We have officially entered game week, so rejoice college football, fans! The wait is over! As we get into the week, the time has come to issue a little preview for the outlook of the Ohio State season and how they are expected to perform. We will discuss the staff, offense, and the defense. We also give a brief overview of the schedule, a prediciton for statistical leaders, and finally, a prediction for the outlook of the season and the Buckeye’s record.
When Ryan Day made the decision to relieve Kerry Coombs, Matt Barnes, Greg Studrawa, and Al Washington of their duties at Ohio State, it signaled that the staff cohesion and the chemistry with the players were deficient and needed a change. Day made those changes and brought in a friend and former colleague, Justin Frye, to come in and revamp the offensive line and the run game. The big story, though, is obviously the hiring of Jim Knowles as the defensive coordinator. Knowles has been the biggest name so far, and for good reason.
He turned Oklahoma State into a dominant unit during his time there and will have more talent to work with than ever. His system is perfectly suited for the modern college game and features several different looks that are often disguised pre-snap. It is a safety-driven defense, and those safeties will be coached by Perry Eliano, whose previous stop was with Luke Fickell at Cincinnati. The other role in the secondary will be ran by former Buckeye and NFL alum, Tim Walton.
The addition of these four coaches should have a profound impact on the team’s performance and has already resulted in an environment more conducive to success. There is a buzz around the defense that has not been around for a few years, and that is a direct result of Knowles and his staff’s ability to install and gain buy-in from their players.
Overall, this staff has been improved, especially from a schematic standpoint, but the results will be the proof and this staff is ready to deliver.
The offense should be among the nation’s elite, and really could be the best in the whole country. The skill positions are an embarrassment of riches that has seldom been seen in college football. The 2019 LSU team and the 2020 Alabama teams are probably the only other two offenses that featured this many future first-round talents at the skill spots. Trey Henderson is a first-round running back and is easily a top two back in America and Miyan Williams is no slouch himself. Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Marvin Harrison, and Emeka Egbuka are probably the most talented trio in the country and all of them have first-round skill sets.
But, the big name in this group is none other than CJ Stroud. He is the most gifted thrower of the football the program has ever had at the position, as he can make every throw on the field, and he is an artistic passer with his ability to throw at different speeds and trajectories. With this group of talent around him, it is very possible he caps off the regular season with a trip to New York City for the Heisman Ceremony.
The offensive line also features one of the top tackle duos in America with Paris Johnson and Dawand Jones. Johnson has been billed as a first-round tackle prospect, and for good reason. The junior has a massive frame and has shown explosion and quick feet. He will be moving from right guard to left tackle and will be tasked with protecting Stroud from the likes of Isaiah Foskey and, potentially, Will Anderson. The line will be anchored by Luke Wypler, who will be looking to build off of his 2021 campaign and develop into one of the top centers in college football. Donovan Jackson will anchor one of the guard spots in his first season as a starter with Matt Jones likely filling the other spot. This is a hungry group, and with a new intensity brought up Frye, they will be a physical unit that plays with a mean streak.
The defense has been the big topic of conversation, and for good reason. To put it mildly, these past two seasons have been suboptimal, especially for a place like Ohio State. Jim Knowles was brought in to fix those issues, and by all accounts, things are trending in a positive directions.
The defensive line has gotten plenty of hype, with players like Jack Sawyer and JT Tuimoloau getting ready for the second seasons. Players like Taron Vincent, Zach Harrison, Tyler Friday, Jerron Cage, and Ty Hamilton are also primed to cap off their careers at Ohio State with big seasons. This unit is among the deepest on the team, and Larry Johnson will be hoping to rotate plenty of bodies to keep guys fresh. Each and every one of them will present a different set of challenges for opposing offenses, and a fresh defensive line in the fourth quarter could pay major dividends in high leverage moments.
The linebacker position is still one of intrigue, but Tommy Eichenberg and Steele Chambers are the clear top guys in the pecking order. Staff members and teammates have been raving about Eichenberg all offseason for his ability to learn the defense, his physicality, and his leadership traits as he was voted as a captain. This group has arguably the most to prove out anyone, as the linebackers drew constant criticism last year. But, improvements in the scheme and fundamental coaching have reportedly resulted in a night and day type of change for this group, so there is reason for optimism.
