Ohio State football is set to begin preseason practice the week of Aug. 1, and Big Ten Football Media Days are only a little more than a week away.
That means it is time to assess what head coach Ryan Day and his staff will have to work with as they try to get back to the top of the Big Ten and back into the College Football Playoff.
The Buckeyes figure to be older and more experienced all along the lineup than they were last year, but there are still plenty of important roles that need to be filled.
We start that examination with the quarterbacks and receivers.
Returning starter: C.J. Stroud
Backup: Kyle McCord
On the horizon: Devin Brown
What a difference a year makes.
Last summer, Ohio State had four scholarship quarterbacks but none with a college pass to his name. There was great potential, but virtually no experience, just two shades of green: a pair with no experience and a pair with a few snaps under their belts but not much else.
This year, that quartet has shrunk to a trio, but the room is constructed nearly ideally for Day, a coach who has shown the ability to stack talented quarterbacks on top of talented quarterbacks in an era when collecting potential at that position is easier said than done.
Stroud struggled a bit early but soared through the second half of the season. He threw for 4,435 yards and 44 touchdowns with just six interceptions and developed into a player who can put a team on his back.
Stroud, who was a latebloomer in high school in California, is the reigning Big Ten offensive player and quarterback of the year and has shown the ability to read defenses and get the ball to his talented playmakers.
He has room to grow, but his ceiling could be top pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.
If Stroud has the type of season many are expecting, McCord figures to be next in line. A five-star sophomore from Philadelphia, the strong-armed McCord gives Ohio State a great insurance policy if something happens to Stroud this season.
Last season, McCord saw action in five games and completed 25 of 38 passes for 416 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. The bulk of that came in a route of Akron that Stroud sat out to rest a sore shoulder.
Brown is an Arizona native who developed into a four-star prospect last fall at Corner Canyon High School in Utah. He is as raw as can be expected, but Day likes his arm strength and athleticism.
Returning starter: Jaxon Smith-Njigba
Projected new starters: Marvin Harrison Jr., Emeka Egbuka
Also in the mix: Julian Fleming, Kamryn Babb, Jayden Ballard, Xavier Johnson
On the horizon: Caleb Burton, Kyion Grayes, Kaleb Brown, Kojo Antwi
Coach Brian Hartline lost first-round picks Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson, and all he has to fall back on are three five-star recruits and a four-star who is the son of a Pro Football Hall of Famer at the position.
Smith-Njigba unseated Jameson Williams as a starter last spring, and the Texas native went on to show why even as Williams became a star at Alabama. The 6-0, 198-pound Smith-Njigba is a slick route runner with a knack for getting open, and he has set Ohio State records for catches in a season (95) and receiving yards in a season (1,606) despite being quarterback C.J. Stroud’s No. 3 option in many games. He was the undisputed No. 1 in the Rose Bowl against Utah and showed a national TV audience what he could do by hauling in 15 passes for an all-bowls record 347 yards.
Harrison also showed what he can do with six catches for 71 yards and three touchdowns in the Rose Bowl while Egbuka was a solid contributor throughout the season, finishing with 191 yards receiving and 580 yards on kick returns.
They moved ahead of Fleming and Babb as that pair continued to battle injuries, which they have had to do for most of their time in Columbus.
Babb, a four-star receiver out of St. Louis way back in the class of 2018, has still managed to gain such respect for his teammates he was voted captain, and he remains hopeful he can be a contributor this season.
Fleming was the No. 1 receiver recruit in the country in 2020, and Hartline has called him one of the most talented players he has ever seen. Shoulder issues have plagued him, but the 6-2, 205-pounder is one of the sturdiest-built players in the room and still has the potential to develop into a star if he can stay healthy.
Johnson is a walk-on from Cincinnati Summit Country Day who has managed to compete in a room overflowing with talent while Burton, Grayes, Brown and Antwi are true freshmen who will vie for a spot in the two-deep.
Burton and Grayes enrolled early and took part in spring ball while Antwi and Brown arrived this summer.
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