Ohio State Buckeyes: CFN College Football Preview 2021

·16 min read

College Football News Preview 2021: Previewing, predicting, and looking ahead to the Ohio State football season with what you need to know.

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– What You Need To Know: Offense | Defense
Top Players | Keys To The Season
What Will Happen, Win Total Prediction
Ohio State Football Schedule Analysis
Ohio State Buckeyes Previews
2020 | 2019 | 2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015

2020 Record: 7-1 overall, 6-0 in Big Ten
Head Coach: Ryan Day, 3rd year, 23-2
2020 CFN Final Ranking: 2
2020 CFN Preview Ranking: 1
2019 CFN Final Ranking: 2

Ohio State Buckeyes College Football Preview 2021: Offense

The offense was fantastic, and now it’s about keeping it all going with a new quarterback and a few different parts up front. The Buckeyes averaged 519 yards and 41 points per game, the running game rolled, the turnovers were kept to a relative minimum, and there was a terrific combination of explosiveness and power to adapt when things weren’t smooth. But the main man who ran the thing is now – most likely – going to be the Chicago Bears’ starting quarterback.

Justin Fields wasn’t everything to the Ohio State offense, but he was about as MVPish as it gets. It’s Ohio State, so the factory is about to crank out the next star who’ll take over, but it might take just a little while for everything to be smooth.

With a trip to Minnesota to start the season and the Oregon game to follow, there’s no time here for a warm-up, so …

Game On, CJ Stroud. The star quarterback recruit of a few years ago should be the main man to pilot this thing, but redshirt freshman Jack Miller isn’t being counted out of the mix. They’re both big, they can both throw, and they both need time.

One slight nitpicky negative from the way the short 2020 season went was the development of the young quarterbacks – there wasn’t really any in game action. Fields was the only Buckeye to throw a pass. Fortunately going forward, the new starting quarterback – it’ll be Stroud – has a loaded receiving corps to work with.

The Buckeyes caught a massive break when Chris Olave decided to return for his senior year. A dangerous deep threat, he turned into even more of a No. 1 target last season with a team-high 50 catches for 729 yards and seven scores.

Olave will be the main man again, but Garrett Wilson might be the more explosive playmaker on the outside X position. He averaged close to 17 yards per catch – finishing second on the team with 43 grabs for 723 yards and six scores – and there’s a whole lot of fast young talent ready to rise up.

Jaxon Smith-Njigba should take on a big role in the slot, and superstar recruit Emeka Egbuka should be ready from the moment he steps on campus. However, the Buckeyes lost Jameson Williams – who caught nine passes for 154 yards and two scores – to Alabama.

The tight end situation is set. Jeremy Ruckert only caught 13 passes, but he scored five times and should be an even bigger part of the attack as a safety-valve for Stroud.

The offensive line loses a few guys, but it has its normal array of all-star talent. There will be some shifting around inside, but Thayer Munford is back for another year at one tackle job, and future NFL starter Nick Petit-Frere is a good one at left tackle.

The pass protection was a tad spotty – Fields was always tough while waiting for the downfield plays to develop – but the line was a steamroller for the ground game. It will be again.

Trey Sermon might be done after closing out – before getting hurt in the national title game – with an epic three-game stretch, but Master Teague is a solid, veteran back who ran for 514 yards and eight scores. He’s not the receiver that Sermon was, and on the way to push for time is star recruit TreVeyon Henderson to bring more explosiveness to the mix.

– What You Need To Know: Defense
Top Players | Keys To The Season
What Will Happen, Win Total Prediction
Ohio State Football Schedule Analysis

NEXT: Ohio State Buckeyes College Football Preview 2021: Defense

Ohio State Buckeyes College Football Preview 2021: Defense

Lost in the run to yet another Big Ten championship and to the College Football Playoff National Championship appearance was how the defense was just okay. It wasn’t awful, and it certainly had its good moments, but it struggled in a big, big way at times in pass coverage – allowing a Big Ten-worst 304 yards per game – and wasn’t always as strong as it should’ve been at getting behind the line.

