Ohio State football: 10 bold predictions for the 2023 season
For Ohio State, the question is not whether it’ll be a good season in 2023. Aside from the shortened 2020 campaign, the last time Ohio State failed to win 10 games was 2011. Since then, Ohio State has finished in the top 5 in both major polls no less than 8 times. But like the 1990s Atlanta Braves, the pinnacle of success has been elusive, with only 1 national title. Will the Buckeyes climb to the top of the mountain in 2023? Here are 10 bold predictions for the season.
1) It’s Kyle McCord’s QB job and he’ll be 98% of what Stroud was
First, there is a QB battle for OSU. Given injuries in college football (Hello, OSU running back room), it’s never a bad idea to make sure that the second option is ready to be the first option.
But at the end of the day, fears that McCord’s ceiling might be a bit lower will be quieted by his experience and ability to avoid negative plays. The veteran junior will get the job and he’ll have a 3,500+yard season and be an all-B1G if not all-America pick.
There were fears when an inexperienced Stroud got the job 2 years ago. Ryan Day and his staff schemed great game plans for him in which he was asked to make basically the easiest throws possible — and he still amassed 400-yard games by doing so. Obviously, Stroud showed other levels of talent and production, but a basic Ryan Day offense isn’t so basic.
2) TreVeyon takes charge of the RB room … and is a Heisman finalist
Ohio State has a great problem with its backfield —namely, that it returns a multitude of talented backs, all of whom have shown next-level talent at OSU. But a season ago, nobody really separated from the pack, whether because of injuries, competition or inexperience. TreVeyon Henderson ended up only getting 107 carries for 571 yards.
But Henderson could be the alpha dog not only of this room, but of this team. He has the ability to run behind his linemen and convert mid-yardage plays, but also to be the home-run guy in the open field. Look for a 1,500+yard season for Henderson, and for him to end up at the Downtown Athletic Club on Heisman award day.
3) Julian Fleming has a 1,000-yard season
OSU has had some positive surprises at wide receiver. Two years ago, it was the emergence of Jaxon Smith-Njigba as a leading target. Last year, after the injuries to Njigba, it was the emergence of Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka as a pair of 1,000-yard targets.
Both big-play standouts return, but don’t sleep on junior Julian Fleming, who will be the under-the-radar guy on the outside. A season ago, Fleming saw his first real action at OSU and had 34 catches for 533 yards and 6 touchdowns. Given the attention paid to the returning stars, watch those numbers roughly double this year.
4) Up-front Luke
The offensive line figures to get shuffled and reshuffled at the start of the season. OSU returns just 2 starters up front, and the mix is an interesting group of untried, talented kids and a couple of portal additions. As the season goes on, San Diego State transfer Jimmy Simmons will feature more and more. So will true freshman Luke Montgomery. True freshmen don’t normally start on the Buckeye OL, but Montgomery isn’t normal. He’ll end up starting a few games and seeing the field fairly frequently … a good start to a career that probably sees him become OSU’s next monster OT.
5) Jack and JT lead a 40+ sack defense
OSU hasn’t lacked for talent on the defensive front. But the last couple squads have been a touch disappointing in the pass rush. This year, JT Tuimoloau and Jack Sawyer will both be juniors, and each will look to solidify moments of stardom. Tuimoloau in particular basically single-handedly turned the Penn State game into a highlight film a year ago.
But over the past 2 seasons, OSU had 37 and 34 sacks. Not bad, but OSU would not mind a return to 2019 form, when it had 54 sacks — and held opponents to 13.7 points per game. OSU hasn’t had a 10-sack season from a player since then, but Sawyer will climb out of Tuimoloau’s shadow by reaching the mark in 2023.
6) CJ Hicks is all-B1G
Ohio State’s linebacker spots are in solid hands. Tommy Eichenberg is the stereotypical veteran captain-of-the-defense guy OSU seems to manufacture, and Steele Chambers was explosive a season ago. This year’s surprise will be CJ Hicks. Talked about heavily in 2022 as a possible instant impact guy, Hicks instead had just 6 tackles as a true freshman.
But Jim Knowles had plenty of time in the spring to coach up Hicks, and he’s bullish on the sophomore. OSU will probably let Hicks rush the passer off the edge from the jack spot, but he can also fill in elsewhere and make plays farther from the line of scrimmage. The guess here is some of both, but with enough time for Hicks to earn all-B1G honors and end up only playing 1 more season in Columbus.
7) Davison Igbinosun will have a big impact late
Ole Miss transfer Davison Igbinosun was a late addition to a team that has some uncertainty in the secondary. Suffice it to say that from recent reports that Igbinosun insists he can cover Marvin Harrison Jr., the new guy doesn’t lack for confidence. He also doesn’t lack for skill.
Igbionsun was a true freshman starter on a surprisingly stout Ole Miss defense. He might need a few games to work into the swing of things, but come conference play, look for Igbinosun to be on the field and making big plays. He’ll be a starter by October and a key part of Ohio’s late-season push to get over the hump.
8) Knowles’s defense will take a step forward
A season ago, Jim Knowles’s defense looked considerably sharper than recent OSU groups … until it bogged down and allowed 530 and 533 yards to Michigan and Georgia. Yes, some of the struggles came from improved competition, but some was a lack of depth at key spots. A year later, Knowles’s group looks more comfortable, ready to handle business against the toughest offenses. There’s reason for thinking that’s enough to get OSU over the hump. Look for sub-20 points per game this season and a natty matchup for OSU.
9) OSU as a dog?
For just the 3rd time in the decade, OSU will be a regular season underdog. No, not in the Notre Dame game, although it is a gutsy road test to schedule for September. Ohio State was last a regular season underdog in 2018 at home against Michigan. The Buckeyes won that game 62-39, but after putting up just 27 and 23 points against the neighbors to the north in the last 1 matchups, OSU needs to recapture its mojo.
Maybe being an underdog will help. Says here that OSU will be a mild road underdog in another top 5 matchup in November, and like in 2018, will deliver an offensive slap-down. Oh, the Buckeyes will also improve to 3-0 in their 3 regular season games as underdogs in the last decade.
10) Ohio State will go 15-0
There. It’s said. Why not? Combine the returning talent, a 2nd year under DC Jim Knowles, an impressive group of recruits and transfers (no Clemson-like aversion to instant help here!), and a team that’s hungry to prove that, yes, all those regular season butt-kickings have meant something.
OSU runs the gamut and delivers the title that Buckeye Nation is awaiting. Anything less will leave them back at the drawing board thinking about next year.