One missed kick (or 1 non-removed targeting flag, or 1 non-granted timeout before an OSU fake punt, etc., etc.). But for simplicity’s sake, if Noah Ruggles’s 50-yard try had sailed between the goalposts just as New Year’s 2023 began, the Buckeyes would be playing TCU for the national title — a game in which Ohio State likely would have been favored. The explosive OSU offense and the gritty defense would be honored, and OSU would be atop the college football world.

But not quite.

The kick was wide left, Ohio State lost a 2-touchdown 4th quarter lead, and the Buckeyes are left to pick up the pieces and ponder what comes next. Here are 10 questions that will be asked in that process.

1) Strength and conditioning changes?

Ohio State isn’t winning the national championships, and injuries have been part of the issue. While injuries are widely accepted to be essentially flukish in nature, that doesn’t mean OSU won’t review the way it practices, the way it treats injuries, and even the focus of its strength and conditioning program in the offseason. Mickey Marotti has spent plenty of time around excellent OSU football teams. While the specifics of how Ohio State approaches player health and injury is deeply buried in the off-limits section of the program, it’s fair to wonder how and whether Marotti re-examines some of OSUs practices and plans in light of a season when OSU hovered under a black cloud of injuries.

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2) Keeping the staff together?

Kevin Wilson is already gone, so Ohio State will have some offensive shuffling, with the promotion of Keenan Bailey to tight ends coach completed. Brian Hartline is an attractive potential head coach, and retaining him is probably the biggest issue OSU faces in retaining its coaching staff. Jim Knowles’ defense showed enough improvement that he’ll be back, although struggles in the Michigan and Georgia games will be remembered. A year ago, OSU made moves to get Knowles and to bring in offensive line coach Justin Frye. But even if OSU doesn’t make major personnel changes, another change could be key.

3) Will Day give up play-calling?

Ryan Day has shared offensive coordinator duties with Kevin Wilson in the past, but called his own plays. Will that continue? Late in Ohio State’s season, Day’s calls seemed increasingly random. There’s certainly no shame for the OSU boss in acting as a football CEO and ceding offensive control to Hartline or Frye. It’s a move he’s allegedly considering, and it’ll be interesting to see if Day does indeed relinquish play-calling duties.

4) What’s the QB plan?

For the past 2 seasons, Ohio State’s QB plan was keeping CJ Stroud healthy. But with Stroud apparently gone to the NFL, it’ll be Kyle McCord’s team now. Unless it isn’t. McCord has thrown 58 passes behind Stroud, even starting a game in 2021. His 3 touchdowns and 2 interceptions indicate exactly what he’s shown — competence, a capable nature, but likely skills a little less explosive than those of Stroud. Redshirt freshman Devin Brown probably has a higher upside than McCord, but also a lower floor to start from. Recent signee Lincoln Kienholz probably isn’t a factor for the 2023 job. A transfer portal addition certainly can’t be ruled out — and if it’s the right player, legitimate competition for the starting job is plausible.

5) How does OSU handle a crowded backfield?

TreVeyon Henderson is not yet NFL-eligible and Miyan Williams seems unlikely to move that direction, so one would assume both will return. Dallan Hayden showed real skills and will probably want plenty of touches as well. Even if OSU moves Xavier Johnson and Chip Trayanum back out of the backfield picture (assuming either or both moving in was just an emergency measure), that’s a lot of talented and experienced running backs. As with everything else in the NIL era, the twin dangers are too many players or too few. But how will OSU keep these guys happy?

6) Will there be an offensive line overhaul?

This one very much remains to be seen. Paris Johnson is almost certainly a first round NFL pick. Center Luke Wypler has to make an NFL decision and guard Matthew Jones was honored on Senior Day but may also choose to return. While OSU would love to keep all 3 returning starters to go with Donovan Jackson, the more realistic path would be potentially keeping Wypler, Jones, and Jackson and having to replace the two tackles, although OSU may follow past precedent and shift Jackson outside. But potentially all 5 OSU starters could go, in which case things could get interesting in a hurry.

7) Can OSU find its pass rush?

Jim Knowles’ defense was up on some points, down on others, but it didn’t deliver a standout pass rusher in Year 1. OSU was led in sacks by defensive tackle Mike Hall and defensive end Jack Sawyer with 4.5 each. Having one standout pass rusher isn’t a requirement, but OSU would love to return to the Chase Young and Bosa days with a dominant force off the edge.

8) Secondary shifts?

Ohio State stands to lose Oklahoma State transfer Tanner McCalister and senior Cam Brown from the secondary. Lathan Ransom had a big season and might also test the NFL waters. Ronnie Hickman is another potential NFL pickup. If OSU returns Ransom and Hickman, they’ll have experience to go with talent. But if not, the group will be long on talent but potentially very short on experience.

9) Is Knowles the answer?

Two-thirds of the way through the regular season, Jim Knowles’ defense made OSU arguably the most dangerous team in the nation. While the group didn’t exactly fail, it certainly wavered in coughing up points and yards to Michigan and Georgia to end the season. Ohio State was better on defense than it had been under Kerry Coombs, but better isn’t the ultimate yardstick. Knowles’ defense has to be better down the stretch in 2023, and he’s certainly not unaware of the pressure to go from “a little bit better” to “the difference in winning a national title.”

10) Who will kick the field goals?

While Noah Ruggles didn’t have superhuman range, he was nearly automatic from 45 yards and in, and now OSU will have to find a successor. Jayden Fielding had been tabbed for a long field goal try in Atlanta, while Jake Seibert is the guy with (a little) experience. But if anybody was sleeping on the importance of finding the next Buckeyes kicker, remembering how 2022 ended should cure that in a hurry.