With a new recruiting class signed and sealed, coach Urban Meyer and the Ohio State coaching staff have an idea of who the Buckeyes will have available next season.
On offense, OSU returns eight players listed as starters on the final two-deep of the season, which was ahead of the College Football Playoff National Championship, in addition to another eight listed as second string. And to top it off, the 13 of the Buckeyes’ 27 new recruits are set to play offense for the Scarlet and Gray.
Oh, and don’t forget that final two-deep didn’t include J.T. Barrett, Braxton Miller or Dontre Wilson.
It’s no secret that Meyer and the Buckeyes have a plethora of talent at quarterback. Barrett and Miller have both come in fifth in Heisman Trophy voting, and redshirt-junior Cardale Jones won the national title as the starter.
Then add freshmen Torrance Gibson and Joe Burrow into the mix, and OSU seems set not only for next season, but at least the next four or five years.
Going into spring practice, Jones is the only of the three returning starters who is expected to be fully healthy, so he’ll have an early leg up on Barrett and Miller to win what is likely to be an open competition in fall camp. But with Barrett’s eye-popping numbers as a redshirt-freshman, and Miller’s obvious ability, neither can be counted out.
Looking past 2015, either Barrett or Jones — if he comes back for a fifth year in Columbus — will start, but 2016 will be the year to keep on eye on Gibson and Burrow. If either develops early on, they could push for playing time sooner rather than later.
Unfortunately for redshirt-freshman Stephen Collier, his window to become a starter seems almost nonexistent, and a transfer might make the most sense.
Junior Ezekiel Elliott will start in 2015, then he’ll most likely leave for the NFL.
After that, sophomore Curtis Samuel will take over. While that’s not a guarantee, he showed off an impressive skillset and even unseated Elliott as the starter for one game in 2014. Spring practice and fall camp will be a chance for Samuel to prove his worth, and earn a bigger part in the offense.
After Samuel, redshirt-junior Bri’onte Dunn is running out of opportunities to earn playing time. Without Rod Smith, he might be able to sneak into the fold as a power back in goal-line situations, but beyond chasing Elliott and Samuel, Dunn will have to look over his shoulder for freshman Mike Weber.
Weber — if he decides to keep with his OSU commitment after Stan Drayton bolted for the NFL — is a highly-rated back who won’t redshirt in Columbus. He’ll see carries in garbage time, and a couple when it matters, and has a chance to push Samuel for the starting spot after Elliott moves on.
Wide receiver is the position the Buckeyes took the biggest hit this offseason, but they have the talent to fill the gaps.
Devin Smith and Evan Spencer have moved on after each were weekly starters last year, but redshirt-junior Michael Thomas was already the best all-around receiver on the team. After Thomas, redshirt-senior Corey Smith should be a regular in the lineup next season, while redshirt-freshman Johnnie Dixon will be looking to prove his worth after sitting out the majority of last season with a leg injury.
Georgia Tech transfer Jeff Greene and his 6-foot-5-inch, 220-pound frame should have something to say as well as he gets set for his redshirt-senior season. And don’t forget about K.J. Hill, whose signing day commitment was a big boost to the Buckeyes’ new freshman class.
At H-back, the Buckeyes are overflowing with talent once again, with junior Dontre Wilson and redshirt-sophomore Jalin Marshall both making big contributions last season. Sophomore Noah Brown saw playing time late in the season as well, and his 240-pound frame brings an added element to the offense that Marshall and Wilson can’t.
Jeff Heuerman is off, most likely to the NFL, but the Buckeyes still return arguably their best tight end.
Redshirt-senior Nick Vannett caught 19 passes for 220 yards and five touchdowns last season, including a score in the title game win against Oregon. He’s a polished receiver who should focus on blocking this offseason, but the offense won’t miss a beat with him getting the majority of the tight end reps.
Redshirt-sophomore Marcus Baugh will likely be the second man on the depth chart, and he’s scored a touchdown on catch pass as a Buckeye. Granted, he’s only caught one pass, but if he can fight through some off-field issues that have limited his playing time, he should make an impact in 2015.
The Buckeyes also signed on two freshmen in A.J. Alexander and Rashod Berry who will likely see playing time both on offense and special teams this season.
With seniors Taylor Decker and Jacoby Boren, redshirt-junior Pat Elflein and redshirt-sophomore Billy Price all returning, Elliott can expect similar holes to run through next season.
Four out of five returning starters is nothing to scoff at, and a couple strong recruiting classes in a row mean the Buckeyes should have the talent to fill that final spot.
Redshirt-senior Chase Farris — a converted defensive lineman, just like Darryl Baldwin — will probably win the starter job initially, but sophomore Jamarco Jones, among a few others, will have a chance to earn increased playing time, and even a starting spot.
The Buckeyes are scheduled to open the 2015 season against Virginia Tech on Sept. 7 in Blacksburg, Va.