Key Position Battles for 2020 Opponents That Ohio State Should Keep Tabs on This Offseason

By David Regimbal on February 20, 2020 at 10:10 am
Oregon quarterback Tyler Shough
© Rob Kerr-USA TODAY Sports

Ohio State is in the thick of winter conditioning, and head coach Ryan Day is working on the enormous task of replacing 12 starters from a team that made a dominant run to the College Football Playoff last season.

That, among other things like integrating new coaches to his staff, building off the momentum he established in his first year as a head coach and recruiting, are at the top of his priority list. Preparations for the Buckeyes' season opener against Bowling Green on September 5 won't officially take place until fall camp is well underway.

But as Ohio State's offseason rages on, there are some position battles going on in other programs around the country that should peak Day and the Buckeyes' interest.

Looking at Ohio State's 2020 schedule, there's a tougher out-of-conference opponent than last year, but the league slate looks far less daunting compared to 2019. Some of the Buckeyes' upcoming opponents lost key members to graduation and the NFL draft.

Here are some position battles for Ohio State's 2020 opponents to keep an eye on.

Oregon's Quarterback Battle

The Buckeyes hit the road for a true out-of-conference away game for the first time since 2016 — when they beat Baker Mayfield and the Oklahoma Sooners 45-24 — when they travel to Eugene for a showdown against Oregon in Week 2.

It'll be a solid test for a Buckeyes team replacing more than half its starters from a year ago, as Autzen Stadium is one of the more hostile environments in all of college football.

But the Ducks will be in transition themselves. Not only did they lose their eventual first-round pick at quarterback in Justin Herbert, but the team will also be installing new offensive concepts with Joe Moorhead taking over as offensive coordinator.

The candidates to replace Herbert are young. There's redshirt-sophomore Tyler Shough, redshirt freshman Cale Millen, and incoming freshmen Jay Butterfield and Robby Ashford (both of whom were 4-star prospects from the 2020 class), and all four will have a crack at the starting gig this fall.

“We feel we have a couple really good quarterbacks here now and we feel that Jay is an excellent quarterback as well,” Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal said, according to James Crepea of The Oregonian. “He is enrolling early, he is working night and day on those classes to get it done. ... It will be an open competition, like it should be, and we’re excited about it.

Penn State's Linebacker Conundrum 

The Nittany Lions return arguably the best linebacker in the country in Micah Parsons, who became the first sophomore to be named Big Ten Linebacker of the Year in 2019.

Parsons' return is key for the Penn State defense, because there's turnover around him in big spots.

The Nittany Lions have to replace starters Jan Johnson and Cam Brown at the other two linebacker spots. They have a lot of options who have been in the program for a while, highlighted Ellis Brooks, Jesse Luketa and Brandon Smith, all of whom were either 5- or high 4-star prospects.

Michigan's Quest to Replace Shea Patterson

The one battle that will keep Ohio State's interest the most this offseason will certainly be the quarterback competition in Ann Arbor.

The Wolverines lost multi-year start Shea Patterson to graduation, creating a hole at the most important position on the football field. Head coach Jim Harbaugh, known before arriving at Michigan as a guy who develops and gets the most out of his signal-callers, will try and conjure that magic after uninspiring results in his six season with the Wolverines.

The next guys in line are redshirt junior Dylan McCaffrey and redshirt sophomore Joe Milton.

Both have seen the field sparingly in blowout situations, but one of the two will take the reins and guide one of college football's most storied programs this fall. 

Milton might hold the edge early, as he ascended the depth chart and backed Patterson up a season ago. He talked about the challenges of living life as a backup in the lead up to Michigan's Citrus Bowl matchup against Alabama.

“It’s a very difficult challenge, just watching others play,” Milton said, via Michael Spath of Sports Illustrated. “That’s not what I’m used to, but at the end of the day, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do, man. I’ve learned a lot from Shea, and I’m still learning from him. So I’ll take his game and my game and put it together.”

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