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2021 Big Ten Opponent Preview: Ohio State Buckeyes

Ohio State v Michigan State Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Next up in The Only Colors’ 2021 opponent preview series is the Ohio State Buckeyes — the reigning Big Ten champions for four years running. Ohio State will likely be at the top of the standings in 2021 as well, and the Michigan State Spartans visit Columbus on Nov. 20.

To help us learn more about the Buckeyes is Gene Ross, managing editor of Land-Grant Holy Land — SB Nation’s quintessential website for all things Ohio State. Gene has provided thorough analysis and thoughts about what to expect from the Buckeyes in 2021.

List your team’s key departures:

  • Justin Fields (QB)
  • Trey Sermon (RB)
  • Wyatt Davis (OL),
  • Josh Myers (OL)
  • Tommy Togiai (DT),
  • Pete Werner (LB)
  • Baron Browning (LB)
  • Shaun Wade (CB)

List your team’s key returnees:

  • Chris Olave (WR),
  • Garrett Wilson (WR)
  • Thayer Munford (OL)
  • Nicholas Petit-Frere (OL)
  • Haskell Garrett (DT), Zach Harrison (DE)
  • Tyreke Smith (DE)
  • Sevyn Banks (CB)

List a few true freshmen or transfers that will make an instant impact:

  • Jack Sawyer (DE)
  • J.T. Tuimoloau (DE)
  • TreVeyon Henderson (RB)
  • Marvin Harrison Jr. (WR)

Brief overview of 2021 team:

The offense should keep on buzzing even after losing Justin Fields to the NFL Draft. Former five-star quarterback CJ Stroud is expected to win the starting job, and he has the best wide receiver tandem in the country to throw to in Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson, with former five-star Jaxon Smith-Njigba in the slot. The offensive line should be fantastic, and five-star freshman TreVeyon Henderson will be an upgrade at running back.

The defense is where all of the questions lie, especially with Ohio State having to replace all three of its starting linebackers. The defensive line should be really really good, with Zach Harrison, Tyreke Smith and Haskell Garrett all returning plus the addition of five-star freshmen Jack Sawyer and JT Tuimoloau. The move to a 4-2-5 defense should ease some of the linebacker losses, but the secondary is largely unproven outside of Sevyn Banks. They will need some of their young and inexperienced but highly-touted defensive backs to step up.

What’s your team’s biggest strength?

Passing game. Stroud should have no problem getting the ball to a litany of former five-star prospects he has to throw to, especially with Olave and Wilson out there as your top two guys.

What’s your team’s biggest weakness?

Secondary. Ohio State’s passing defense was tremendously bad last season, and they will need to turn it around this year if they have any hopes of competing for a national title. They have the pieces to do it and a new scheme to attempt to fix some of last year’s issue, but it remains to be seen whether it will all come together.

How does your fanbase feel about your coach and his staff?

Ryan Day is the perfect guy to lead this program. A seemingly great dude on and off the field, his coaching style and recruiting chops have been nothing short of tremendous. He has also put together a pretty strong staff around him in guys like Brian Hartline (wide receivers) and Al Washington (linebackers). Kerry Coombs’ (defensive coordinator) ability to call a defense is still in question, but there is no doubting his energy and his ability to recruit defensive backs.

Who is your team’s MVP this season and why?

Chris Olave. The star wide receiver would’ve likely been a first or second-round pick had he left for the NFL Draft at the end of last season. He is simply one of the best wide receivers in college football with his ability to always create separation from opposing defenders, high football IQ and incredibly dependable hands.

Predict your team’s record, its best win, and a potential surprise loss:

A 12-0 record with a Big Ten title and College Football Playoff selection.

Best win: Oregon

Potential surprise loss: Minnesota/Indiana

What else should we know about your team this year?

Ohio State’s move to a 4-2-5 on defense will incorporate a new “bullet” position, which is a safety/linebacker hybrid. This should hopefully alleviate some of the issues they had in the secondary last season, as there will only be two linebackers on the field at any given time plus three corners, a safety and the bullet. The two players fighting for the starting job at this new position are Craig Young (a natural linebacker) and Ronnie Hickman (a natural safety), so they could use both of their skillsets in different ways. Sevyn Banks will be the top cornerback, with Lathan Ransom likely the starting slot corner and the other outside corner still up in the air but most likely Cam Brown, although he is coming off an Achilles injury suffered early last season.

Once again, Ohio State is the top program in the Big Ten in 2021, and it’s not particularly close. Can any other team stop the Buckeyes? Doubtful, but we will see. Thank you to Gene for providing great insights into Ohio State. You can follow him on Twitter, and for more on the Buckeyes, you can follow Land-Grant Holy Land as well.