Keys to the Season: Ohio State Buckeyes
With the College Football season on the horizon and the hopefully a full schedule awaiting us in 2021, we start to look at the teams most likely to feature at the sharp end of things. We hope to give you a brief look at a handful of hot topics that could dictate the success of their year. It could be a player stepping into a role, an apparent hole on the roster or a strength that opposition teams will struggle to deal with.
The worry for Ohio State fans was that Ryan Day would be unable to maintain the consistent level of success achieved by predecessor Urban Meyer. They needn’t have worried. The Buckeyes have continued to be the team to beat in the Big 10. Last season even saw them reach the National Championship, only coming unstuck against the title winning juggernaut of Alabama. With big name recruits incoming the Buckeyes expect to be in the conversation once again this year.
Can CJ Stroud cope with the pressure of a loaded roster?
It was quite a boon for the Buckeyes to get so much returning talent for the 2021 season. Receiver Chris Olave could have easily progressed to the pros. Running back Master Teague has a point to prove having lost his job to Trey Sermon and the offensive line is one of the strongest in the nation. That said there is a glaring hole on the roster. The most important position is arguably the one with the least experience.
CJ Stroud didn’t make a single throw in 2020 and it will be a baptism of fire as Ohio State faces Minnesota and Oregon in the opening two games. That’s not to say that Stroud should be doubted. He was a surprise package at the Elite 11 competition for high school QBs, outperforming some much bigger names. While he doesn’t have the athletic ability of his predecessor, Justin Fields, he should make up for it in arm talent.
The pressure will be on Stroud immediately. As with all big programs the Buckeyes have a number of high profile QBs waiting in the wings. Jack Miller was a four star recruit who should be the main backup but buzz is growing over incoming five star freshman Kyle McCord. If Stroud falters there could easily be calls for change at the top.
Jaxon Smith-Njigba could be the surprise star at receiver
Not only did the Buckeyes receive a boost in the form of the returning Chris Olave, they get to pair him with junior Garrett Wilson. Both project as first rounders next year and combined for over 1400 receiving yards in 2020, with Olave pulling in 7 TDs and Wilson 6. They should be the most dominant receiving pair in the nation.
Even more worrying for opposing defenses is the strength in depth. Five star recruit Julian Fleming is set to increase his receptions from the seven he got in his freshman year, while Jameson Williams felt he had a better chance elsewhere. He was so highly rated that National Champions Alabama felt he could add something to their receiving corps.
The name to watch for me will be Jaxon Smith-Njigba. After the ‘catch of the season’ last year, buzz is growing about the sophomore. Rumour has it that he is the receiver that consistently pulls out jaw-dropping grabs on the pratice field. Smith-Njigba has great body control, razor sharp routes and should give Stroud a livewire option in the slot.
Headline edge recruits may have to wait their turn behind experienced talent
The recruitment of JT Tuimoloau was a feather in the cap of Ryan Day and his recruiting team. To prise the star defensive end out of California and keep him from the clutches of the other major programs was quite an achievement. Pairing him with fellow freshman Jack Sawyer is a dream scenario. If you watched the spring game you’ll know that Sawyer looks the real deal as a successor to the Bosa brothers and Chase Young.
Saying that, the new arrivals will most likely have to bide their time. While they will get snaps, the unit is well stocked with experienced faces. Zach Harrison was due his ‘breakout season’ last year but it didn’t go to plan. With only two sacks to his name, the hope is that a full off-season should turn him to a consistent wrecker off the edge.
On the other side will be Tyreke Smith. He fits the prototype for an elite edge rusher at 6’3 and 255lbs. Smith contributed 3 sacks in 2019 and only one last season. Much like Harrison, if he can find a way to convert his physical traits into production then he will make a strong case to be an early round selection in next year’s draft.
formerly writing for the inside zone, rory will be breaking down college tape and keeping you up-to-date with all things CFB for the touchdown. an avid bengals fan, you can also find some of rory’s work at stripehype.com.