Ohio State opens the season at Indiana on Thursday night, the culmination of an offseason that saw a lot of changes, but expectations are always the same for the Buckeyes.
Answers to these five questions will help us figure out just how realistic those goals might be:
1. Will we see the confident, accurate J.T. Barrett of 2014, or the hesitant, more erratic version of the last two seasons?
Ohio State’s senior quarterback shouldn’t have to be anything more than efficient for Ohio State to crush nearly everyone on the schedule, but there were times he couldn’t pull off basic parts of the offense last season with the type of consistency expected of a veteran.
New quarterbacks coach Ryan Day has tutored Barrett on being more aggressive by throwing to players who are still partially covered, and receivers say he has looked more comfortable in practice.
2. Who steps up at receiver?
Coach Zach Smith has a solid six-man core in which he has confidence – Parris Campbell, Austin Mack, Johnnie Dixon, Terry McLaurin, K.J. Hill and Binjimen Victor, but will anyone take over and become a true No. 1?
Talent hasn’t been a problem over the past two seasons, but earning Barrett’s trust is a must.
New offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson could play a big role here, too, if he is able to make the offense less predictable and force teams to defend OSU on his terms.
3. Will Ohio State have a big-play threat at running back?
Last year’s Big Ten Freshman of the Year Mike Weber brought more thunder than lightning last season, and his iffy hamstring might prevent him from changing that narrative, at least early in the season.
Even with a healthy Weber, I am anxious to see if true freshman J.K. Dobbins brings a different dynamic to the backfield and exactly how they utilize Demario McCall.
4. Speaking of big plays, what about the secondary?
Despite losing three players to the first round of the NFL draft, Ohio State shouldn’t have a talent deficit in the defensive secondary.
New corners Denzel Ward and Damon Arnette plus new safety Jordan Fuller or Erick Smith will face a challenge in recreating the absolute havoc the Buckeyes wreaked last season, though.
Sixteen of the team’s 21 interceptions walked out the door along with five of the six touchdowns scored by the defense.
5. How’s the kicking game?
Urban Meyer hasn’t had to worry about a punter for four years, but Cam Johnston is out of eligibility. He will be replaced by freshman Drue Chrisman of Cincinnati.
Meanwhile, kicker has been a sore subject at times – never more than the end of last season when Tyler Durbin missed two kicks apiece against Michigan and Clemson.
Sean Nuernberger, a junior who was the primary kicker when the Buckeyes won the 2014 national title, and freshman Blake Haubeil battled it out in camp with the veteran listed as the starting kicker and the youngster the kickoff specialist on the first depth chart of the season.