The Buckeyes enter the season, already well underway for teams in the Big 12, SEC and ACC, as the No. 5 ranked team in the country. They are coming off a 12-0 regular season in 2019 followed by their third straight Big Ten championship with a 34-21 win over Wisconsin.
Buckeyes lost to the NFL
Ohio State’s historic season ended when it lost 29-23 to Clemson in the semifinals of the College Football Playoff, also ending the college careers of OSU greats Chase Young, Jeff Okudah, Damon Arnette and J.K. Dobbins.
Young and Okudah were drafted No. 2 and No. 3 overall, respectively, while Arnette was taken 19th. Dobbins, the leading rusher in Ohio State history, was taken in the second round. The Buckeyes also lost defensive tackle Davon Hamilton, offensive guard Jonah Jackson, linebacker Malik Harrison, safety Jordan Fuller, wide receiver K.J. Hill and defensive tackle Jashon Cornell.
Ohio State’s offense
OSU is returning just as much talent as it lost — starting with Heisman Trophy favorite Justin Fields.
The quarterback is returning for his junior season after finishing third in Heisman voting last year. In his first full collegiate season, Fields threw for 3,273 yards and 41 touchdowns and also rushed for 484 yards and 10 touchdowns. But most impressive was his ability to play the season largely mistake-free, throwing only three interceptions all season and only one in Ohio State’s first 13 games.
Ohio State also arguably has the best two-tight end combination in all of football with Luke Farrell and Jeremy Ruckert, who will bolster OSU’s ground and passing games.
Fields will benefit from an offensive line that returns three starters: first team All-America guard Wyatt Davis, center Josh Myers and left tackle Thayer Munford. Alongside those veterans will be left guard Harry Miller and right tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere.
OSU will also use sophomore Dawand Jones, freshman Paris Johnson Jr., sophomore Matthew Jones and sophomore Enokk Vimahi on the line this season.
Also benefiting from what may very well be Ohio State’s best offensive line in decades will be Master Teague III and Trey Sermon, a senior transfer from Oklahoma. Those two backs will likely spilt carries throughout the season.
Ohio State’s most inexperienced position is wide receiver, but it also contains perhaps the most raw talent of any position in the Big Ten. Chris Olave will lead the receiving corps as well as sophomores Garrett Wilson and Jameson Williams. The highly touted freshman trio of Julian Fleming, Jaxon Smith-Njigba and Gee Scott should also see plenty of playing time in 2020.
Ohio State’s defense
Ohio’s State’s biggest strength on defense is the linebacker position. Pete Werner, Tuf Borland and Baron Browning have combined to play a total of 96 games at OSU.
The Buckeyes’ biggest question mark comes on the defensive line, specifically tackle. The starters, Tommy Togiai and Antwuan Jackson, both played in all 14 games last season but didn’t take a lion’s share of the snaps like they will this season. Keep an eye on Jerron Cage, Pickerington Central product and true freshman Ty Hamilton, and Haskell Garrett, who hopes to return this season after being shot in the face in August.
The good news for OSU’s defensive tackles is that the Buckeyes are loaded at defensive end with the likes of Zach Harrison, Jonathon Cooper, Tyreke Smith and Tyler Friday.
Safety is another position up in the air and Ohio State only started one last year in Jordan Fuller. This year, defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach Kerry Coombs will likely use a two-safety combination of Josh Proctor and Marcus Hooker, the brother of former Buckeyes standout Malik.
Anchoring the secondary will be first team preseason All-American Shaun Wade and cornerback Sevyn Banks who saw plenty of playing time as a sophomore.
Ohio State versus Nebraska
The Buckeyes are heavy favorites against the Cornhuskers and for good reason. Last year, OSU went into Lincoln and beat Nebraska 48-7 while rushing for 368 yards. Ohio State’s offensive line is just as good this year, if not better, and the Cornhuskers run defense is still sub par, so expect Teague, Sermon and Fields to run at will.
Nebraska does benefit from eight key players retuning on offense, including quarterback Adrian Martinez. But his lackluster 2019 campaign of nine touchdown passes and 10 interceptions raises the question if he’ll even be the starter at the end of the season.
Three of Nebraska’s returning players are on the offensive line, so that will be a good early challenge for OSU’s defensive front. But that will be the only challenge they get all day and it won’t be much of one in the first place.
Expect Ohio State to take an early lead, never look back and take advantage of giving new players experience ahead of the Buckeyes’ top-10 showdown with Penn State on Halloween.