Defensive Line vs. Ohio State's Offensive Line
Similarly to TCU, Ohio State will replace two First-Team All Big Ten offensive linemen (left tackle Jamarco Jones and center Billy Price) and its tight end, Marcus Baugh.
Michigan will return its two best players: defensive ends Rashan Gary and Chase Winovich, who both made the All Big-Ten team. Gary, the former #1 overall recruit, is almost certainly playing his last season in Ann Arbor, while Winovich surprised some people with his decision to come back.
Together, the duo combined for 131 tackles and 14 sacks, while opening doors for other players, such as linebacker/defensive back Khaleke Hudson, who tallied 7.5 sacks and returns this year for his junior season.
With Ohio State breaking in two new starters at the two most important positions on the line, their ability will be tested all season, but perhaps not fully until the last regular season game on Thanksgiving weekend.
Michigan's Wide Receivers vs. Ohio State's Defensive Backs
Sticking with "The Game," Michigan is looking to steal its first win in the series since the asterisked 2011 season, and to do so, they will need increased production from their quarterback and wide receiver slots.
Shea Patterson arrives from Ole Miss to bolster the Wolverine passing attack, and inherits a talented group of wide receivers, including former five-star Donovan Peoples-Jones, who had 227 receiving yards last season as a true freshman, Tarik Black, who was averaging 50 yards/game before an injury cut his season short, and tight end Sean McKeon, who finished just over 300 yards.
Including other names such as Grant Perry, Eddie McDoom, and Nico Collins, the Wolverines are solidly stacked at the wide receiver position this year.
On the other hand, the Buckeyes will be replacing yet another first-round cornerback as Denzel Ward left school early to promptly get drafted by the Cleveland Browns with the No. 4 overall pick. Ohio State will also have to replace safety Damon Webb, who graduated. The biggest loss, however, may be that of coach Kerry Coombs, who produced Ohio State's incredible run of early-round defensive back talent.
While coach Alex Grinch has a decent track record with safeties, and Taver Johnson with cornerbacks, they will have to prove worthy of succeeding the immense legacy left by Coombs, and a cold date in the 'Shoe in late November will perhaps be his biggest test of the regular season.
Ohio State's Offense from Oct. 6-Nov. 3
The Buckeyes play Indiana, Minnesota, Purdue, and Nebraska (sandwiched around a bye week) during that span. Those teams were all in the bottom half of the Big Ten in scoring defense last season.
While Nebraska did get a new coach, and the other three teams could be making some improvements as they are all under second-year head coaches, Ohio State's offense, which returns all of its key playmakers save for quarterback J.T. Barrett, should roll in those games. If they don't perhaps it is a cause for concern down the stretch.
Ohio State's Linebackers vs. Literally Everyone
Bill Davis' unit was bad last year. Really bad. The Buckeyes were shredded in Columbus by Baker Mayfield and the Oklahoma Sooners and got absolutely railroaded by Iowa in a game where Ohio State gave up an incredible 48 points to Iowa's offense and let Nate Stanley throw for five touchdowns.
The game ultimately was the deciding factor for why Ohio State was left out of the playoffs, according to College Football Playoff executive director Bill Hancock.
Bill Hancock of the Playoff Committee on ESPNU radio said the Iowa loss killed Ohio State. It was between OSU & Bama, and that Iowa meltdown was inexcusable for people.
— jbook (@jbook37) July 19, 2018
The Buckeyes will also have to replace Chris Worley, who graduated after this past season, Jerome Baker, who was drafted by the Miami Dolphins, and will perhaps have to do without Tuf Borland, who is currently sidelined with injury.
Nevertheless, we can only hope for improvement from the linebacking corps, as stagnation could spell doom for Ohio State's playoff hopes.