COLUMBUS, Ohio — Buckeye Nation, the start of the Ohio State football season is upon us once again.
This year, there are many new faces but the same lofty expectations as new head coach Ryan Day has the difficult challenge of having to replace the third-winningest head coach in college football history, Urban Meyer.
Day has proven himself up to the task so far in the recruiting field, but now he has to prove himself on an actual football field as he heads into his first season not only as Ohio State head coach, but a head coach in general.
The first-year head coach will get his first crack at live-game action on Saturday since he led the Buckeyes to a 40-28 victory over No. 16 TCU in his third and final game as interim head coach last season.
With all the buildup to his official head coaching debut and the start of a new Ohio State season full of fresh new faces on the Buckeyes, I have several curiosities about the team as they head into their 2019 season opener against FAU on Saturday.
Here is everything that I will be watching for:
The Depth On D-Line
This is definitely one of the biggest things I’ll be watching on Saturday when Ohio State takes on Florida Atlantic.
The Buckeyes have been extremely deep on the defensive line every season since defensive line coach Larry Johnson arrived in Columbus and I expect that to continue this season with seasoned veteran stars like Chase Young and Jonathon Cooper returning.
However, Cooper has been ruled out for the season opener and some of the younger, talented defensive linemen are dealing with injuries heading into Week One too such as Taron Vincent (out), Tyler Friday (game-time decision) and Tyreke Smith (game-time decision).
I’m extremely disappointed that we’re missing out on a prime opportunity against a weaker opponent to see some of the talented guys from the past couple recruiting classes like Vincent, Smith and Friday get plenty of reps, but there are still a plethora of other players I’m excited to see like Tommy Togiai and Zach Harrison.
We’ll definitely get to see just how deep this defensive line really is with all the injuries the Buckeyes will have to deal with on Saturday.
The “Bullet” Position
Ryan Day and his new defensive coaching staff announced back in the spring that there would be a new position on defense this season: the “Bullet”.
The “Bullet” position is to be a hybrid between a safety and a linebacker. This position is similar to the “Viper” position that new Ohio State defensive coaches Al Washington and Greg Mattison ran at Michigan with players like Jabrill Peppers.
Washington said back during spring football that Brendon White and Jahsen Wint were two guys that were getting heavy reps at the “Bullet” position, and based off of the amount of muscle that White has put on over the summer, he certainly looks like a guy that will fit in just fine at linebacker.
I’m very curious to see how often and how well this position is utilized this season and if it will make it more difficult for Ohio State’s future opponents to plan for their defensive schemes.
Who Will Step Up As RB2?
We all know that J.K. Dobbins is the starting running back this season, but what we don’t yet know is who his backup is going to be.
Over the course of fall camp, Ryan Day and the coaching staff have mentioned numerous names as players who could see the field when Dobbins is off of it.
According to the official two-deep roster that Ohio State issued on Friday morning, there are four, yes FOUR, running backs listed at the RB2 position behind Dobbins: Demario McCall, Master Teague, Marcus Crowley and Steele Chambers.
Demario McCall is my best bet to be the true backup this season, but he’s currently listed as a game-time decision for the season opener on Saturday.
Master Teague is a guy who’s been spoken very highly of in his short time at Ohio State, but the one player I’m curious to see on Saturday is Marcus Crowley.
Crowley’s name has been cropping up in just about every interview about the running backs throughout fall camp and I don’t think that’s just a coincidence. This coaching staff clearly has a lot of stock in Crowley and it’s a good bet that we’ll be seeing plenty of him on the football field against FAU if Dobbins and the rest of the starters start to blow the Owls away.
How Fast Can Fields Adapt?
Justin Fields is the highest-ranked recruit to ever come to Ohio State, but it’s highly questionable if he will be the greatest quarterback in Ohio State history.
