Expectations always are big in Columbus. But when Urban Meyer said at Big Ten media days that this edition of the Buckeyes was his most talented yet … well, big things could be coming in 2017.
The last two years have not been ideal for Meyer, whose team made the playoff last year but got waxed by Clemson. OSU wants to win the Big Ten again after last doing so in 2014. Many of the key players are back, led by senior quarterback J.T. Barrett and sophomore running back Mike Weber, along with the makings of a boffo defensive line led by senior end Tyquan Lewis and junior Sam Hubbard. Urban Meyer and Co., have work to do.
Here are five things I’ll be watch at Ohio State practice.
1. Offense. This could be items 1, 2 and 3, honestly, as all eyes will be on this side of the ball after some noteworthy foibles in 2016 highlighted by an embarrassing shutout loss at the hands of Clemson in the College Football Playoff. It was the first time an Urban Meyer-coached team had been blanked. Meyer had seen enough and altered his staff by bringing in former Indiana coach Kevin Wilson to run the attack. The Buckeye offense must improve the passing game down field.
2. Receiver. The lack of a consistent down-field threat is apparent, as this program is without a David Boston, Joey Galloway or Ted Ginn. Who will be the top deep target? There are plenty of options for an offense that Kevin Wilson says will need eight receivers. Parris Campbell is a guy to watch. Others: Johnnie Dixon, Terry McLaurin, Austin Mack, K.J. Hill and Ben Victor.
3. Offensive line. Four starters are back, so the unit has potential. It has to become better at protecting the quarterback. Tackle Jamarco Jones needs to be a star. He was darn good in 2016. A guy like Michael Jordan has to play better and continue to improve. And Malcolm Pridgeon could emerge coming off a knee injury; he arrived in 2016 amid a lot of hype from a JC. A key dynamic: Billy Price is flipping from guard to center.
4. Secondary. There was lots of star power in the defensive backfield last season. And it showed in the NFL draft, as Gareon Conley, Marshon Lattimore and Malik Hooker all turned pro after sensational seasons and were high picks. Now what? Senior Damon Webb is the lone returning starter. Who will fill out the secondary? Keep an eye on Damon Arnette and Denzel Ward at corner. I am eager to see stud freshman Jeffrey Okudah. Erick Smith and Jordan Fuller are options at safety along with Webb.
5. J.T. Barrett. How is the senior looking in the offense being run by Kevin Wilson? Barrett needs to regain his 2014 form, when he helped lead the Buckeyes to the summit. He was pretty good last season, when Barrett hit 61.5 percent of his passes with 24 TD tosses. The guy is a leader and a winner, sporting a 26-4 career record. But he can’t run as much as he has in recent years; Barrett needs to hit passes down field.