Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback Justin Fields finished third in last year's Heisman Trophy balloting. (Joe Maiorana/USA Today)

Football

Our 12th annual preseason Top 25: No. 2 Ohio State has shoes to fill, but shouldn’t be worried

The Buckeyes had the second and third overall picks in the draft and also must replace a 2,000-yard rusher. No problem, right?

Posted July 24th, 2020

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The college football season is less than two months away. Right? As it approaches with question marks, our 12th annual countdown series of our preseason Top 25, as selected by the American-Statesman sports staff, breaks down who we think are the top teams in the country.

Last year’s eventual College Football Playoff semifinalists ranked first, fourth, fifth and sixth in our 2019 poll.

 

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No. 2 Ohio State

The Buckeyes aren’t used to losing. Since 2011, Ohio State has gone 99-10 and won one national title. But the Buckeyes did suffer some notable losses this offseason. The team’s two best defensive players left school early to become the No. 2 and No. 3 picks in the NFL draft, and the running back who rushed for 2,000 yards is now a Baltimore Raven. Last year’s passing game coordinator, Mike Yurcich, is now the offensive coordinator at Texas. The former co-defensive coordinator, Jeff Hafley, is running Boston College’s program. And the Big Ten has canceled all non-conference games, so forget about the signature showdown at Oregon. But Ohio State has one of the nation’s top quarterbacks, and Justin Fields and his teammates will still have a chance to prove themselves in marquee matchups against Iowa, Penn State and Michigan.

Ohio State was ranked fifth in our preseason poll last year.

 

About the Buckeyes

2019: 13-1, 9-0 in the Big Ten; lost to Clemson 29-23 in the CFP semifinals

Coach: Ryan Day (16-1, in one year at Ohio State)

Returning starters: 6 offense, 4 defense

Shoes to fill: DE Chase Young (No. 2 overall draft pick, Redskins); CB Jeff Okudah (No. 3 overall pick, Lions); CB Damon Arnette (19th overall, Raiders); RB J.K. Dobbins (2nd round, Ravens)

 

Catching up

Ex-Oklahoma running back Trey Sermon joined Ohio State’s backfield as a graduate transfer in April. He rushed for 2,076 yards in his three years with the Sooners. … Ohio State hired Kerry Coombs, a former Buckeyes coach who spent the past two years in the NFL, to replace Hafley. After working the last couple of seasons as a senior quality control coach, Corey Dennis will coach the quarterbacks.  …. Ohio State’s 2020 recruiting class was ranked as the nation’s fifth-best. … Ten Buckeyes were selected in the NFL draft.

 

Ohio State linebacker Baron Browning celebrates after pressuring Penn State quarterback Will Levis into an incomplete pass during their game last season. (Greg Bartram/USA Today)

Returning leaders

Passing: QB Justin Fields (led team), 238-354-3,273 yards, 41 TDs, 3 INTs

Rushing: Master Teague III (2nd), 135-789-4; QB Justin Fields (3rd), 137-484-10

Receiving: Chris Olave (2nd), 49-849-12; Garrett Wilson (4th), 30-432-5

Tackles: LB Pete Werner (2nd), 64; LB Tuf Borland (4th), 55

Sacks: LB Baron Browning (3rd), 5

Interceptions: LB K’Vaughan Pope (T-2nd), 2

 

Returning all-conference

Offense: QB Justin Fields (1st team); OL Wyatt Davis (2nd team); OL Thayer Munford (2nd team); RB Master Teague III (3rd team); WR Chris Olave (3rd team); OL Josh Myers (3rd team); TE Luke Farrell (3rd team)

Defense: CB Shaun Wade (3rd team); LB Tuf Borland (hon. mention); LB Baron Browning (hon. mention); LB Pete Werner (hon. mention)

Special teams: K Blake Haubeil (3rd team); P Drue Chrisman (hon. mention)

 

FYI

Help wanted: How good was Ohio State’s defense in 2019? It boasted top-ten numbers in most of the statistics of significance. Six teams scored their season low against the Buckeyes. The team sent a defensive end who missed two games to the Heisman Trophy ceremony. Opposing offenses weren’t the only ones that took note of what Ohio State was doing. Six NFL teams used seven picks on Ohio State defenders. Wade is a potential first-round pick, but can a former five-star signee like Zach Harrison, Taron Vincent or Tyreke Johnson break out on a depleted defense?