Five starters are back with the linebacking corps undergoing a reboot and with a few new parts up front needing to rise up.

Again, though, it wasn’t an awful defense – it could be better, and that might need time, starting, again, with …

The linebackers – Ohio State needs new ones. Defensive Kerry Coombs will likely go with more of a 4-2-5 alignment to get an extra safety on the field – the Bullet position in this D – but it still hurts to lose the team’s two top tacklers, Pete Werner and Tuf Borland.

Instead of thinking of this as a problem, it’s more like a Next Guy Up thing with veteran backups ready to show what they can do. That starts with 6-3, 235-pound senior Dallas Gant in the middle. He’s a big tackler who came up with 17 stops, but he’s not alone with a good-looking group of parts who’ll push for time.

235-pound senior Teradja Mitchell will work on the outside with the upside to grow into an all-around playmaker who’ll live in the backfield. Just like in the middle, there are a slew of talented prospects who’ll push for time.

The defensive front might need to do more in the backfield, but it’s going to be a brick wall against the run. The 300-pound tackle combination of Haskell Garrett and Antwuan Jackson is experienced and – if possible for Ohio State – under-the-radar great, and the defensive end combination of Tyreke Smith and Zach Harrison should be terrific. If super-recruit Jack Sawyer turns into a factor, the ends will be a terror.

The secondary loses Shaun Wade – a solid corner who wasn’t quite up to the normal Ohio State superstar DB snuff – but Sevyn Banks is a good No. 1 corner who can hit, and Cameron Brown should be ready to roll after suffering an Achilles heel injury.

This might not be an elite group of corners, but they’re good enough to be among the Big Ten’s best. The safeties are experienced, but consistency will be the key.

Sophomore Ronnie Hickman is more of a safety-playing-linebacker at the Bullet – really, it’s a strong safety – and Craig Young is more of a linebacker-playing-safety at the position, but the Buckeyes are okay here either way depending on the alignment.

Veteran safety Marcus Hooker was suspended from the team after pleading guilty for operating a vehicle while impaired, but he’s a factor after starting every game last year if and when he’s back in the mix. Either way, 6-2, 195-pound senior Josh Proctor is likely the starter at free safety, and the combination of Marcus Williamson and Lathan Ransom will work like an inside corner/safety.

– What You Need To Know: Offense
Top Players | Keys To The Season
What Will Happen, Win Total Prediction
Ohio State Football Schedule Analysis

NEXT: Ohio State Buckeyes College Football Preview 2021: Top Players

Ohio State Buckeyes College Football Preview 2021: Top Players

Best Ohio State Buckeyes Offensive Player

WR Chris Olave, Sr.
He was always a slippery-smooth part of the attack, starting with his breakout two-touchdown game against Michigan as a freshman, to a big play, 12-score deep threat sophomore who Justin Fields went to with the season on the line in the epic Fiesta Bowl loss vs. Clemson, to becoming the team’s leading pass catcher in his junior season.

He would’ve been a top 50 overall pick had he come out for the 2021 NFL Draft, but he’s back for one more season and should make that jump from very good to must-have-top-20-overall great.

2. WR Garrett Wilson, Sr.
3. OT Thayer Munford, Sr.
4. RB Master Teague, Jr.
5. QB CJ Stroud, RFr.

Related

Ohio State Football Schedule 2021: Analysis, Best and Worst Case Scenarios

Best Ohio State Buckeyes Defensive Player

DT Haskell Garrett, Sr.
At least going into the season, Ohio State doesn’t have the dizzying array of sure-thing NFL defensive draft talent it normally does. Of course a whole slew of Buckeyes will play in The League, but there isn’t an obvious Chase Young or Jeff Okudah from two years ago.

Garrett might not do anything all that splashy, but the NFL types are going to like him a whole lot next April.

