Help your football small talk with these season storylines
Buckeye football is back, and you know what that means: occasionally uninvited small talk on the local college team. Although it certainly feels like 99.99 percent of this city is made up of football addicts, I know that's not true. So, if a) you just want to seem like you know something about the upcoming season, or b) you simply checked out after the 31-0 drubbing Ohio State got against Clemson this past College Football Playoff, look no further. Behold: This is your primer for the 2017 season.
1. J.T. Barrett, the man
It doesn't take a hardcore fan to know starting quarterback J.T. Barrett hasn't looked like himself since the first year he started (replacing an injured Braxton Miller) in that wondrous, National Championship-winning 2014 season. Even though his stats have dipped, and his decisions in the pocket have sometimes been questionable, his experience as a now-fourth-year starter always gives the team a shot. Hopefully that experience, in combination with the recent coaching changeup (more on that later), leads to a more fruitful offense this season.
2. Receiving game questions
It can be argued that Barrett's steady decline was in part caused by a lack of viable (or, perhaps, well-coached) receiving options. Half the time when Barrett nailed a pass, the receiver was running the wrong route, couldn't separate from the defense or was “all thumbs.” The thing is, a pattern of poor receiving leads to a lack of trust on the QB's part, which ultimately means Barrett's running for the first down when he should've been able to pass for it. Ever since wide receiver Devin Smith left for the NFL in 2015, diehards have been waiting for some receiver to save the passing game. Will this be the year a downfield threat distinguishes themselves? We'll know sooner rather than later.
3. Offensive coaching overhaul
After Ohio State failed to score a single point against Clemson, head coach Urban Meyer made staff changes in short order. In literally a matter of days, previous co-offensive coordinators Ed Warrinner and Tim Beck found other coaching opportunities. They were subsequently replaced by new QB coach Ryan Day and offensive coordinator/former Indiana head coach Kevin Wilson. The new coaches boast impressive resumes (Day coached QBs for the San Francisco 49ers) and should resurrect the competent, powerful offense we fell in love with years ago.
4. The annual replacement of NFL talent
Ohio State had seven (!) NFL draft picks this year to go along with the 12 (!!) from 2016. Though the departure of NFL-caliber talent is always tough on a team, it's also always intriguing to see what young Bucks will fill the new gaps in the roster. Given the loss of hybrid back and playmaking wunderkind Curtis Samuel and exceptional defensive backs Marshon Lattimore, Malik Hooker and Gareon Conley, expect the most attention to be paid to these positions. Outside of senior safety and likely starter Damon Webb (the only veteran DB left), Meyer and Co. may very well rotate different players in and out of every other spot during the early parts of the season.
5. First game isn't entirely a cupcake
Being the TV ratings machine it is, Ohio State plays Indiana in one of the first big games of the season (ESPN's College Gameday is even setting up in Bloomington). The key story isn't Ohio State's popularity so much as it's that their first game actually matters. Indiana (yes, Kevin Wilson's former employer) is a historically decent, fellow Big 10 team — the exact opposite of the small-town university teams normally squared off against in week 1. Indeed, the first game could tell us a lot about what to expect the rest of the season.