Ohio State football: Predicting the 2021 starting lineup
Yes, a ton of talent is gone. But a ton of talent remains for Ohio State’s football team.
And every Buckeyes fan knows the expectations in Columbus will be no different. First goal: win the B1G championship.
Next: make the College Football Playoff.
Third: Do what no Ohio State team has done in six seasons — win the whole damn thing.
So yes, we’re guessing that some of the biggest stars in the history of the program will be leaving Columbus. (Thanks for everything, Justin Fields. You were amazing.) But these Ohio State teams just reload, don’t they? Especially when they’ve had back-to-back recruiting classes that stack up with the best in the history of the school. And wasn’t it just a year ago that we were wondering how the Buckeyes would survive without Chase Young?
Well, I think we saw that you never make up for that kind of loss. But you can still find a way to make the National Championship. The guess here is that Ohio State will find some more jewels that were sitting on the bench, and with studs like Zach Harrison ready to take over on defense, and maybe some surprise returnees (looking at you, Jeremy Ruckert) on offense, this team could be surprisingly strong yet again.
Of course, it all depends on who stays, who leaves, who develops, and who provides help in areas of need. We’re guessing that Fields, who is arguably the best quarterback in the history of Buckeyes football, is gone to the NFL, just like one of the best receivers, Chris Olave — and we now know for certain, one of the main stars of the playoffs, running back Trey Sermon, is too. Look for others on the offensive line to split as well. And of course, we have no idea who could leave via transfer — or who could come in, for that matter.
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That said, here’s the best guess for the starting lineups for offense and defense for Ohio State’s 2021 team.
Projected 2021 offense
QB: C.J. Stroud
RB: Master Teague or TreVeyon Henderson
WR1: Garrett Wilson
WR2: Julian Fleming or Jameson Williams
WR3/SLOT: Jaxon Smith-Njigba
LT: Thayer Munford
LG: Matt Jones
C: Harry Miller
RG: Enokk Vimahi
RT: Paris Johnson Jr.
TE: Jeremy Ruckert — if he comes back
The skinny: Obviously, the biggest question mark here is at quarterback. Stroud seems to be the man just because he saw the mop-up duty in 2020. The 6-3 Californian could be in a battle with as many as two others signal-callers to win the job. But if he does win it, he has some amazing young talent around him. The wide receiver unit would be loaded, and Teague could lead a running back corps that includes a generational talent in freshman Henderson. If Ruckert stays, he could be the best tight end in America, which could make this offense very explosive.
And the offensive line will again be one of the strongest in the country, with two of the best tackles (if not the best) in all the land. Vimahi is really the only unproven commodity, but I trust he and this lot will evolve into a punishing group as the season progresses.
For whomever wins the quarterback job, this offense will be fun to lead.
Projected 2021 defense
DE: Javontae Jean-Baptiste
NT: Taron Vincent
DT: Jeron Cage
DE: Zach Harrison
OLB: Dallas Gant
MLB: Teradja Mitchell
OLB: Craig Young
CB: Tyreke Johnson or Marcus Williamson
CB: Sevyn Banks or Cam Brown
SS: Marcus Hooker or Josh Proctor
SLOT: Ryan Watts or Lejond Cavazos
The skinny: Harrison is the man on this defense.
I don’t want to pile on the same kind of pressure that others have and compare him to all the great Buckeyes defenders of the past, but Harrison has the potential to be an All-American on the defensive line. In six games in 2020, Harrison garnered 12 tackles (4.5 for loss) and 2 sacks. Simply, he looked like a game-changer in the making.
And he will be needed in that capacity if this defense rebounds in 2021. Gone are (I think) Tommy Togiai, Tyreke Smith, Tuf Borland, Pete Werner, Haskell Garrett, Shaun Wade and Jonathon Cooper.
This was a group that made the title game, beat Clemson and was still criticized all season for not playing well enough in certain moments. Kerry Coombs will definitely have to work on the secondary, which is nice because it’s his specialty. And most of the guys who played last season there will be back, but who knows which athlete will actually see the field. Maybe an extra year of working with them will allow them to play more nickel in 2021.
With a new face at quarterback, it will be hard to expect anything but a bit of a rebuilding season for the Buckeyes.
Still, there is plenty of talent on that offense to win a lot of ballgames, and maybe even bring home another B1G title. The defense will be another question mark, especially in the secondary.
So … can Ohio State outscore its opponents with a new quarterback in 2021? That will be the question. With Ryan Day’s pedigree, the guess here is that more often than not, the answer will be yes.