Ohio State Football Spring Preview and Expectations for 2019

Writer: Andrew Carlisle

As he walks onto the field of the Horseshoe in Columbus, Ohio on August 31, 2019, Ryan Day will have officially started his tenure as the 24th head football coach in Ohio State Buckeyes history. Long before this significant day, analysts and fans will discuss what Day’s expectations should be during his first full season as Ohio State’s head coach. I am here to tell you that the expectations for Day should be just as high as they were for Urban Meyer during his seven year tenure with the Buckeyes.

Ryan Day inherits an Ohio State roster, that by talent, can rival any team in college football, even the likes of Alabama and Clemson. An abundance of 4-star and 5-star prospects flood Ohio State’s roster after their recruiting rankings over the last three years have ranked 2nd, 2nd, and 14th nationally. This, along with an impressive staff of positional coaches that Day as acquired over recent months, should keep Ohio State as favorites in the BIG 10 conference and permanently in the National Championship picture.

In his short time as the head coach thus far, Day has stolen two defensive coaches from arch rival Michigan, defensive coordinator Greg Mattison and linebackers coach Al Washington. A year ago, Mattison and Washington coached a Michigan defense that ranked number two in total defense and in a couple weeks will have two players drafted in the first round of the NFL draft: Rashan Gary and Devin Bush. Day has also hired former Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Mike Yurich as the passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach, former Maryland special teams coordinator Matt Barnes to the same position, and former San Francisco 49ers defensive backs coach Jeff Hafley as co-defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach.

Day’s coaching staff passes the eye test, and it will be very interesting to see how the current roster develops under the tutelage of these coaches, especially on the defensive side of the football where Ohio State experienced immense struggles last season, ranking 72nd nationally in total defense. A big expectation of Day and his offensive staff will be to match the insane offensive production that the Buckeyes saw a year ago when they ranked 2nd in total offense, only trailing Oklahoma and Heisman trophy winning quarterback Kyler Murray.

As stated earlier, Day will inherit a roster full of talent and being that he was the offensive coordinator the previous two seasons, he will be very familiar with the roster. However, this doesn’t mean that there won’t be growing pains. Gone from the offense are quarterback Dwayne Haskins, running back Mike Weber, wide receivers Parris Campbell, Terry McLaurin, and Johnnie Dixon. The offensive line also loses four starters in center Michael Jordan, guards Demetrius Knox and Malcolm Pridgeon, and tackle Isaiah Prince.

Fortunately for the Buckeyes, they have the talent to the point where they don’t regress but reload. Ryan Day will now have the opportunity to groom quarterback Justin Fields, a 5-star transfer from the University of Georgia. Fields has the athleticism, football IQ, and arm talent to make Ohio State’s National Championship dreams a reality.

Joining Fields on the offensive side of the ball will be third-year running back J.K. Dobbins, veteran wide receivers K.J. Hill, Benjamin Victor, and Austin Mack, as well as late season sensation Chris Olave. Dobbins will look to return to his freshman form where he averaged 7.2 yards per carry as opposed to last year's average of 4.6 yards per carry. The receivers will be relied on heavily and will need to be efficient in matching the production from a year ago when Dwayne Haskins was able to throw for 50 touchdowns.

The offensive line may see some growing pains this season as they break in four new starters. If I had to predict the starters from left to right, right now I would say Thayer Munford returns to the left tackle spot, Wyatt Davis takes over at left guard, Josh Myers becomes the new starting center, Brandon Bowen returns from his year and a half long hiatus due to injury and starts at right guard, and redshirt-freshman Nicholas Petit-Frere steps up and starts at right tackle. This unit could take some time to mesh because they are very young, but they are also a mix of four-star and five-star recruits so the margin for error will be minimal.

Unlike the offensive side of the ball, the defensive play by the Buckeyes needs to be improved from a year ago, not maintained. The defense loses studs in potential first overall pick Nick Bosa and Dre’Mont Jones who have solidified the Ohio State defensive line the last few season. The Buckeyes will also be without speedster Kendall Sheffield in the secondary after he declared for the NFL Draft.

The defensive line will continue to be arguably the deepest and best overall position group for the Buckeyes. They boast Chase Young and Jonathon Cooper at the defensive end positions, while senior Robert Landers will man the middle alongside either Haskell Garrett or Taron Vincent. Players like Jashon Cornell, Tyreke Smith, Tommy Togiai, and Noah Potter should also be in the mix for playing time for a position group that may be the best in all of college football.