The secondary is truly ready for a breakout season. Perhaps no player will benefit from playing in Knowles system more than Josh Proctor and Ronnie Hickman. Proctor has been a different player throughout the offseason and he is a true enforcer in the back end with a unique nose for the football. Hickman, already outstanding against the run, will build off of his productive 2021 season and become one of the top strong safeties in the college game in 2022. Denzel Burke and Cam Brown are a dynamic duo at cornerback, and Tanner McAllister will also be a major factor as a nickel. Jordan Hancock, Lathan Ransom, and Cam Martinez will also all get playing time as the season rolls along.
This team is one of the two most talented and experienced teams in the country, along with Alabama. The Buckeyes are built to run through the B1G this season, with the biggest conference matchups being at Penn State, at Michigan State, and home against Michigan. Notre Dame and Michigan are bookending the schedule, and will probably be the two toughest matchups for the Buckeyes in terms of talent. Still, Ohio State should be heavily favored in both, and they are the odds-on favorite to win the conference and compete for a national championship.
We will start with a few statistical predictions for players.
Rushing Leader: Trey Henderson
Receptions Leader: Jaxon Smith-Njigba
Receiving Yards: Jaxon Smith-Nijigba
Most Receiving Touchdowns: Marvin Harrison Jr.
Sacks: Jack Sawyer
Tackles: Tommy Eichenberg
Interceptions: Josh Proctor
Wk1: Notre Dame
Wk2: Arkansas State
Wk6: @Michigan State
Wk9: @Penn State
Wk14: Conference Championship
I think the schedule works out much nicer than most people seem to. Notre Dame is a tough opening weekend, but I think if the Buckeyes handle their business there, they will have the next two weeks against Arkansas State and Toledo, where the starters will, realistically, not have to play all four quarters, so that should help get them healthy for the conference opener against Wisconsin. After Wisconsin, the Buckeyes will head to East Lansing for a potentially ranked matchup against Michigan State. This could present a challenge as it will be the first road game of the season, but, Michigan State has lost plenty of impact players, and it will be an uphill battle for Mel Tucker and his Spartans.
The bye week comes at the precise midpoint of the season and will be a welcome sight for the team. They will be coming off of two B1G opponents and will need the time to get their bodies and minds right for the stretch run.
They open up the second half of the season with Iowa in the Shoe. The Buckeyes still owe Iowa for the 2017 debacle, and I do not expect Ryan Day to take it easy on them. After the Hawkeyes, they will head to Penn State where they will meet James Franklin and the Nittany Lions. There will be a small change from the last few times the Buckeyes have played in Happy Valley as this will be a noon start, which means Ohio State has avoided the “White Out” for 2022. I speak from experience when I say that Happy Valley at noon is NOT the same as a night game. I would expect Ohio State to play well and take care of business under these more ideal conditions.
Coming out of Penn State, they will head to Evanston to take on Northwestern and then they will head back to Columbus to take on Tom Allen and the Indians Hoosiers. After which, they will then head to Maryland to take on the Terps, who I’ll actually have plenty of weapons on offense, so that could be one to watch out for.
Finally, the Buckeyes will come home for their much-anticipated clash with Michigan. With last year’s game fresh on the minds of everyone in the state of Ohio and the state of Michigan, the Buckeyes will be attempting to avenge last year’s misery and reclaim their crown in the greatest rivalry in all of sports. Given Michigan’s weak schedule, there is a possibility both teams come into the game undefeated or with only one loss, which would only add excitement and intrigue to the biggest game of the season.
To no one’s surprise, I have Ohio State going undefeated and winning the B1G. I think they will rematch with Wisconsin in the B1G Championship game and they will increase their championship game record against Wisconsin to 4-0. I have Ohio State in the College Football Playoff and I think they will ultimately play for and win the national championship this season. I will reveal my other picks for the College Football Playoff during my College Season Preview that will be out later this week, but until then, I have Ohio State winning the national title for the 2022 season.