Before the Ohio State Buckeyes walked off the field at AT&T Stadium on Monday night, some people were already making their predictions for the following season.
Caught up in all that was the game itself, as the Buckeyes flew past the Ducks, 42-20, en route to earning their eighth national title, The Lantern sports staff compiled a list of five things we learned following the OSU victory.
1. Ezekiel Elliott is an early 2015 Heisman candidate
Up until the Buckeyes’ matchup against the Wisconsin Badgers in the 2014 Big Ten Championship Game, Elliott never had compiled a 200-yard rush game in his short collegiate career.
After putting up 220 rushing yards against the Badgers, Elliott improved each game, putting up 230 against Alabama, then broke a national title game record with 246 rushing yards against the Ducks.
After being considered a middle-of-the-road running back in the Big Ten, Elliott showed up on the biggest stage in college football and made a statement as to why he could be the best back in America.
Elliott has at least one more year in scarlet and gray before becoming eligible for the NFL Draft, and even if the quarterback position for the Buckeyes, Urban Meyer can rest easy knowing that Elliott will be back in the offensive huddle in 2015.
2. Cardale Jones could be a starter at Ohio State
Will he earn that right? No one knows just yet.
But redshirt-sophomore quarterback Cardale Jones showed in the last three games that with the help of a solid offensive line and a consistent run game, he is just as good as anyone in the Buckeye backfield.
In three post-season games, two of which came against top-15 defenses, Jones averaged 247.3 passing yards per game.
In comparison, redshirt-freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett averaged 252.3 yards passing per game against Navy, Virginia Tech and Kent State — his first three games as a starter.
While Jones has only started in three games as a Buckeye, they were arguably the three biggest games in the last decade for OSU, and he led his team to a National Championship in the process.
3. The 2015 ‘Silver Bullets’ will be reloaded for another title run
Sure it’s clichéd, but this Buckeye defense improved drastically from 2013 to 2014, finishing 19th in total defense this year, up 28 spots from last year’s 47th finish.
What’s more, the OSU defense will lose just four starters to graduation (senior defensive lineman Michael Bennett, senior cornerback Doran Grant, senior linebacker Curtis Grant and senior defensive lineman Steve Miller) and bring back its first unanimous All-American since 2007 in sophomore Joey Bosa.
Young, fast talent at the linebacker position with redshirt-freshman Darron Lee and freshman Raekwon McMillan will only improve with junior Joshua Perry leading the way.
The biggest question will be who replaces Doran Grant opposite of redshirt-freshman Eli Apple at the backside cornerback position.
Look for freshman Damon Webb to compete with redshirt-freshman Gareon Conley, along with freshman Erick Smith for the second corner job.
4. The defensive backfield has gone from the weakest link to a bright spot for the OSU defense
In 2013, the OSU defensive backfield was bad. The Buckeyes were repeatedly gouged for huge chunks of yardage and a lot of points.
To an extent, the OSU pass defense gave up its fair share of yards and points this season as well, but the talent level was noticeably increased, and the execution was evident when it mattered most. And perhaps more importantly than anything else, Both safeties and one cornerback are set to return again next season.
Doran Grant will be gone, but Apple and Webb will be expected to be an intimidating duo at cornerback, while redshirt-sophomore safety Tyvis Powell and sophomore safety Vonn Bell will be working with a full year of starting side-by-side under their belts.
5. The OSU offensive line will be back in force
The 2014 Buckeye offensive line featured four new starters, and the 2015 line is set to feature four returnees.
Redshirt-senior Darryl Baldwin is moving on, but the combination of junior Taylor Decker, redshirt-sophomore Pat Elflein, junior Jacoby Boren and redshirt-freshman Billy Price have developed a dominating consistency that helped propel Elliott to his huge performances in the postseason.
Assuming Decker does return — all signs say he will, in fact, forgo the NFL Draft — the line, not unlike the defensive backfield, will start the 2015 season as one of the brightest spots on the team after being a big question back in August.