After a bitter sweet end to the 2015 season the Ohio State Buckeyes are back with a lot of new faces on both sides of the ball to try and contend for a Big Ten and National Championship. Last season ended with a historically talented team beating Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. The Buckeyes then went on to dominate the NFL draft by having two players picked in the top 5, three more picked in the top 20, another 5 in the next two rounds, and 12 players total for the whole draft. With all of that success comes many questions as to whether or not the youth of this football team can grow up quick enough to keep the Buckeyes in the National Championship hunt. Here are 5 players to keep your eyes on this season, beginning with Saturdays battle against the Falcons of Bowling Green State.
With Braxton Miller and Cardale Jones moving on to the NFL the quarterback position is all J.T. Barrett's. Barrett had his ups and downs last season but eventually settled in as the starter for the Buckeyes, but never reached his 2014 form. J.T. is one of the few veterans on this team and thankfully for the Buckeyes it comes at the most important position on the field.
If Barrett can play like he did in 2014 not only can he keep the Buckeyes in the playoff hunt, he will put himself in the Heisman discussion. Despite everything J.T. brings to the table physically, the skill that might be the most important this year is his leadership. With 12 players moving on to the NFL including offensive stars Zeke Elliot, Michael Thomas and Braxton Miller, J.T. Barrett will have to lead a group of talented young players through this season with minimal mistakes if the Buckeyes want to find themselves back in the playoff.
The defense will be anchored this year by middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan. The third year standout from Georgia is coming off of a 119 tackle season and looking to solidify his stock as the top middle linebacker in next years draft (if he decides to enter). McMillan is everything you look for at his position and with Joey Bosa, Von Bell, Eli Apple and Darren Lee all leaving for the NFL, Raekwon will have to lead this young, but talented, Buckeyes defense.
Mike Weber has some of the biggest shoes to fill this season. He will be taking over for the number 4 pick in the draft and Buckeye fan favorite Ezekiel Elliot. Originally thought to be splitting time with Bri'onte Dunn, the running back from Michigan now has been named the starter after Dunn was dismissed from the team for domestic violence. At 5'10 and 215 pounds he fits the build for what you are looking for in a running back. The Buckeyes have a lot of young talented players on offense and although Weber was named the starter, don't expect the redshirt freshman to immediately have the workload, or success of Zeke.
Although Joey Bosa got most of the attention at defensive end, Tyquan Lewis was able to make a name for himself as a pass rusher. Lewis took advantage of Bosa being the center of attention last year with eight sacks and 14 tackles for loss. Things will be tougher for Lewis this year with Bosa gone but that is something he is going to have to get used to if he wants the same accolades.
Curtis Samuel was the recipient of quite an honor from coach Urban Meyer last week. "I think he's our No. 1 playmaker on offense right now," Meyer said. The do-it-all H-back has the skills to give defenses headaches at running back, wide receiver, and anywhere else Meyer may want to line him up. Despite the high praise from Meyer, Samuel will most likely split time with often injured but dynamite senior Dontre Wilson at the hybrid position.
These are just 5 player/positions I have highlighted but this team is filled with young dynamic athletes who, if they can learn on the fly, have the ability to put the Buckeyes back in the National Championship playoff. With a tough road test against the Oklahoma Sooners early in the year, these Buckeyes will have to grow up quick. If they can get past Oklahoma they have a great chance to run the table until a showdown against Michigan at the end of the year.
What: Ohio State Buckeyes vs. Bowling Green State Falcons
When: Saturday September 3, 2016 at 12:00 PM ET
Where: Ohio Stadium, Columbus, Ohio
Watch: Big Ten Network
Line: OSU -28, O/U 64