Ohio State had been cruising along this season, winning games by absurd margins and looking like the top team in the country. The College Football Playoff committee agreed, ranking Ohio State No. 1 in its initial rankings earlier this week.
The off-field issues that derailed an uber-talented 2018 team had eluded the Buckeyes – until now.
With superstar edge rusher Chase Young suspended indefinitely, Ohio State is suddenly without arguably the top player in the country and once again staring adversity right in the face. Lettermen Row broke the news Friday morning, and Young released a statement later that morning, saying, “I made a mistake last year by accepting a loan from a family friend I’ve known since the summer before my freshman year. I repaid it in full last summer, and I’m working with the University and NCAA to get back on the field as soon as possible.”
— CY2 (@youngchase907) November 8, 2019
It’s obviously a huge blow to Ohio State, which faces Maryland on Saturday and Rutgers the following week. The Buckeyes won’t need Young in those games, but if this issue isn’t resolved by the time the Buckeyes close the regular season with No. 4 Penn State and No. 14 Michigan, their CFP hopes would be in serious jeopardy.
It will be very interesting to see how quickly this gets resolved, as Ohio State’s national title hopes depend on it. While the Buckeyes still are incredibly talented, it’s asking a lot to win five straight games against ranked teams without their best player. Heck, it would be hard enough to ask them to do it with Young.
Young is obviously great, as you already know if you’ve watched any Ohio State games this season. He leads the nation in sacks with 13.5 and is fourth in tackles for loss with 15.5. Young’s four-sack game against Wisconsin was the highest-graded performance for an edge rusher by Pro Football Focus since 2014 and was the highest-graded game from any defensive player in 2019. Even if he’s not getting a sack, he’s impacting play-calling and how long the quarterback holds onto the ball.
But Young is more than just a stud player. The Buckeyes feed off him. Bruce Feldman, a sideline reporter with Fox and a columnist with The Athletic, wrote recently after watching Ohio State from field level that Young’s “energy and aura are also helping fuel this team.” You can’t just plug in another player and replace that sort of presence, which is earned over time. Five-star freshman Zach Harrison has a massive opportunity now and will probably play well, but he can’t be expected to be a leader in the same way Young was for this group.
Now, the 2019 season feels much more like 2018 for all the wrong reasons. Ohio State, despite being as talented on paper as any team in the country last season, fell short of expectations – even if it lost only one game and won the Rose Bowl. From a football perspective, the Urban Meyer saga with assistant coach Zach Smith hung over the team the entire season. Meyer was put on administrative leave in the preseason and suspended for the first three games of the season, and he eventually stepped down after the Rose Bowl.
Then there was the Nick Bosa situation. After getting hurt in the third game of the TCU season and needing surgery, Bosa opted to leave the program and rehab on his own in preparation for the NFL Draft.
That’s how a team with nine players selected in the NFL Draft – including two of the top 15 and seven in the first four rounds – lost by 29 to Purdue. And beat Maryland by just a point. And beat Nebraska by just five. Ohio State had the second-most players drafted last season, behind only Alabama (10), and it had three more than national champion Clemson. And that doesn’t even include guys like Young and cornerback Jeffrey Okudah, who are No. 1 and No. 4 respectively on Mel Kiper’s most recent Big Board, or J.K. Dobbins, who is also a potential first round pick.
For eight games, we got to see what a talented team could do this season with any distractions. The Buckeyes under Ryan Day have steamrolled opponents, outscoring them by 40.4 points per game (the highest point differential in the country and the second-highest in the 21st Century through eight games behind only 2013 Oregon). They have allowed the fewest points (7.9) and second-fewest yards (224.3) per game in the country. They have played free and loose, and when that happens, their talent takes over. It didn’t last year, and it will be interesting to see if that’s the case the next few weeks.
This is the type of news that will rock the college football world, especially until there is a definitive length of the suspension. It will hang over the Buckeyes, just as the Urban Meyer situation did last year.
With a team very capable of winning Ohio State’s first national title since 2014 and making its first CFP since 2016, this was the worst possible news aside from a Justin Fields suspension. Young’s impact is as great as any non-quarterback in the country, and the Buckeyes suddenly are faced with a similar situation as 2018 – overcome a distraction or see a talented team fall short of expectations again.