Despite Recent Turmoil, Buckeyes Still Deemed Elite

By Jeff Rapp, August 8th, 2018

On Tuesday and after a day off, the Ohio State football team practiced for the fourth time this preseason. The Buckeyes, who had just checked into a local hotel, were in camp mode and wore pads. Coaches barked instructions – and none of them were Urban Meyer.

OSU’s wildly successful head coach remains on paid administrative leave while a university-appointed blue-ribbon panel investigates how he handled the delicate situation regarding former assistant Zach Smith, whom Meyer fired on July 23.

If the Meyer-Smith saga and national blowback are distractions, we aren’t hearing that from team members. That’s because they remain off limits to the media, who were allowed to observe a portion of Tuesday’s practice.

Still, speculation on Meyer’s future and how the current difficulty will affect the team this season, as one would expect, is rampant. While he awaits his fate, Ohio State is moving forward with offensive assistant Ryan Day in the role of acting coach.

The Buckeyes open the 2018 campaign against Oregon State on Sept. 1 (noon Eastern, ABC), have an early Big Ten contest against Rutgers the following week and then head to Dallas to face TCU in a nonconference game that will draw major attention across the country.

Meyer could miss one or all of those games if he’s suspended or, less likely, dismissed. Despite all the current uncertainty, one thing remains clear: The experts believe the Buckeyes are good enough to contend for a second consecutive Big Ten title and possible return to the College Football Playoff.

Voters for the Amway/USA Today poll, for example, like OSU enough for the Scarlet and Gray to rank No. 3 in the initial coaches poll, trailing only top-ranked and defending national champion Alabama and No. 2 Clemson.

It’s possible that some of the 65 members of the voting panel cast their votes on the evening of Aug. 1 after Meyer’s administrative leave was announced. Meyer, by the way, is on the panel.

USA Today published the complete results of the preseason poll on Aug. 2 with an accompanying paragraph preview of the top 25 teams. Of Ohio State, the publication said, “On the field, the Buckeyes have enough talent to repeat as Big Ten champions with RB J.K. Dobbins and DL Nick Bosa among their standouts. The chief concern is off the field. Head coach Urban Meyer is on leave as the school investigates his possible knowledge of alleged abuse by a former assistant.”

The Buckeyes have 13 returning starters (seven on offense, four on defense and two specialists) from last year’s 12-2 team that won the Big Ten title and took down USC in the Cotton Bowl.

The offense will be under the microscope early with Day trying to tutor new quarterback Dwayne Haskins, who will replace three-time captain and record-setting QB J.T. Barrett. The offensive line will have a new look with Isaiah Prince shifted to left tackle and a new center trying to fill the void left by Rimington Trophy winner Billy Price. Tons of playmakers return, though, most notably Dobbins, fellow running back Mike Weber and receiver Parris Campbell.

On defense, Bosa is a standout at end but no longer will receive help up front from Sam Hubbard, Tyquan Lewis and Jalyn Holmes. The linebacking spots have even more question marks and the secondary is without fourth-overall draft pick Denzel Ward, although safety Jordan Fuller is coming off a breakout season.

The Crimson Tide also must replace several reliable performers but their reputation and the presence of head coach Nick Saban drew ’Bama 61 first-place votes. Clemson received three votes in the top spot and OSU drew one.

Rounding out the rest of the top 10 were Georgia, Oklahoma, Washington, Wisconsin, Miami (Fla.), Penn State and Auburn. Notre Dame checks in next at No. 11 with Michigan State at No. 12 and Michigan at No. 14 – giving the Big Ten five teams in the top 15. TCU opens the season at No. 16.

The sentiment was similar at Big Ten Media Days in Chicago in late July as the majority of reporters there predicted the Buckeyes would repeat as winners of the Big Ten East and rematch with Wisconsin in the conference championship game.

OSU beat the Badgers in a 27-21 thriller in Indianapolis last season. In Meyer’s six seasons at Ohio State, the Buckeyes have advanced to three Big Ten Championship Games and won two of them.

In Chicago, Bosa was hailed as the conference’s preseason Defensive Player of the Year. Bosa was a magazine cover boy throughout the summer, appearing on the front of several preseason publications. One of them, Athlon, shows a helmetless Bosa in a three-point stance, promoting an exclusive Q & A with the talented junior.

Athlon tabs the Buckeyes as the nation’s fourth-best outfit and the team to beat in the Big Ten. Dobbins, left guard Michael Jordan, Bosa, defensive lineman Dre’Mont Jones and Fuller all were named to the magazine’s preseason All-Big Ten first team. Campbell and punter Drue Chrisman were identified as elite specialists.