For the first time since 2012, J.T. Barrett is not on the Ohio State’s football team roster, as the Buckeyes’ offense enters a new era with Dwayne Haskins as their starting quarterback.
Remember when that was the top storyline going into Ohio State’s upcoming season?
For most of the first seven months of this offseason – which had been a very quiet offseason in terms of off-field drama – the conversation about the 2018 Buckeyes was centered around how Haskins could change Ohio State’s offense, and what he and a talented roster around him would need to do this season to contend for a national championship.
That storyline has fallen to the backburner, however, as Ohio State’s on-field potential has been overshadowed by the firing of wide receivers coach Zach Smith and the university’s subsequent investigation into how head coach Urban Meyer handled domestic violence allegations against and other misconduct by Smith.
Now, the biggest storyline entering the season is undoubtedly that Meyer is suspended for Ohio State’s first three games, after the university’s investigation determined that he “failed to take sufficient management action relating to Zach Smith’s misconduct,” while offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Ryan Day will serve as interim head coach in his absence.
Like it or not, the off-field storylines from the developments of the past month probably aren’t going to be cast aside anytime soon. There remain unanswered questions that Meyer and others at Ohio State will still be expected to answer related to the investigation, and even that which is already known will likely be brought up again in press conferences and television broadcasts throughout the season.
That said, attention will naturally shift back to football as the season begins against Oregon State on Saturday, and there will no shortage of on-field storylines that bring attention to Ohio State, too – beginning with Day’s head coaching debut next weekend.
For the first three weeks of the season, that almost certainly will be the biggest on-field storyline for the Buckeyes, especially for the first two games, as Ohio State should be able to cruise to victories over Oregon State and Rutgers.
Ohio State’s third game of the season will be more of a measuring stick of what the Buckeyes are capable of this season, as they play TCU (ranked 16th in the preseason AP Top 25) in a non-conference clash at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, but that will also amplify the spotlight on Day – in a game that could serve as a huge audition for his head coaching prospects – as the Buckeyes play the Horned Frogs in an 8 p.m. game on ABC’s Saturday Night Football.
The storyline going into Ohio State’s fourth game of the season against Tulane, of course, will be the return of Meyer, who will presumably be welcomed back to Ohio Stadium with a rousing ovation from the crowd – while that ovation will also presumably be welcomed by mixed reactions across the nation.
After what should be another easy win against the Green Wave, though, there will be no need for any extra storylines going into the Buckeyes’ fifth game of the season at Penn State – where Ohio State will be looking to bounce back with a win after losing in State College in 2016, and where the Buckeyes will face their first real test in Big Ten play.
As the season progresses, there will be several other games that come with natural storylines of their own.
Purdue, like Penn State, has been a house of horrors for Ohio State – the Buckeyes have only three out of seven trips to West Lafayette since 2000 – so they’ll be looking to avoid another upset loss to the Boilermakers in their eighth game of the season on Oct. 20.
Scott Frost’s arrival in the Big Ten as Nebraska’s new coach has been met with much fanfare, so whether he can get a signature win and lead the Cornhuskers to an upset could be the big storyline when Ohio State hosts Nebraska in its ninth game on Nov. 3.
Ohio State has lost three of its last seven games against Michigan State – including losses in the 2013 Big Ten Championship Game and in 2015 that spoiled potential championship runs – so the Buckeyes’ 10th game of the year, against the Spartans in East Lansing on Nov. 10, will be another game surrounded by intrigue.
Then, of course, the Buckeyes’ final game of the regular season is another game that needs no extra build-up, yet could have plenty of it. Meyer will be looking to remain undefeated against Michigan, while Jim Harbaugh will be looking for his first win against Ohio State, and it’s plausible a Big Ten East title could be on the line for both teams when the Buckeyes host the Wolverines on Nov. 24.
Beyond the storylines that could surround individual games, there will be many intriguing storylines surrounding individual players and position groups – starting, of course, with Haskins, and whether his downfield passing ability will bring a different look to Ohio State’s offense. Could Haskins emerge as one of the best quarterbacks in college football, and potentially even a candidate for the Heisman Trophy? He appears to have the talent, but outside of a half against Michigan last season, he’s still largely unproven.
How Ohio State utilizes its second-string quarterback, Tate Martell, will be another intriguing storyline to follow this season, as Martell offers dual-threat playmaking potential that could add another dimension to the Buckeyes’ offense if the coaching staff can find a way to incorporate him into their gameplans.
At the running back position, how J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber complement one another will be another intriguing storyline to watch, as they follow in the 1975 footsteps of Archie Griffin and Pete Johnson and become the second pair of Ohio State running backs to each rush for 1,000 yards in the same season.
Whether the wide receivers can elevate their game to another level this season will be another storyline, especially as it pertains to interim wide receivers coach Brian Hartline, who will be looking to prove that he is worthy of retaining the job on a permanent basis after this season.
Ohio State’s lack of utilization of its tight ends in the passing game has been well-documented in recent seasons, so whether that position will become a bigger part of the offense this year will be another storyline to follow.
Up front, offensive line Greg Studrawa will look to prove that he can reload his unit to success once again, as the Buckeyes go into the season with questions at arguably the two most important positions on the line – left tackle and center – where they are replacing Jamarco Jones and Billy Price.
Larry Johnson’s defensive line, likewise, will look to be one of college football’s best units – with All-American defensive end Nick Bosa, and several other potential stars including Dre’Mont Jones and Chase Young, leading the way – despite losing three defensive ends and a defensive tackle to the NFL from last season.
At linebacker, position coach Bill Davis will be looking to prove he is up to the task after Ohio State’s linebackers coach failed to perform up to expectations last season, his first season coaching the position group. He’ll be doing so with a new group of starters, and who will step up alongside middle linebacker Tuf Borland – who could miss the start of the season while continuing to recover from a spring Achilles injury – is another storyline entering the year.
In the secondary, new cornerbacks coach Taver Johnson and safeties coach Alex Grinch will be looking to continue Ohio State’s strong tradition of developing stars at their positions, and they’ll be looking for young players like Jeffrey Okudah at cornerback and Isaiah Pryor at safety to step up alongside veteran starters Jordan Fuller, Damon Arnette and Kendall Sheffield.
Ultimately, the biggest on-field storyline for Ohio State will be the same as it almost always is in Columbus: can the Buckeyes make a national championship run? That’s the expectation once again, as it usually is at Ohio State, as the Buckeyes have more than enough talent across their roster to be one of the best teams in the country once again.
If the Buckeyes can make the College Football Playoff, then the storyline will be whether they can fare better than they did in their last playoff berth – when they suffered a 31-0 semifinal loss to Clemson – and get back to the college football mountaintop, where they were at the conclusion of the first playoff four seasons ago.
If not, the question will be why they failed to make the playoff two years in a row – and what they need to do to get back there.
Either way, there will be plenty of reasons to watch Ohio State this season – whether you love, hate or are indifferent to the Buckeyes – as it will be a season that should offer as many intriguing storylines as ever.