Back to Campus: Ohio State Football: 5 Questions for 2018
UPDATE: Late on Aug. 22, Ohio State announced coach Urban Meyer would be suspended for the first three games of the 2018 season. The announcement followed a two-week investigation that found Meyer mishandled domestic assault allegations made against former Buckeye assistant coach Zach Smith.
To say the Ohio State football preseason has not gone as planned would be a radical understatement. The Urban Meyer saga has been exactly the kind of distraction coaches always strive to avoid. But regardless of what happens with Meyer, there's still a season to play, so this preview will (mostly) focus on what keeps the Buckeyes in the headlines between coaching scandals: the action on the gridiron.
With that in mind, here are five questions entering the season.
1. Is Dwayne Haskins the next great Ohio State quarterback?
Haskins, the sophomore taking over at quarterback after four bumpy but extremely successful years of J.T. Barrett, got a chance to shine after Barrett left last year's Michigan game with an injury. He shined, to the tune of 94 yards on 6-of-7 passing — highlighted by a 27-yard, third-down completion to Austin Mack — plus another 24 yards on the ground.
After beating out Tate Martell and the recently transferred Joe Burrow for the starting gig, the Potomac, Maryland, product will get his chance to prove Ann Arbor was no fluke. At 6-foot-3 and 218 pounds, Haskins is more of a pocket passer than born-scrambler Barrett, so Buckeye fans who've been waiting for a QB who can throw some bombs may finally be in luck. Speaking of which…
2. Will the receiving corps get it together?
Last season the Buckeyes' passing game struggled, especially on longer attempts. It was never entirely clear whether the problem was Barrett and his wonky arm or his receivers and their clunky hands. Maybe it was both. Either way, receiving is possibly the biggest area for improvement in 2018 — it's neck and neck with the similarly concrete-handed special teams units — so hopefully new receivers coach (and former Buckeye receiving standout) Brian Hartline can improve upon the work of the disgraced and dismissed Zach Smith. At the very least he can hopefully avoid having sex toys delivered to his workplace.
OK, back to football: In addition to the returning Johnnie Dixon, Parris Campbell, Terry McLaurin, C.J. Saunders, Binjimen Victor, Austin Mack, K.J. Hill, Jaylen Harris, De'Shawn White and Garyn Prater, Hartline will have freshmen Kamryn Babb, Cameron Brown, Chris Olave, Ellijah Gardiner and L'Christian Smith at his disposal. That's a lot of names. Surely one or two of them can get a good rhythm going with Haskins.
3. Nick Bosa: Better than Joey?
According to many experts, junior defensive end Nick Bosa is on pace to be even better than his older brother, Buckeye legend-turned-NFL star Joey Bosa. Even Joey agrees Nick is ahead of where he was at this phase. The head-to-head numbers don't entirely bear that out, but Nick wasn't a full-time starter last year and still managed to lead the team with eight sacks and 16 tackles for loss. (By comparison, as a sophomore starter Joey put up 13.5 sacks and 21.5 tackles for loss during the 2014 national championship run.)
After being named a first-team preseason All-American by the Associated Press,Sports Illustrated and CBS Sports — and pegged as a surefire first-round pick in next spring's NFL draft — Nick will have a giant target on his back in 2018. If he can continue to be a terror for opposing blockers while undoubtedly being double- and triple-teamed all year, he'll end up a legend no matter how his numbers stack up to Joey's.
4. Can J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber's combined powers be maximized?
In sophomore Dobbins and junior Weber, Ohio State has two elite running backs. Last year, Weber's production took a hit after Dobbins took over his starting job, but both are good enough to play in the NFL someday. If their carries can be balanced effectively, the Buckeyes could potentially have two 1,000-yard rushers by December. And however the team splits up the workload, a successful run game could make Haskins extremely comfortable in the pocket.
5. What is the team's mental state?
Among players and coaches, the Meyer investigation could easily have raised doubts about the fiber of their organization, sowed disunity, crushed morale and degraded mental preparedness. Or they could mostly be shrugging it off and feeling ready to throttle the competition as expected before this fiasco unfolded. We'll know soon enough.