Ryan Day isn’t the only one with big shoes to fill on Ohio State this season as Fields also has to take over for a Buckeye legend in 2018 starting quarterback Dwayne Haskins, who shattered dozens of Ohio State records in just a single season as a starter en route to becoming a Heisman Trophy finalist, Big Ten Player Of The Year, Big Ten Championship and Rose Bowl Game MVP, and a slew of other trophies and achievements.
Haskins and Day were both instrumental in bringing Fields to Columbus, but it also cost the Buckeyes their depth at the QB position as backup quarterback and expected heir to the starting QB job Tate Martell entered his name in the NCAA transfer portal and subsequently enrolled at Miami just days after Fields’ transfer to Ohio State was made official.
At the end of spring football, Matthew Baldwin became the second quarterback of the offseason to transfer out of Ohio State as he enrolled at TCU to be closer to his family back in Texas.
That left just graduate transfer Chris Chugunov and walk-on Danny Vanatsky as the only quarterbacks on the roster besides Fields. Yikes.
Ohio State managed to bring in some more depth behind Justin Fields with the addition of Kentucky grad transfer QB Gunnar Hoak, but the quarterback cabinet is definitely still more bare than it was at the end of the 2018 season.
So, with the lack of depth at the QB position, the entire 2019 season is going to be riding on Justin Fields and how fast he’s been able to learn and adapt to Ohio State’s system in the past eight months.
I have my doubts about Fields’ ability to fill Haskins’ shoes, especially considering Dwayne Haskins had over two years in the program to develop and grow as a quarterback and Justin Fields just showed up on campus back in January, but Fields’ experience at a high-profile program like Georgia last season will at least give him a bit of an edge as compared to a true freshman, but that’s not saying much.
I’m sure that Fields has as much or more talent as any quarterback that we’ve seen in recent years during the Urban Meyer era, but I will be very curious to see what kind of performance he puts on against Florida Atlantic on Friday. After all, Fields didn’t exactly have what I would consider a “breakout performance” in the spring game.
However, I’m sure that Fields has had plenty of time to study, learn and improve in the over four months since the spring game. He will have a chance to show Buckeye Nation what he is really made of in an actual regular season game on Saturday.
Will Ryan Day Set The Tone For A Championship Season?
The last big thing that I will be watching for on Saturday is how Ryan Day handles his first official game as Ohio State head coach.
Day did a tremendous job filling in as interim head coach last season during fall camp and the first three games of the season – winning all three games – but he inherited a well-oiled machine that was built up for years by one of the greatest coaches in the history of the sport. Urban Meyer left the keys to the car to Ryan Day, but now Day has to oil the car himself.
Day has a stacked roster courtesy of Meyer and has done a tremendous job of stacking the deck even more through his first recruiting class as head coach, but now it’s time to see what a Ryan Day football team looks like, not just an Urban Meyer football team that Day is directing.
I truly believe that Ryan Day will do great things with the Buckeyes both in this season and in the future, but he will have to defy the history of Ohio State football if he wants to bring a national championship of his own to this storied program.
It’s obviously unfair to expect Day to deliver a national title in his first season as head coach of the Buckeyes, especially considering no head coach in Ohio State football history has ever won a national championship in their first year on the job. However, no head coach in the history of this program that has replaced a national title-winning head coach has ever delivered a national championship of their own to the Buckeyes.
I don’t expect a national championship out of Ryan Day in his first season as head coach, but a Big Ten Championship should certainly be in the realm of possibility. Day has the players and the program to produce a Big Ten title in his debut season and that’s what everyone in Buckeye Nation and many in the local and national media are expecting.
A Top-5 preseason ranking and the expectation of making the College Football Playoff is a lot to live up to for someone entering their first season ever as a head coach, but Ryan Day has the tools to defy history this season.
The college football world will be watching on Saturday to see if the Ryan Day era at Ohio State is going to start off with a blowout bang or if the Buckeye machine will require a little more oil before it gets back up to its regular speed again.
No. 5 Ohio State takes on Florida Atlantic in their season opener at home on Saturday at Ohio Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for Noon ET and the game will be televised on FOX.
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