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It’s the bar now. Ohio State may have only won just a single national title under Urban Meyer’s seven-year reign, and before that, just one under Jim Tressel, but seasons are now measured by contending for a national title.
The Buckeyes have come achingly close to winning multiple national championships, but breaks, circumstances, Clemson, and yes — Alabama have often gotten in the way. Still, there are just a handful of teams that can legitimately claim that they are in the picture every single year. It’s Alabama (duh), Clemson, Ohio State, and maybe Oklahoma. Outside of that, it’s a revolving door of expectations.
In fact, OSU could have, maybe should have, won titles in 2012, 2015, and 2019, but fell just short. Whether it sanctions (2012), weather and game plan (2015), or controversial calls (2019), there have been a myriad of reasons why the team couldn’t seal the deal.
This season seems to be setting up much the same, even with some key pieces needing to be addressed like quarterback and several spots on the defense.
So what does Ohio State need to go its way in order to lay claim to its ninth national title in program history? We give you five things that have to be colored with a scarlet and gray hue to get it done as we sit here just about six weeks out from the start of the 2021 season.
NEXT … Find a quarterback
Who replaces Justin Fields?
The good news is that there are several more than capable options in the quarterback room to keep the machine humming. C.J. Stroud would appear to have the upper hand with being in the program already and clearly the No. 2 guy behind Fields last year. If not him though, Jack Miller has also had time to absorb the playbook and has the skill necessary. Then there’s the wild card, 5-star prospect Kyle McCord, who can spin the ball himself.
Either way, finding the right guy and continuing to have him develop throughout the season will be huge. There are plenty of weapons surrounding the new signal-caller in Columbus, but picking the right one for the apex of this team is paramount for the fall.
NEXT … Solidify the linebacker room
Find difference makers at the linebacker spot
It has been well-chronicled that Ohio State lost its top four linebackers to graduation and the NFL last season. That leaves the second level of the defense with a complete rebuild.
And while the defensive line would appear to be one of the best and deepest parts of this team, it has to be more than putting pressure on the quarterback. Defending passes across the middle, and runs to the outside and into the second level have to be bottled up.
The linebacker position is becoming even more important in the spread attack when it comes to covering in space, and the OSU defense won’t be the dominating bunch it needs to be if it can’t get production from the linebackers.
NEXT … Get better in the secondary
Defensive backs have to bounce back
By far the weak spot of the entire team last season was the defensive backfield. Ohio State gave up 304 yards passing per game in 2021. Only five teams were worse, and it’s quite remarkable that the team made it as far as it did with such a glaring weakness. But don’t worry, Alabama took advantage of that mercifully.
Put aside the fact that the Buckeye defense was pretty good against the run, because to be an effective defense, you have to be balanced and able to take away different types of attacks. For a program that has historically been a killer on the back-end of the defense, it has to get back to that next season or face the possibility of getting shredded against good passing attacks.
NEXT … Stay healthy
Stay away from the injury bug
There isn’t a team in the Big Ten that can run the same talent out of the tunnel that OSU can on a weekly basis. Not Penn State, not Wisconsin, Iowa, and definitely not Michigan. That means the Buckeyes are likely to be the favorite in every single game in the regular season.
Unless that is, the injury bug hits at a key position group. There probably isn’t a team in the league that has the talent depth Ohio State has either, but losing a key performer on the outside, on the defense, or behind center could throw just enough of a glitch into the matrix to derail things.
It’s hard to control injuries, but it’s one of the key aspects to a team’s ability to go from a good to great, or from a great to a championship season.
NEXT … Get some good breaks
Get breaks and luck when it matters
Skill will get you past most contests, but when it comes to teams that are more evenly matched in the postseason, breaks often determine the outcome.
All you have to do is look back to the 2019 Fiesta Bowl when Ohio State saw nearly every break go the wrong way. What happened (despite what Clemson fans will say), is the best team lost in the desert air that night.
Whether it be a controversial call, turnovers at the wrong time, or some strange and bizarre weather that can even the playing field, you have to get a key break or two when it matters most to sometimes seal the deal of a special season.