Okay, so he’s a tad undersized at 6-2 and 300 pounds, but he’s a tough-as-nails veteran with three years of experience, great quickness to get behind the line, and he’s got anchor ability to take on blockers so Zach Harrison, Tyreke Smith and the ends can roam free.

2. DE Zach Harrison, Jr.
3. DE Tyreke Smith, Sr.
4. CB Sevyn Banks, Sr.
5. DE Jack Sawyer, Fr.

Check out Phil Harrison’s updates and all things Ohio State at BuckeyesWire.com

Top Incoming Ohio State Buckeyes Transfer

P Jesse Mirco, Fr.
The Buckeyes weren’t big in the transfer portal world, and they don’t really do the JUCO transfer thing, so when it comes to new guys being a bit outside the box, the 23-year-old Australian punter is as close as it gets.

Drue Chrisman was a weapon over the last four years, and now it’s up to the 6-3, 200-pound Australian rules football tough guy to step in and keep blasting away.

– What You Need To Know: Offense | Defense
Keys To The Season
What Will Happen, Win Total Prediction
Ohio State Football Schedule Analysis

NEXT: Ohio State Buckeyes College Football Preview 2021: Keys To The Season

Ohio State Buckeyes College Football Preview 2021: Keys To The Season

Ohio State Buckeyes Biggest Key: Offense

Keep that running production going, but from the backs. It’s Ohio State, so the running game is going to average well over five yards per carry and should hit 200 yards per game when it wants to, but things might have to be reworked a bit.

As great as the 2018 Ohio State offense was, it was little bit off because Dwayne Haskins wasn’t a runner. At least over the last 15-or-so years, the attack rocked and rolled when the quarterback could take off.

Whether it was Troy Smith, or Terrelle Pryor, or Braxton Miller, or JT Barrett, or Justin Fields, the dual threat playmakers tended to make things hum better – one national championship run from Cardale Jones aside.

It’s not that CJ Stroud can’t or won’t run, but he’s a potential next-level passer with a big arm and pro-style skills who can push the ball all over the field – that’s his game. He’s not going to be Fields when it comes to making defenses worry.

That means Master Teague, TreVeyon Henderson, and Miyan Williams have to combine forces to fill the void that might be missing from under center – and from the loss of Trey Sermon.

Ohio State Buckeyes Biggest Key: Defense

The secondary has to be a whole lot stronger. It’s not that the talent isn’t there – three starters from last season are returning along with a slew of other good options to flow into the mix – but the D has to avoid getting shredded.

To be fair, there’s not a whole lot of shame in giving up 400-yard days to Trevor Lawrence or Mac Jones, but Ohio State is supposed to be good enough to hold its own against anyone – even the elite of the all-time elite college passers.

Throw in the close call against Indiana – when Michael Penix went off for 491 yards and five scores – and sprinkle in some decent passing days from Penn State, Rutgers, and Northwestern, and there’s tightening to do.

Also – to be fair – teams have to throw and keep throwing to keep up the pace. However, the 2019 defense allowed teams to hit just 50% of their throws, and 2013 was the last time the Buckeyes finished the year allowing more than 60% passing.

The 2020 D allowed teams to connect on 66% of their passes and the 7.7 yards per attempt were the worst by a mile in well over a decade.

Ohio State Buckeyes Key Player To A Successful Season

RB Master Teague, Jr.
He’s been good. Ohio State might need him to be fantastic.

The quarterback play might take a little while to get going. It’s asking a ton for CJ Stroud – or Jack Miller or Kyle McCord – to be Justin Fields-elite right out of the gate, but everything will be fine. The passing game will work, but the more help coming from the ground attack and the running backs, the better.

The offensive line will be terrific and the receiving corps is outstanding, so can Master Teague rise up and be a star who can carry the workload? He had a few massive games last season – running for 169 yards and two scores and hitting Penn State for 110 yards – but can he do it on a consistent basis?

