2022 Season Preview: The 10 Biggest Questions Surrounding Ohio State

By Garrick Hodge on August 28, 2022 at 10:10 am
Ryan Day

Ohio State is six days away from being the focus of the college football world.

The Buckeyes have the most intriguing matchup nationwide in Week 1, with two top-five teams coming to Ohio Stadium. OSU hopes to set the tone with a season-opening win over Notre Dame and end the year lifting college football’s most coveted trophy for the first time in eight years.

As Eleven Warriors’ season preview comes to a close, here are the 10 biggest questions surrounding Ohio State entering the 2022 season.

Can anyone stop Ohio State’s offense?

On paper, it doesn’t appear so. Ohio State led the nation in both points per game (45.5) and total offense (551.1) and returns enough playmakers to where the Buckeyes shouldn’t skip a beat offensively whatsoever. 

OSU has a legitimate Heisman candidate at quarterback, a running back that almost set a school freshman rushing record in 2021, a program record-breaking star wide receiver and two future NFL offensive tackles. Frankly, it’s hard to find a weakness in this unit.  

The Buckeyes offense has the makings of being the best single unit in college football in 2022, like Georgia’s defense was in 2021. But will that transition to the field? Or will defensive coordinators find ways to slow down the Buckeyes’ vaunted offensive attack when it counts? 

Does the defense immediately make great strides under Knowles, or will there be growing pains?

Unlike the offense, Ohio State’s defense was much maligned a season ago. Old defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs is out, and new defensive coordinator Jim Knowles is in. Knowles is being paid handsomely, as OSU will pay the former Oklahoma State coordinator $1.9 million a year. Shortly after he was hired, Knowles said he knows he is expected to show results immediately. 

“It’s not lost on me that I don’t have four years here,” Knowles said. 

Hell, he may not have four drives before Ohio State fans turn on him on social media and message boards if the defense doesn’t look vastly improved against Notre Dame Saturday. 

Knee-jerk reactions aside, Knowles has said all the right things since being hired. Primarily, he expects a top-five defense in Columbus. 

Realistically, if Ohio State's offense produces as expected, all the Buckeyes will need from their defense is simply above average. There’s no tune-up game to get adjusted, though, as Notre Dame will be a challenging test out of the gate. Week 1 will be a prime opportunity for Knowles and OSU to show Columbus how much the defense has improved.  

Will Ohio State have its first Heisman trophy winner since Troy Smith?

Well, the Buckeyes have the preseason favorite to win the award in C.J. Stroud, so that’s a great start! 

Furthermore, two of his primary challengers may suffer from biases that could keep them from winning a tiebreaker. Alabama quarterback Bryce Young was last year’s winner, and Alabama linebacker Will Anderson plays defense. 

But while Stroud has the best chance of any OSU player to win college football’s most coveted individual trophy, he isn’t the Buckeyes’ only candidate. Wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba or running back TreVeyon Henderson could be in the running with monster seasons, which both are capable of producing. 

How often will the Jack be utilized in Jim Knowles’ scheme?

This position has undergone so many name changes it’s hard to keep up with, but it looks like Jack will be the name for what’s essentially a hybrid position between a defensive end and a linebacker in Jim Knowles’ scheme. Coincidentally, the most likely candidate to be utilized in that role also boasts the same first name as the position name — Jack Sawyer. 

Even though Knowles has had an entire spring and preseason to install the concept, it’s still uncertain how much Knowles will deploy Sawyer, or other potential Jacks, as a standup edge or as a linebacker rather than in the traditional three-point stance. Will it be a prominent tool against Notre Dame and continue to be of use as the season progresses? Or will it slowly integrate into the defense as the season rolls on? 

How will the Buckeyes handle their running back depth?

Until Evan Pryor suffered a season-ending knee injury, Ohio State felt great about its running back depth entering the season. After Pryor’s ACL injury, the lion's share of the carries will be given to standout running back TreVeyon Henderson and Miyan Williams. They saw extended playing time a season ago. 

Freshman Dallan Hayden now moves into the third-string role, and he’ll likely see time in what will probably be blowout wins against Arkansas State and Toledo. But will the Buckeyes need him more than that? If either Henderson or Williams suffers an injury, Hayden will likely be thrown into the fire to make plays in meaningful situations. Even if both stay healthy, Tony Alford has shown a tendency to play three running backs throughout the season, so carries could be on the table if he impresses early. 

Should Ohio State run into an emergency where it suffers two injuries, or if Hayden struggles out of the gate, transfer Chip Trayanum was a running back before turning into a linebacker. The Buckeyes could always move him around, though that’s certainly a last resort. 

Will a freshman make a major impact in 2022?

Last year saw multiple true freshmen break out in a big way for Ohio State, with TreVeyon Henderson and Denzel Burke emerging as standout players for the Buckeyes in 2021. This year, there’s no clear candidate from the 2022 recruiting class to be an impact player immediately, mainly because no freshman is expected to be a starter to begin the year. But there’s always a chance one works their way into the starting rotation by the end of the season. 

Will the defensive line emerge as the strength of Ohio State’s defense?

Knowles is not interested in rotating his back seven too much defensively. The defensive line is a different story, however. Earlier this preseason, Larry Johnson said he believes the Buckeyes could rotate up to 12 defensive linemen in and out, and it’s no coincidence that’s probably the position OSU has the most depth at defensively. 

Between Zach Harrison, Jack Sawyer, J.T. Tuimoloau, Tyleik Williams, Taron Vincent, Jerron Cage, Javontae Jean-Baptiste, Tyler Friday, Ty Hamilton and Mike Hall, there’s a lot to get excited about here. 

While the defensive line has plenty of depth, Johnson also said he believes his group will have an “alpha dog.” Who? That part he’s keeping close to the vest until the season begins. 

Can Jaxon Smith-Njigba top his record-breaking season from last year?

Ohio State had two wide receivers taken early in the first round of this year’s NFL draft and they may not have even been the best wideouts on the team. That’s how productive Smith-Njigba was in 2021, setting a single-season program record for both receptions (95) and receiving yards (1,606). 

Now that he’s the de facto No. 1 wideout for the Buckeyes in 2022, can he do even better? This man had 15 catches and 347 yards in a single game in the Rose Bowl, so don’t count it out. 

While Smith-Njigba is by far the most established wideout at OSU, Marvin Harrison Jr., Julian Fleming and Emeka Egbuka were all highly-touted recruits and have the opportunity for breakout years similar to Smith-Njigba a year ago. Will Smith-Njigba have a season like DeVonta Smith had in 2020? Or will Stroud and OSU spread the ball out as the Buckeyes did in 2021?

Can Ohio State get sweet revenge against Michigan? 

It’s hard to believe, but Nov. 26 will mark the first time in four years Ohio State has hosted Michigan at Ohio Stadium. As electric as the atmosphere will be for the season opener against Notre Dame on Saturday, nothing will top the electricity fans will bring to the building in the regular season finale. Especially after an entire offseason of reflecting on their first loss to their hated rivals in a decade. 

Whether Michigan is 11-0 or 0-11 entering the game, Ohio State will be out for blood. Winning will be paramount for the Buckeyes to achieve their very lofty dreams and for the sanity of their fans. 

Is this the year the Buckeyes hoist their first national championship trophy since 2014?

It seems like No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Ohio State are on a collision course for the national championship on Jan. 9 at SoFi Stadium. 

Both teams are favored by double digits in all of their regular season games. With eight home games, Ohio State’s schedule sets up for a national championship run. Considering the offensive weapons the Buckeyes have and the amount of investment they’ve put into straightening up the defense, anything less would be a disappointment. 

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