There is no doubt that with the way the Buckeyes’ season ended just over a week ago, they’d love to be playing a game tomorrow if they could.
Ending the season on a series of judgment calls that all went against them is the kind of motivating factor that can keep a team extremely focused next season.
And when it comes to making a return trip to the playoffs, motivation is a very key factor.
Just look at the 2015 Ohio State team.
They were defending national champions, but came into the 2015 season with nearly a half-dozen players suspended for the season opener. Then throughout the season, they were never as good as they should have been. You can blame that on Ed Warinner and Tim Beck — and they sure weren’t innocents, but they also weren’t the ones getting suspended or looking ahead to the NFL Draft.
That team appeared to lack motivation. Don’t expect the 2020 Buckeyes to do the same.
So along with the motivation, they will also need the talent and the schedule.
The schedule looks like it will work out. It’s not so difficult that the Buckeyes can’t get through it with only one loss, and not so easy that if they do have a loss they would be eliminated because they didn’t play any ranked opponents.
They head to Oregon the second week of the season, so that’s a major Power 5 road trip. That game alone will allow them the freedom of a loss, should they need it. The good news for the Buckeyes, of course, is that Ducks quarterback Justin Herbert has finally used all of his eligibility.
The other road games for the Buckeyes are Michigan State, Penn State, Maryland, and Illinois. The home games are Bowling Green, Buffalo, Rutgers, Iowa, Nebraska, Indiana, and Michigan.
As always, that trip to Happy Valley is going to be gigantic, and almost certainly a whiteout.
But overall, it’s not a schedule with two or three sure losses on it.
So now the question becomes is the talent on hand to return to the playoffs.
The Buckeyes have lost their two best players in JK Dobbins and Chase Young, as well as senior receivers KJ Hill, Binjimen Victor, and Austin Mack, two offensive linemen in Branden Bowen and Jonah Jackson. Three defensive tackles are gone in Jashon Cornell, DaVon Hamilton, and Robert Landers, as is linebacker Malik Harrison, and three secondary starters in Jeff Okudah, Damon Arnette, and Jordan Fuller.
That is a lot.
But this is still Ohio State and there is also a lot coming back.
Quarterback Justin Fields will be a Heisman front-runner next year and another year under Ryan Day’s tutelage should give the Buckeyes the kind of leader that will keep this team in any game they play in.
A replacement for Dobbins will need to be found, but running back has rarely been an issue at Ohio State. The Buckeyes might be able to make the playoffs without a great running back, but they probably won’t win it unless somebody steps forward and takes the reins.
The good news is that when Master Teague, Marcus Crowley, and Steele Chambers were out there this past season, they were productive.
The Buckeyes are losing three senior receivers, but return the likes of Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson, as well as young talent like Jaelen Gill and Jameson Williams. A pair of veterans in Ellijah Gardiner and Jaylen Harris are still waiting to break out as well. We’ll also see what happens with CJ Saunders and a sixth-year. And then, of course, the Buckeyes are bringing in a class of four Top 100 wide receivers to fill out the ranks.
It will be a young group overall, but talented. Can they get up to speed on the blocking and route running like they need to? It will be important for them to get ready quickly.
The tight ends will again be deep enough to play two at a time with Luke Farrell and Jeremy Ruckert.
Replacing two offensive linemen in the starting lineup is about the best you can hope for in any given year, and it looks like the Buckeyes will be able to do it with former 5-star prospects Nicholas Petit-Frere at right tackle and Harry Miller at left guard.
The defensive line, however, is going to look much different.
Larry Johnson will again want his standard rotation and he’ll need to find a nose tackle to play behind Tommy Togiai. The three technique spot should be fine with Haskell Garrett and Taron Vincent, and there’s little doubt Vincent will be hungry to show what he can do after missing the entire 2019 season with an injury.
There is no replacing Chase Young, but the Buckeyes will still have far more talent at defensive end than anybody else in the Big Ten. That will have to count for something.
The same can be said at linebacker. They are only replacing Malik Harrison, but there are three or four others waiting their turn.
The secondary is where there are some concerns. You don’t lose three of the best defensive backs in the country and get better. Shaun Wade’s return is enormous and necessary. It gives the 2020 defensive backfield a starting point — and a better starting point than perhaps anybody else in the country.
Then it will be up to Cameron Brown, Sevyn Banks, Amir Riep, Josh Proctor, and the rest of the gang to figure out how the rest of the lineup is going to look.
Finding another outside corner to join Wade shouldn’t be an issue. Brown and Banks both played well when given an opportunity. The real key will be finding somebody to replace Wade on the inside and Jordan Fuller at safety. Proctor has tons of promise, but also showed in the Fiesta Bowl that he is not yet on Fuller’s level.
Lastly, special teams.
The Buckeyes return both kicking specialists for their final go-rounds, which is great, but they will miss long-snapper Liam McCullough who was perfect throughout his career.
Ohio State will need to find another McCullough. Fortunately, Liam’s brother Roen is on the team as well.
Just from the looks of it, there is enough offense returning to win any game that might get a bit high scoring.
The defense certainly has some questions, however, but not necessarily any that would eliminate them from getting back to the playoffs next season.