Ohio State football: 5 dream and 5 disaster scenarios for 2022
August is the time for dreaming. The rust is flying off in team practices, the summertime blues are cooling away, and college football is mere weeks from return. For Ohio State, the dreams are big dreams — just as the expectations are big expectations. But that also means that the nightmares are pretty big, too. Here are 5 ways the season could shake up to the best or worst hopes of the Buckeye faithful.
CJ Stroud wins the Heisman
Sure, it’s an individual thing. Given the choice between team success (read: national title) and a 10-2 campaign that wins some hardware for an individual player, Ohio State fans will take the former over the latter every time. That said, having the defining face of a college football season on your roster is a big deal. It’s big for recruiting, it’s big for program perception, it’s big for a league that hasn’t had a Heisman winner since 2006.
Of course, the Heisman is enough of a team accomplishment that absent a season of posting Tecmo Bowl stats while the rest of football stumbles, the winner of the Heisman will have had at least a good amount of team success as well. Stroud comes off a season of passing for 4,435 yards and 44 touchdowns. Replicating the same on a CFP-bound Buckeyes squad could leave him as college football’s resident golden boy.
Bigger numbers trump bigger names for OSU wideouts
Ohio State’s offense did lead the nation in scoring and yardage a year ago — but they did it largely on the strength of 3 great wideouts, a pair of whom are now in the NFL. Ohio State probably won’t end up with 3 receivers totaling 230 catches for 3,598 yards and 34 touchdowns, like it did a year ago with departed Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson as well as returning star Jaxon Smith-Njigba.
But the Buckeyes will likely have a season where the fourth option at the position has more than 12 catches or 191 receiving yards, as happened last year. Stroud will make the big throws, and the guess is that OSU could end up with enough weapons on the receiving end that the offense gets yet another boost. Did we mention they were already tops in the nation?
A retooled, revamped offensive line has the mojo to win ugly
The Ohio State offensive line has plenty to brag about — it’s the backbone of what was the top offense in the nation, and it returns 3/5ths of its starting lineup. And with new offensive line coach Justin Frye on board, the hope is that the group is strong enough to improve on the rare 2021 stumbles. State averaged 6.5 yards per carry in its wins last season … but just 3.1 per carry in the losses, including a brutal 30 rushes for 64 yards at Michigan. It’s one thing to average 7 yards per pop against Toledo or Arkansas State, but the front five have to prove their mettle under pressure, which feels more like an opportunity than a problem.
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Jim Knowles fixes the defense
If we were ranking these scenarios in terms of importance, this is probably No. 1. OSU’s defense has been bedraggled over the past 2 seasons — allowing 25.8 and 22.8 points per game and 402 and 373 yards per game. This was on the heels of giving up just 13.7 points and 260 yards per game in 2019.
That might not be reachable, but in 2015 through 2017, OSU allowed 19.0 or fewer points and 311 yards or fewer per game. New coordinator Jim Knowles has to bring back the fire — and he’ll rely on an aggressive pass rush and extra DBs to do so. Can that cancel out allowing 360+ passing yards 3 times or allowing over 7 yards per carry on the ground in a pair of games, as OSU did last season? That’s the question, because those are the kind of stumbles that Knowles has to eliminate.
The CFP flops end, and a title returns
Actually, THIS is the most important of these scenarios, but it does require first getting to the CFP, as Michigan fans loved reminding Ohio State fans this offseason.
State is 3-3 in the CFP, which puts a decidedly kinder spin on things than does noting that it’s 1-3 over the past 7 seasons, and that those losses include 28 and 31-point beatdowns vs. Bama and Clemson. Whether it’s fair or not, expectations at Ohio State aren’t to compete for titles and to reach the Playoff. The expectations are winning it all. And with 7 years since a title, the natives are getting a little restless. But a better end to a smoother season could well include a championship trophy that would cure all ills.
Passing game struggles due to receiver depth issues
The converse of the situation above with receivers is that Ohio State lost 2 of the best wide receivers in school history and may struggle to fill those shoes. There are plenty of players capable of assuming their roles — Marvin Harrison, Jr., Julian Fleming and Emeka Egbuka jump to mind — but it’s not something they’ve done yet. If nobody is a reliable second or third option, then Jaxon Smith-Njigba will get double-teamed, Stroud will start to force throws, and even the potent OSU offense could have the kind of turnover trouble that it almost completely avoided last season.
Line replacements leave offense struggling to run on physical defenses
Likewise, while the offensive line has seemed capable and returns multiple starters, the losses of Nicholas Petit-Frere and Thayer Munford could be bigger than anticipated. If OSU struggles to run the ball against the physical defenses of the Big Ten (which isn’t exactly something Justin Frye prepared for at UCLA), then the pressure on Stroud will increase, and a one-dimensional OSU offense is not optimal. It’s not like Ohio State would be lost if the running game lost a little juice — but in the games when it was needed last year, it didn’t really show up, and that’s not a good recipe for the future.
Knowles’s extra DBs help with the pass … but hurt vs. the run
Jim Knowles’s Oklahoma State defenses gave up a decent number of yards in the pass-heavy Big 12. The same could be said of an Ohio State secondary that was very mediocre against the pass a year ago. Knowles’s base defense will keep an extra DB on the field, but a 6-man front could leave OSU vulnerable against some of the physical ground attacks of the Big Ten (which again, wasn’t much of an issue in the Big 12).
Ohio State allowed 4 200-yard rushing games last season. The offense bailed out the defense that gave up 31 points to Minnesota and 45 to Utah, but couldn’t take care of Oregon or Michigan. Knowles might be sacrificing a front with its own problems to protect the back end of the defense — a strategy that could leave the Wisconsins and Michigans of the world licking their chops.
Notre Dame could be a disaster
There’s something special about playing a big game as your team’s opener. Ohio State hopes to make a national statement by hosting the Fighting Irish and beating them mercilessly.
Given that the Buckeyes follow up with Arkansas State and Toledo and don’t play a road game until Oct. 8, it’s not a bad gamble at all. But … the entire season could cascade off course in Week 1. Notre Dame’s dual-threat QB, Tyler Buchner, could be a headache not unlike Anthony Brown of Oregon a year ago. And tight end Michael Mayer is an absolutely grown man in the red zone. The Irish threw for 509 yards against Oklahoma State in last year’s Fiesta Bowl.
A Week 1 loss wouldn’t finish Ohio State’s CFP chances — not by a long shot. But like a year ago, it would take away a buffer between OSU and the rest of the Big Ten, and basically mean OSU needs to win out, which is a lot to ask.
A non-CFP season leads to a coaching hot seat
Ryan Day loves Columbus, by all indications. And Columbus has been pretty happy with Ryan Day.
But a second straight non-CFP season — particularly with CJ Stroud likely to be tearing up the school record book — would only increase the grumbling from dissatisfied OSU backers. The ultimate worst case scenario would be a 10-2 or 9-3 season that leaves Ohio State’s high-ups grumbling enough that Day feels unappreciated and starts to listen to any of a number of programs who would love to have him lead their schools … or even to NFL teams.
The bridge to this situation is much longer than the one to a national title. But it’s out there in the minds of a few nervous Nellies in August. And Ohio State has to kill it off there.