Ohio State football: 5 biggest challenges Buckeyes face in 2018 season
Keeping track of which OSU is which should not be a problem in Week 1.
Oregon State is the program coming off of a 1-11 season. The Beavers have not had a winning season since 2013, have not finished a season ranked in the AP poll since 2012 and have not played in a New Year’s Day 6 bowl since the 2000 season.
Ohio State is the program coming off of a 12-2 season and a Big Ten championship. The Buckeyes have finished every season ranked except one since 2011 — with a top-10 finish 13 times in that span — and have played in 14 major bowl games since Oregon State’s most recent one.
So when OSU and OSU meet Sept. 1 in Columbus, the game should only be a challenge to scoreboard operators and folks who type scoring updates into bottom-line tickers for your favorite sports network.
But the Buckeyes will definitely face a lot of hurdles in 2018, especially after such a controversial August. The school suspended coach Urban Meyer for the first three games — and athletic director Gene Smith for the same time frame — in the wake of revelations about how Meyer handled domestic violence allegations against Zach Smith, who has since been fired as OSU’s receivers coach. That story tops our list of the 5 biggest challenges facing the Buckeyes in 2018.
The whole Urban Meyer saga
It’s fair to say that, if public opinion was a college exam, Ohio State would have flunked it the past week. Whether it was Meyer’s tone-deaf response to a question about what he’d say to Zach Smith’s wife, Courtney, or the revelations in the school’s investigation of the case, August has been a mess for the entire school. Setting aside player preparation and mundane things of that nature, what will the atmosphere be like when Meyer returns in Week 4?
An angry bunch of Frogs
Remember the 2014 season? Buckeye fans reading this surely do. Remember how Ohio State got to the inaugural College Football Playoff by jumping past TCU in the final poll? You can bet the Horned Frogs do. TCU has eight fifth-year seniors on its official roster, and those kids would have been freshmen in 2014. The Horned Frogs felt like they got hosed, and there is a solid argument to be made that they did get hosed. Now they get the Buckeyes in a “neutral site” game at JerryWorld in Arlington, Texas — 19 miles from TCU’s campus.
Keeping expectations for Haskins in check
Even a program as strong as Ohio State’s doesn’t replace J.T. Barrett overnight. Incoming starter Dwayne Haskins was efficient last season in sport duty, though. As a freshman in 2017, Haskins completed 70.2 percent of his passes (40-for-57) including a 6-for-7 performance against Michigan. He also ran 24 times for 86 yards, a 3.6-yard average. But Barrett set a very high standard, breaking 25 school records plus the Big Ten mark for passing touchdowns with 104. It would be unfair to ask Haskins to single-handedly replace that kind of production so quickly.
Getting the secondary dialed in
Ohio State was 30th in the country in pass defense last season, but that was with cornerback Denzel Ward leading the way. Ward is gone, having been selected fourth overall by the Cleveland Browns in this year’s NFL Draft, so others will have to step up. Damon Arnette returns to man the other corner spot but the Buckeyes secondary as a whole will need to have its I’s dotted (no, not the one in Script Ohio) and its T’s crossed before traveling to face Penn State and star quarterback Trace McSorley on Sept. 29.
This is a hurdle for the entire B1G, not just for Ohio State. We already addressed the controversy surrounding the final 2014 CFP rankings. In 2015 and 2016, the Big Ten’s representative in the playoff lost in the semifinals. Actually, they both got shut out. And in 2017 the Big Ten was left out of the CFP, because a 2-loss Ohio State team had, well, one loss too many compared to No. 4 seed (and eventual national champion) Alabama. The B1G could use some impressive nonconference wins early, and a win over TCU would do wonders not only for the Buckeyes but for the conference’s perception.