Big Ten football gets closer by the day.
Less than a month remains until Ohio State kicks off its season at home versus Nebraska, and two days are left before the team begins daily rapid COVID-19 testing and begins fully padded practices.
Ryan Day has a lot on his to-do list over the course of the next three-and-a-half weeks, but so do his 10 assistant coaches. What are the most important things they have to accomplish before Oct. 24? Let's dive in.
Quarterbacks coach Corey Dennis: Get the freshmen ready
Should Dennis' most important job actually be to get Justin Fields ready for a Heisman Trophy-worth season? Perhaps. Fields, though, said he spent loads of time working one-on-one with Day in the offseason, ramming home what we all already knew: The head coach has a heavy hands-on role with the star quarterback.
Dennis' impact should be most felt in how quickly he can prepare CJ Stroud and Jack Miller for their first collegiate action this fall and to potentially be the Buckeyes' next starter in 2021. They're the future of the program, and given Day's focus on Fields and the entire team as a whole, Dennis has a primary role in their development.
Running Backs coach Tony Alford: Figure out how to split carries
Based on Kevin Wilson's comments late last week, we know who'll play and about how often. The offensive coordinator predicted Master Teague and Trey Sermon would have a 50-50 split of snaps when the season opens, noting that he believes a third tailback could earn meaningful reps at some point this fall, too.
But how exactly will Alford divvy up carries between Teague and Sermon? Will he ride the hot hand? Will he give someone a drive and then go to the other the next drive? There are a multitude of ways Alford might decide to split up the carries, and the quicker he can figure it out, the better for Ohio State.
Wide Receivers coach Brian Hartline: Fill out the rotation
Talent won't be hard to come by in Ohio State's wide receiver room this season. The presence of Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson gives the Buckeyes a top-of-the-line duo for Fields to target. All four incoming freshmen were top-100 overall recruits – including two five-stars – and they join a group littered with other top prospects, including Jameson Williams and a healthy Kamryn Babb.
How everybody fits together remains the biggest question. At this point, we can anticipate Olave starting at Z receiver and Wilson in the slot. Nothing else remains clear. Williams will likely be in the rotation, either at X or Z. Who else joins them? How many freshmen will be in the regular rotation? Hartline has a few weeks to figure that out.
Offensive coordinator/tight ends coach Kevin Wilson: Work with Ryan Day to unleash ultra-efficient offense
At his specific position group, Wilson doesn't have a bunch of question marks. Luke Farrell and Jeremy Ruckert, along with Jake Hausmann, make up a versatile and veteran tight end trio.
Elsewhere, Wilson should find a more important way to impact the Buckeyes' offense. In the spring, Day said Wilson might call plays at times, hinting that the former head coach might have a larger hand in how the offense operates. He and Day will want to have the offense come out of the chutes playing at a high level, especially considering Penn State awaits in Week 2.
Offensive line coach Greg Studrawa: Pick a starting right tackle
Studrawa undoubtedly let out a gigantic sigh of relief when Wyatt Davis decided to stick around for the 2020 season. By doing so, Davis ensured Ohio State would have a loaded line featuring him, Josh Myers and Thayer Munford along with two highly-regarded first-year starters. Harry Miller is expected to slot in at left guard, and there's not much concern about how he'll perform.
Right tackle is less set right now, though. Nicholas Petit-Frere, a third-year player who was once the top-rated lineman in his recruiting cycle, seems to have the inside edge. He'll have to hold off five-star freshman Paris Johnson and 6-foot-8, 359-pound Dawand Jones to earn the starting job.
Defensive line coach Larry Johnson: Unlock pass-rushing potential
The chief storyline on the defensive line won't change until the Buckeyes start playing games. Johnson has a bunch of talent at his disposal, but most of his players either haven't played up to their ceilings yet or haven't had opportunities to do so.
This fall, Johnson needs to find a way to turn edge rushers like Zach Harrison, Jonathon Cooper, Tyreke Smith, Javontae Jean-Baptiste and Tyler Friday loose as he seeks to make up for the production lost by Chase Young bouncing from Columbus to the NFL. Defensive tackle pass-rushing matters a great deal to Johnson, too. He no longer has DaVon Hamilton, Jashon Cornell and Robert Landers, but Tommy Togiai and a healthy Taron Vincent should have the ability to create a nice 1-2 punch at nose tackle and 3-technique.
All seven returning players mentioned were once five-star or four-star recruits. Yet, up to this point, they collectively have recorded fewer than 20 sacks. Johnson needs to find a way to ratchet up their production getting after quarterbacks in 2020.
Linebackers coach Al Washington: Determine how to deploy seven upperclassmen
Everybody knows the names. They've all been in Columbus for at least three years.
Sixth-year senior Justin Hilliard. Fifth-year senior Tuf Borland. Fourth-year senior Pete Werner. Fourth-year senior Baron Browning. Third-year junior Teradja Mitchell. Third-year junior Dallas Gant. Third-year junior K'Vaughan Pope.
It wouldn't be a stretch the believe that all seven upperclassmen would start at just about any other Big Ten team. At Ohio State, however, it's up to Washington to find the best way to deploy them this fall. Borland will start in the middle, but that's about the only certainty. Werner will man either Sam or Will. Browning and Hilliard are in the mix for outside spots. Mitchell, Gant and Pope have been on the precipice of playing time for multiple seasons.
Co-defensive coordinator Greg Mattison: Ensure a young defense is fundamentally sound
Ahead of the 2019 season, Mattison talked about simplicity. He hammered home the importance of fundamentals, specifically noting how important he believes it is to run to the ball.
Last year, he had a bunch of veterans who bought into his teachings. This offseason, he's surely brought up the same points, except other than a veteran-laden linebacker corps, many of the defensive players are younger and less experienced. Mattison's philosophy of impressing the importance of fundamentals will matter a great deal to this defense. He's in charge of the strongside linebackers and bullets – if those even exist anymore – but his overarching ideas of how to properly play defense could affect the on-field performance of the Buckeyes more so than anything else.
Defensive coordinator/cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs: Put all the pieces together to create a stout, disruptive defense
Quite clearly, Coombs has the most difficult job among all assistants. He's both in charge of the entire defense and a cornerbacks unit that lost a pair of first-round NFL draft selections in Jeff Okudah and Damon Arnette. Not easy.
Coombs' success in piecing together an upper-echelon defense will be how he's evaluated early in 2020. Nebraska and Penn State both have some impactful offensive players who could do damage against an unprepared defense. Coombs isn't expected to make wholesale changes to that side of the ball, but he can't afford a defense that experienced tremendous offseason turnover to take a big step back.
Safeties coach/special teams coordinator Matt Barnes: Prepare Josh Proctor to take over
A pair of seniors – Drue Chrisman and Blake Haubeil – are back to punt and kick once more for the Buckeyes, meaning Barnes won't have to overly worry himself with the pair of kickers. He'll have to figure out the long snapper and his returners, but most importantly, he needs to get a safety – namely, Josh Proctor – ready for 2020.
Last year, Jeff Hafley was the defensive backs coach, and Barnes was his assistant. By earning a safeties coach title, Barnes has a position group to himself. He'll have the tough job of replacing multi-year starter Jordan Fuller, though Proctor and Marcus Hooker are plenty talented. How ready will they be to take on major roles in the Buckeyes' secondary this fall? Barnes' coaching will help answer that question.