Spring football is more than just chance to get out of the house and tailgate on an April Saturday.
For many players, one spring can be the difference between winning a starting job and being a career backup.
For others, it may determine whether they decide to transfer elsewhere for a chance to play more.
Last spring, quarterback Joe Burrow entered with a chance to be the Buckeyes’ starter. Exactly 15 practices later, he packed his bags and headed to LSU.
Offensive lineman Matthew Burrell entered as a candidate to win the starting center job. He transferred to Sam Houston State.
Dwayne Haskins came into 2018 spring ball with 40 career completions to his name. After more or less securing the job, he went on to throw 50 touchdown passes in the fall.
So which Buckeyes have the most to gain this spring?
Josh Alabi, Offensive Line
Heading into his fifth and final season as a Buckeye, Alabi has a chance to lock down the vacant starting job at right tackle.
He actually started the 2019 Rose Bowl at left tackle after Thayer Munford suffered an injury.
Munford is back this year, so Alabi’s last chance at a starting spot is on the other side of the line.
However, to win the job, he’ll have to beat out redshirt freshman Nicholas Petit-Frere, one of the highest-ranked recruits OSU has ever signed.
If the two are basically even going into the season, there’s a decent chance the coaching staff would give the job to Petit-Frere, since he’ll be around for future seasons.
That means it will be important for Alabi to win the job decisively, and that starts this spring.
Branden Bowen, Offensive Line
Bowen was a starter at right guard in 2017 before breaking his leg against Maryland.
He then suffered a setback in his rehab and missed all of the 2018 season as well.
Now heading into his fifth season with the Buckeyes, Bowen has a chance to win a starting job again.
Four positions on the line are open this year, including both starting guard spots, and Bowen has played both guard and tackle during his career.
He’s probably a slight favorite to win the starting left guard job right now, but there is enough talent on the roster that he’ll need a good spring to keep it that way.
Baron Browning, Linebacker
Unlike the first two players on this list, Browning is not heading into his senior season.
A 5-star recruit at linebacker out of Texas, Browning is now halfway through his Buckeye career and has just 37 total tackles in mostly backup duty to show for it.
He also has a golden opportunity to earn a starting job this spring. OSU has a new linebackers coach, new co-defensive coordinators, and potentially a new scheme.
That’s about as fresh as fresh starts can get.
If Browning is going to live up to the hype he had coming out of high school, it’s going to start this spring.
Jake Hausmann, Tight End
Hausmann was one of two tight ends to sign with OSU’s 2016 class. He was ranked as the No. 4 tight end that year, while Luke Farrell was rated 7th.
But while Farrell has turned into a multi-year contributor, Hausmann has yet to record a catch.
Now, Farrell and Rashod Berry are back and highly-touted sophomore Jeremy Ruckert is seemingly ready to take a step forward.
That makes this a make-or-break spring for Hausmann’s chances at playing time. If he’s still third or fourth on the depth chart going into the fall, he may never get a chance at regular playing time.
C.J. Saunders, Wide Receiver
Saunders broke out with a 102-yard receiving game against UNLV in 2017, but hasn’t cracked 50 yards in a game since then. His biggest game in 2018 was a two-catch, 27-yard day against Rutgers.
Now, entering his senior season, Saunders will have to show out to climb up a crowded depth chart at the H receiver position.
K.J. Hill is back, along with Demario McCall (who may split time at running back), and redshirt freshman phenom Jaelen Gill.
Those three are also among Saunders’ top competition to earn time at kick and punt returner.
With a big spring, Saunders could secure a spot in the rotation at H, and on special teams. But given the other talent on the roster, there’s a very fine line between that and a repeat of his 81 yards of total offense in 2018.
BONUS: Basically Half Of The Defensive Backfield
A big chunk of Ohio State’s cornerback and safety rooms is made up of highly-ranked recruits entering their third seasons. Marcus Williamson, Isaiah Pryor, and Amir Riep all came to Columbus with the skill level to be serious contributors, but none have been able to get on the field consistently.
Pryor opened the 2018 season as a starter before losing his job to Brendon White. Williamson was injured last fall, and Riep hasn’t seen regular action on defense.
With the Buckeyes’ new defensive coaching staff hinting at a possible change to a hybrid 4-2-5, there could be a new starting spot open for one of them to grab.