It would be a huge help against Minnesota and Oregon in the first two games if he can be fantastic.

Ohio State Buckeyes Key Game To The 2021 Season

Oregon, Sept. 11
The 2017 Ohio State team was fantastic. It slipped against Iowa, but it rolled through everyone else in the Big Ten on the way to the conference title and a Rose Bowl win over USC. But it wasn’t a College Football Playoff season because of an early home loss to Baker Mayfield and Oklahoma.

The 2021 Ohio State team will be fantastic, and it should be able to get through a not-that-bad Big Ten season without having to play Wisconsin, Iowa or Northwestern.

But there might – and probably will be – one hiccup along the way. Lose to a loaded Oregon team early on, and forget the CFP. Beat the Ducks, and it’s Game On for a possible third-straight trip to the tournament.

Ohio State Buckeyes Football Schedule

2020 Ohio State Buckeyes Fun Stats

– 1st Half Scoring: Ohio State 194 – Opponents 89
– Time of Possession: Ohio State 32:19 – Opponents 27:36
– Fumbles: Opponents 16 (lost 12) – Ohio State 9 (lost 3)

NEXT: Ohio State Buckeyes College Football Preview 2021: What Will Happen, Season Prediction

Ohio State Buckeyes College Football Preview 2021: What Will Happen, Season Prediction

Ryan Day took over an already loaded Buckeye program in 2019, and the 2020 team was helped by the short season and fueled by the red-hot desperation to somehow replay the Fiesta Bowl loss to Clemson.

However, give all credit where it’s due for one key tweak Day was able to make in his first two seasons at the helm …

Focus.

Hey, 2019 team, you see what happened in that 49-20 loss Purdue in 2018? You take your eye off the ball for one moment, and it could all go away – and the 2019 team played like it couldn’t let up for a single solitary second.

Hey, 2020 team, you see how quickly all your dreams can die with one questionable call and a misfire on a game-winning drive? If you get the chance to make amends, you’d better take it – and the 2020 team took its game to a whole other level when it got the shot to exorcise the demons against Clemson.

Urban Meyer was unquestionably one of the greatest college head coaches of all-time, but none of his last five Ohio State teams got through the regular season unscathed and the 2013 version suffered a loss to Michigan State with everything on the line in the Big Ten Championship.

Day? Two years, zero regular season losses, two for two in Big Ten Championships, two College Football Playoff appearances.

The last two national champions were among the all-time greatest teams in college football history – there’s no shame in not being 2019 LSU or 2020 Alabama. There might not be a national title so far under Day, but 20-2 is a fat load of alright.

It’s Ohio State, though, so the expectations of beating Michigan, winning the Big Ten title, and playing for the national championship – not necessarily in that order – don’t change no matter what, but things are different this time around.

The 2021 team has a new quarterback, misses 11 starters in a year of the super-senior – when seemingly everyone has 20+ starters returning, and might be missing that undivided focus the last two teams had.

Set The Ohio State Buckeyes Regular Season Win Total At … 10.5

That’s not to say this year’s Ohio State won’t win the Big Ten, and of course it’s among the best teams in America going into the season, but this might be a wee bit of a rebuild compared to the last two years.

At the very least, this team isn’t as obvious-great at 2019 and has to prove it can rise up like the 2020 team did. Fortunately, the schedule will help the cause, even if there isn’t any warm-up time to get everything settled.

At Minnesota to kick things off, Oregon nine days later to follow. Again, it’s Ohio State, so it should win both of those games, but it might not be quite as easy-breezy as the dates with Tulsa and Akron will be.

The Penn State game is at home, it really doesn’t matter that the Michigan game is in Ann Arbor, and there’s no Wisconsin, Iowa, or Northwestern to play.

It’s a ten-win run no matter what, but it’s going to take a whole other level of that focus thing to get through another regular season without a loss.

– What You Need To Know: Offense | Defense
Top Players | Keys To The Season
Ohio State Football Schedule Analysis