10 questions for Ohio State football

COLUMBUS — Ohio State football players returned to the Woody Hayes Athletic Center for voluntary workouts recently, which created some optimism the Buckeyes could be on the field as scheduled for their opener on Sept. 5 against Bowling Green.

Here are 10 questions about OSU football to think about until then:

1. Is Justin Fields the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy?

Right now the Heisman race looks like a two-man contest between Fields and Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence.

Fields’ numbers last season (40 touchdown passes, 3 interceptions) are flashier than Lawrence’s from a year ago (36 touchdown passes, 8 interceptions). But Lawrence has a national championship and a College Football Playoff runner-up finish behind his name.

At this point, making a prediction is just guessing anyway. Last year’s winner, Joe Burrow, wasn’t among the top 10 preseason Heisman candidates on many lists. And Adrian Martinez and Shea Patterson were on some of them.

2. Bet the over or the under on 11 wins this season?

If Fields stays healthy and OSU finds adequate answers to the questions in areas like the defensive backfield, running back and the defensive line, it can win at least 11 during the regular season and then go for more in the Big Ten championship game and maybe the College Football Playoff.

Of course, that assumes all 12 regular-season games will be played.

3. What is the biggest question mark for Ohio State on the field going into the opener against Bowling Green?

Probably the defensive backfield by a sizable margin. When you have to replace three NFL draft choices — Jeff Okudah (No. 3 overall to Detroit), Damon Arnette (No. 19 overall to Las Vegas) and Damon Fuller (sixth round to the L.A. Rams) — there are some big holes to fill.

Shaun Wade could be one of the best cornerbacks in college football this season after deciding not to enter the NFL draft. Sevyn Banks and Cameron Brown are the early favorites to replace Okudah and Arnette at the cornerback spots and Josh Proctor and Marcus Hooker are the names mentioned most often to start at safety.

Banks, Brown and Proctor all were 4-star recruits but none of them have started a game in college.

4. What is the second-biggest question about the Buckeyes?

That’s a close call between the running backs and the defensive line, but the answer is probably the running backs, just because so many of them are coming back from injuries.

J.K. Dobbins ran for an Ohio State record 2,003 yards last season on his way to becoming a second-round draft pick of the Baltimore Ravens.

His back-up last year, Master Teague, gained 789 yards and was seventh in the Big Ten in rushing. But he suffered an Achilles tendon injury the first day of spring practice.

Trey Sermon, a graduate transfer from Oklahoma, could be the No. 1 option in the running game but he had surgery for a knee injury late last season, as did sophomore Marcus Crowley.

5. Which young receiver is most likely to have a breakout season and pick up some of the catches that went to K.J. Hill, Binjimen Victor and Austin Mack last year?

Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson combined for 17 touchdown catches last season, so there is no question who OSU’s No. 1 and No. 2 receivers are.

One of the strengths of the offense the last two seasons has been a deep group of veteran receivers. But that isn’t the case this year. So some of the young guys might play right away.

Freshman Julian Fleming was rated the top receiver recruit in the country and Gee Scott Jr., and Jaxon Smith-Njigba are 4-star freshmen. Sophomore Jameson Williams, a former 4-star recruit, had six catches last season, all of them in two blowout games, but could make a move up the depth chart.

6. Can 15 out of 16 become 16 out of 17?

This question, of course, refers to Ohio State’s dominance of its rivalry game against Michigan. Starting in 2004, the Buckeyes have won 15 of the last 16 games they’ve played against the Wolverines.

Michigan will have a first-year starter at quarterback. Four of the five offensive linemen will be in their first year as a starter. Jim Harbaugh’s teams have lost at least three games in each of the five seasons he has been at Michigan. Sixteen out of 17 can happen.

7. What is the most dangerous game on Ohio State’s schedule?

Even though OSU is scheduled to play at Oregon in week two of the season, the most dangerous game will be at Penn State on Oct. 24.

Penn State against Ohio State has become a battle every year for supremacy in the Big Ten East Division, sort of what some people thought would happen between OSU and Michigan when Harbaugh was hired.

Ohio State has won the last three years in a row but the Nittany Lions have a lot of talented and experienced players back from last year’s 11-2 team. And Penn State is a tough place to play.

8. Who will be the back-up quarterback?

Even if spring practice hadn’t been stopped after only three practices by the coronavirus, Gunnar Hoak, last year’s No. 3 QB, probably would have gone into preseason practice as Ohio State’s No. 2 quarterback ahead of freshmen Jack Miller and C.J. Stroud.

Hoak has played in eight college games — four at Kentucky and four at OSU — and Miller and Stroud have combined for none. One of the freshmen might eventually move up to No. 2 but it’s probably not going to be a sudden decision.

Assuming Fields stays healthy, Ryan Day might prefer not to pick one of the freshmen over the other this season. It might work out better for him if he doesn’t have to rank them until 2021.

9. How many games will Ohio State play and how many people will get to watch them in person?

That will be determined in the upcoming months.

10. How many Ohio State players could hear their names announced in the first round of next year’s NFL draft?

At least three (Fields, Wade and offensive guard Wyatt Davis). Offensive tackle Thayer Munford and center Josh Myers also might have a chance.

Chris Olave will be one of the top two wide receivers for Ohio State this season, but who will step up and be No. 3 or No. 4?
https://www.timesgazette.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/33/2020/07/web1_OSU_ChrisOlave6016.jpgChris Olave will be one of the top two wide receivers for Ohio State this season, but who will step up and be No. 3 or No. 4? John Swartzel | News Journal File Photos

Ryan Day looks to make it 16 wins in 17 years over Ohio State’s former nemesis Michigan.
https://www.timesgazette.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/33/2020/07/web1_OSU_Day0616.jpgRyan Day looks to make it 16 wins in 17 years over Ohio State’s former nemesis Michigan. John Swartzel | News Journal File Photos

Justin Fields is one of the best football players in the country but is he a candidate for the Heisman Trophy?
https://www.timesgazette.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/33/2020/07/web1_OSU_JustinFields0616.jpgJustin Fields is one of the best football players in the country but is he a candidate for the Heisman Trophy?John Swartzel | News Journal File Photos
Ohio State football scheduled to open season Sept. 5

By Jim Naveau