COLUMBUS — This is not breaking news, but the standards for Ohio State football are really high. Incredibly high, in fact.
Last year the Buckeyes were 13-1, which was more wins than any team in major college football except national champion Clemson and runner-up Alabama, and the season was still viewed as a disappointment.
The expectations remain at that Willis Tower observation deck level this season despite having to replace a legendary coach, despite losing a record-setting quarterback and the best defensive lineman in college football, along with several other players now on NFL rosters.
It might sound crazy. And it might be. Or maybe it’s not so nutty after all.
The worst case scenario is that Ryan Day will make rookie mistakes in his first year as OSU’s coach which might cost the Buckeyes a game or two.
That gloom and doom forecast also includes Georgia transfer Justin Fields struggling in his first season as a starting quarterback, the defense repeating its lackluster performance of a year ago and Michigan getting its first win over Ohio State in the Jim Harbaugh era.
But it’s also possible that everything will fall into place and Ohio State will have a season as good or better than last year.
Day played a big role in the update OSU’s offense got last year. He was Urban Meyer’s choice to run the team during his suspension last season and he recommended him as his successor.
And there are coaches like Lincoln Riley at Oklahoma, where the expectations certainly are no smaller than at Ohio State, who have done just fine as head coaches without experience in that role.
The optimistic view on Fields is that he won’t be the thrower Dwayne Haskins was when he passed for 4,831 yards and 50 touchdowns last season but that he will be good enough. Also, he could be a much better runner than Haskins and hopefully will stay healthy while carrying the ball more often.
Day cleaned house and replaced three defensive coaches after he took over. If the enthusiasm OSU’s defensive players have exhibited about the new coaches and their different schemes translates into performance on the field, the defense could go from a liability to an asset.
Talent could answer a lot of questions for Ohio State if even half of the players who have come to Columbus as 4-star and 5-star recruits play up to their rankings.
One player who says he will do more this year is running back J.K. Dobbins, who dropped to 1,053 yards last season after rushing for 1,403 yards as a freshman.
He will be running behind an offensive line with only one returning starter, left tackle Thayer Munford. But OSU likes what it has seen from some of the four new starters on the line.
Right guard Wyatt Davis started the Big Ten championship game and the Rose Bowl after Demetrius Knox suffered a season-ending injury.
Center Josh Myers is regarded as a rising star and the right tackle could be either former 5-star recruit Nicholas Petit-Frere or Brandon Bowen, who has battled injuries the last two years after being a starter in 2017. Jonah Jackson, a graduate transfer from Rutgers, is expected to start at left guard.
With K.J. Hill (70 catches), Austin Mack, Binjimen Victor, Chris Olave, 5-star freshman Garrett Wilson and three experienced tight ends OSU will still be strong at receiver even though it lost Parris Campbell, Johnnie Dixon and Terry McLaurin.
Ohio State has four returning starters on offense and nine regulars back on defense.
The marquee name on defense is end Chase Young, who will undoubtedly see a steady diet of double teams after getting 10 ½ sacks in 2018.
Inside linebacker Malik Harrison tied safety Jordan Fuller for the team lead in tackles last season. Middle linebacker Tuf Borland was the target of much criticism from fans last season after probably rushing his return from an Achilles tendon injury. He is expected to be the starter again this season.
Cornerbacks Damon Arnette and Jeffrey Okudah and safeties Shaun Wade and Fuller were starters or played big roles last year in a secondary that often struggled.
One of the new twists the new defensive coaches have brought is the use of a hybrid linebacker/safety in certain situations. Brendon White, who became a starter at safety late last season, is expected to fill that role.
Ohio State will open the season on Saturday against Florida Atlantic in a noon game at Ohio Stadium.
By Jim Naveau [email protected]