The linebacker group for Ohio State was the biggest weakness for this team a year ago. However, there is hope with Bill Davis gone and Al Washington coming in to coach the unit that this weakness can become a strength. Dante Booker is the only departure from the unit, though he didn’t play a big role as a backup last season.

In a perfect world Malik Harrison starts at middle linebacker, while Baron Browning and Teradja Mitchell man the outside linebacker positions in Ohio State’s 4-3 defensive scheme. Unfortunately, there is the chance that Buckeye fans could see Pete Werner and the slow Tuf Borland man two of the linebacker positions again this year (“sigh”). We can only hope that this is avoided as Werner looked completely lost at times last year and struggled in coverage, while Borland, as “Tuf” as they come and an outstanding leader, is just too slow and not athletic enough to play consistent snaps for the Buckeyes.

The secondary, in my opinion, is the position group that the fans should be the most excited about. Towards the end of last season Jeffrey Okudah came on and showed what kind of impact player he was recruited to be at cornerback. Opposite of him will be Shaun Wade who also played exceptionally well in spurts a season ago. Damon Arnette is back for his senior season and will provide experience in the slot while Brendon White plays the hybrid role between safety and nickel corner.

The safety position gets third-year starter Jordan Fuller back for his senior season as well as Brendon White who I just mentioned. When Ohio State goes to a nickel defense and Brendon White goes back to corner, look for Isaiah Pryor or Jahsen Wint to come in at safety as both players played the position in a few games a season ago. I expect Jeff Hafley to have this group playing much improved from last year, of course he is under heightened pressure after former Ohio State safety Tyvis Powell tweeted out shortly after Halfey was hired, “Great coach. Hard worker. I personally would go to war for the guy. Great hire. I expect great things. #GoBucks”

That is sure to have fans riled up and ready to see this unit perform in the fall. In fact, the entire array of offseason moves should have Ohio State fans excited for Ryan Day’s inaugural season as head coach. The Ohio State University is one of the premier college football destinations in the entire nation for incoming recruits, but what does their path to the National Championship look like this season?

If Ohio State wants to get into the College Football Playoff, they’re going to have to win the B1G conference. The non-conference schedule includes cupcakes in Florida Atlantic, Cincinnati, and Miami (Ohio). A loss to any of these teams will permanently erase Ohio State’s chances of contending for a National Championship in 2019.

The B1G conference schedule does Ohio State no favors either. Other than manageable divisional games at Indiana, vs Maryland, and at Rutgers, every other conference game should give the players, coaches, and fans worries.

Ohio State goes to Nebraska and Northwestern while hosting Wisconsin in the cross-division games this season, which is no easy task. Nebraska should be very improved in Scott Frost’s second season, while Northwestern was in the B1G title game against the Buckeyes last year, though they will be breaking in a new quarterback. I also expect Wisconsin be back in the fold as a B1G title threat this year as they are led by potential 2020 first round pick in running back Jonathan Taylor.

That is not even to mention the East Division gauntlet that Ohio State faces yearly in hosting Michigan State and Penn State and traveling to rival Michigan. While Michigan State and Penn State don’t seem to pose as serious threats this year, they should still not be taken lightly, because let’s not forget Michigan State’s last second upset over the third ranked Buckeyes in 2015, or Penn State’s upset over the second ranked Buckeyes in 2016. The Buckeyes will have to come ready to play in both games to avoid the heartbreak and shock that will come with a loss to either team in 2019.

Lastly, THE GAME: archrival Michigan vs the Buckeyes. This is a rivalry I have grown up on and I have loved every second of it. My first true experience in this rivalry was “The Game of The Century”, in 2006. First ranked Ohio State, against second ranked Michigan, and neither side would ever be the same.

Since then I have grown to recognize the Saturday after Thanksgiving as the most gut-wrenching day of the year, but also one of my favorite days of the year. This years version of “The Game” should be just like any other in terms of anticipation and marketability as both teams should be in the hunt for a B1G title and College Football Playoff berth. However, I expect the Ohio State Buckeyes to top the Michigan Wolverines at “The Big House” in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on November 30, 2019 at noon eastern time, and give Jim Harbaugh his fifth consecutive loss in the series, while giving Ryan Day his first win in the series.

The expectations for Ohio State remain the same: Defeat Michigan, win the East Division, win the B1G, get into the College Football Playoff, and contend for a National Championship. Anything less than that is a lost season, and every player, coach, and fan knows it.