COLUMBUS — There are not many places like Ohio State, where an enormous amount of talent can walk out the door and the expectation is that the next football season will be a very good one, maybe even something better than very good.
Expecting to win every game is nothing new at OSU. And with 50 wins in the 54 games Urban Meyer has coached, that confidence level has probably never been higher.
Whether that belief is supported by the facts will play out in the fall. But one of the first steps toward the 2016 season begins Tuesday when Ohio State starts spring practice.
Those drills will continue until the annual spring game April 16 at Ohio Stadium.
Ohio State will have to find replacements for eight starters on defense and eight more on offense this season.
And for the most part, these are not just ordinary starters, they are players who will go high in the NFL draft.
Defensive lineman Joey Bosa and Adolphus Washington, linebackers Darron Lee and Joshua Perry, defensive backs Eli Apple and Vonn Bell, offensive lineman Taylor Decker, running back Ezekiel Elliott and wide receiver Michael Bennett all could be picked in the first three rounds of the NFL draft. Bosa, Lee, Apple, Decker and Elliott have all appeared as possible first-round picks in mock drafts.
Part of the confidence that Ohio State will still be a contender for the Big Ten championship comes from the highly rated recruiting classes Meyer has put together the last three seasons.
While it is unlikely more than one or two of this year’s recruits will play a significant role, some of the recruits of 2015 and 2014 will have to live up to their glittering rankings to keep Ohio State in the Top Ten.
One big advantage Ohio State has over the other Big Ten East Division contenders, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State, is that it knows who its starting quarterback will be and he is a good one. J.T. Barrett has no competition as long as he is healthy and he will play a bigger role in the Buckeyes’ offense than ever before.
While OSU has to replace three starting offensive linemen, that is probably only the third-biggest question on offense.
Replacing Elliott, who is third on the Ohio State career rushing list behind Archie Griffin and Eddie George, is the No. 1 question on offense going into spring practice.
If redshirt freshman Mike Weber lives up to the reputation he had as a 4-star recruit, he will be the starter. He appeared to be making a bid to be Elliott’s back-up last year before surgery for a torn meniscus in the preseason sidelined him.
Seldom-used fifth-year senior Brionte Dunn or Curtis Samuel could win the job if Weber doesn’t.
The search for playmakers is on at wide receiver, too. Samuel (26 catches) is the only returning receiver with more than seven catches. Noah Brown was touted as top flight receiver last year before suffering a broken leg in August and could be the No.1 receiver this fall.
Corey Smith, who got an extra year of eligibility because of an injury, and former signing day superstars who have not lived up to the hype, like Dontre Wilson, Johnnie Dixon and tight end Marcus Baugh, also will get a chance to produce.
Defensively, the positions of most concern are probably the defensive backfield and the interior linemen.
Cornerbacks who can play man-to-man coverage play a huge role in Ohio State’s defense and the Buckeyes have to find someone to play opposite returning starter Gareon Conley and both safeties will be new. The interior of the defensive line did not play up to the level Meyer wanted last season and starters Adolphus Washington and Tommy Schutt both are gone.
Defensive linemen like Mike Hill and Donovan Munger, defensive backs Damon Webb, Denzel Ward, Malik Hooker and Marshon Lattimore, if he can get healthy, will be looking to make a good impression in the spring and summer. Linebackers Chris Worley, Jerome Baker and Dante Booker will, too.
Ohio State’s recruiting classes have been ranked the best in the Big Ten the last six years in a row. This season living up to those rankings might matter more than most years.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.
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