Ohio State enters the offseason with a lot to feel good about.
Thirteen wins. Another Big Ten championship. Star players on both sides of the ball.
Getting back to the College Football Playoff for a second straight season will take plenty of work both by the coaches and the players.
Here is a look at some of the biggest questions facing the Buckeyes between now and the start of season 131:
1. Who is coming back?
This is a question that has evolved a lot over the past 20 or so years. In the past, elite juniors might have been a 50/50 proposition to enter the draft, but now their exits are pretty much a foregone conclusion. Even those who aren’t likely to be first-round picks have made a habit of leaving early since changes to the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement made playing an extra year in the pros more valuable than being selected in the later first round or the second or third round.
That is why J.K. Dobbins’ decision to go pro early came as little surprise and the return of Jeff Okudah or Chase Young would catch most off guard.
In the past, a player like Dobbins might have been a candidate to return in the name of “unfinished business,” but that is not really the way things are done anymore.
Shaun Wade is a different story, though. The third-year sophomore might be able to improve his draft stock significantly with a year as The Man in the Ohio State secondary after sharing top billing with Okduah and Jordan Fuller this season. That would bring significant financial rewards because players in the top half of the draft get much larger signing bonuses than those taken later. Then again, if Wade impresses at pre-draft workouts he could end up in the top half of the first round anyway.
2. Who replaces Jeff Hafley?
This is a big one. The players win the games, but Hafley did a lot to develop the skills of Ohio State defensive backs in his one year in Columbus.
He also helped revamp the scheme, and head coach Ryan Day says he wants to find someone who runs the same hybrid cover 3 scheme Hafley brought with him from the NFL. That could be a difficult needle to thread, especially since Day prefers to hire people he knows (a practice that worked quite well in putting together his first staff a year ago).
The skill development side is also critical, so recreating the effect Hafley had may be next to impossible.
3. How ready are a pair of sophomores to play on the offensive line?
Ohio State had a dominating front line last fall, and that was in large part thanks to sophomores Josh Myers and Wyatt Davis stepping up and displaying the five-star talents they were regarded as coming out of high school.
This season Ohio State could use a similar jump from Harry Miller and Nicholas Petit-Frere. Miller played extensively in his first fall on campus while Petit-Frere made his way into the two-deep and started one game after a redshirt season.
They have high ceilings, which means the next Ohio State offensive line should, too.
4. What veterans are ready to step up?
Ohio State’s 13 wins might not have happened without the contributions of seniors DaVon Hamilton, Binjimen Victor and Branden Bowen.
They had all played before but saved their best years for their last.
Candidates to follow in their footsteps include sixth-year linebacker Justin Hilliard, senior linebacker Barrett Browning, senior defensive back Amir Riep, senior defensive linemen Jonathon Cooper and Haskell Garrett and junior receiver Jaylen Harris.
5. What freshmen can contribute right away?
This is always one of the hottest topics of the offseason, and it is usually one of the most disappointing. Everyone expects most of the hot shot recruits to see the field immediately and make an impact, but that just doesn’t happen much, especially given the talent stockpiled at some many positions in Columbus.
A receiver such as five-star Julian Fleming or someone from the highly regarded group of defensive backs would seem the best candidates to play right away in 2020, especially considering the experience and depth at linebacker and defensive line.
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