Talented targets: After leading Ohio State with 57 receptions, K.J. Hill became a seventh-round pick of the Los Angeles Chargers. Don’t worry about the passing game, though. Fields, who finished third in the voting for the Heisman, is back. Additionally, the receiving room is still stocked. No Buckeyes receiver had more yards or touchdowns last year than Olave. Wilson also had a solid debut in his first year out of Lake Travis. Oh, and Ohio State signed two of the five five-star receivers in the 2020 class (Julian Fleming and Jaxon Smith-Njigba).

Homefield advantage: Ohio State has won its last eight meetings with Michigan, and the last two have been decided by 62-39 and 56-27 scores. Michigan is one of five teams that remains on Ohio State’s home schedule for the season. The Wolverines, though, are the only one of those that have beaten Ohio State at home this millennium (Michigan recorded a 38-26 win on the road in 2000). Nebraska and Rutgers have never won in Columbus. Indiana and Iowa’s last wins at Ohio State respectively came in 1987 and 1991.

 

2019 national stat rankings

Where Ohio State ranked nationally in various statistical categories last season — and how the Buckeyes ranked in 2018.

Scoring: 3rd (2018 — 8th)

Scoring defense: 4th (t-51st)

Total offense:  4th (2nd)

Total defense: 1st (72nd)

Passing: 36th (2nd)

Pass defense: 1st (86th)

Rushing: 5th (63rd)

Rush defense: 9th (56th)

Red zone offense: 30th (115th)

Red zone defense: 2nd (113th)

Turnover margin: t-17th (32nd)

Time of possession: 25th (29th)

 

Our Top 25 — so far

No. 25: Boise State figures to keep its perch atop the Mountain West

No. 24: Might this pandemic lead to not one, but two Iowa State-Iowa games?Inside the Cyclones

No. 23: Will Kirk Ferentz emerge from Iowa’s summer of discontent unscathed? / Inside the Hawkeyes

No. 22: Cincinnati’s picking up recruiting in 2020 where it left off in 2019 / Inside the Bearcats

No. 21: Former Gamecocks quarterback hopes to take over at Utah / Inside the Utes

No. 20: Central Florida, Darrell Wyatt are reloading with receivers / Inside the Knights

No. 19: Recruits are raving about Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck / Inside the Gophers

No. 18: A Q&A with North Carolina coach Mack Brown / Inside the Tar Heels

No. 17: Jim Harbaugh is fighting for Michigan, college football / Inside the Wolverines

No. 16: Oklahoma State’s Hubbard finds his voice / Inside the Cowboys

No. 15: USC is Zooming up the recruiting rankings / Inside the Trojans

No. 14: Is Jimbo Fisher taking Texas A&M back to the good ol’ SWC days? / Inside the Aggies

No. 13: Wisconsin’s Paul Chryst stands with his players’ new-found voices / Inside the Badgers

No. 12: Assistant coach will Auburn’s recruiting in Alabama / Inside the Tigers

No. 11: For Texas and Sam Ehlinger, it’s now or never / Inside the Longhorns

No. 10: Oregon’s Penei Sewell eyes a second straight Outland Trophy / Inside the Ducks

No. 9: Notre Dame’s AD on the Irish, this season / Inside the Irish

No. 8: LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase the latest to wear team’s beloved No. 7 / Inside the Tigers

No. 7: Florida’s AD dealing with COVID-19, too / Inside the Gators

No. 6: New Georgia quarterback JT Daniels has USC in the rear view / Inside the Bulldogs

No. 5: Oklahoma fans already love cornerback recruit from Austin / Inside the Sooners

No. 4: Penn State’s Gordon learned awareness through his grandfather / Inside the Nittany Lions

No. 3: A closer look at Alabama’s future non-conference contracts / Inside the Crimson Tide

No. 2: Ohio State Buckeyes

 

Coming tomorrow

Our No. 1 team.

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