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Know Your Enemy, Spring Edition: Ohio State Buckeyes

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Urban Meyer’s club has its eyes set on another College Football Playoff run.

NCAA Football: Ohio State at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Next up in our weekly Spring look-in at the 12 teams on the 2017 Iowa football schedule are the Ohio State Buckeyes. If you watched the NFL Draft a couple of weeks ago, you know they lost plenty of talent. That said, this is a team that simply re-loaded, especially on defense.

Let’s have a look:

2016 Synopsis

The Buckeye stormed out of the gates as expected last season, winning their first six games before being upset in Happy Valley by Penn State. After running the table the rest of the year, the College Football Playoff committee decided to give them a spot in the four-team tournament, despite not playing for the Big Ten title.

They were subsequently bounced in the Fiesta Bowl in blowout fashion by the eventual national champs, Clemson.

Who did they lose?

Ohio State lost arguably more elite players than anyone in the country. In all, seven Buckeyes were drafted this year — six of those were selected in the first three rounds. A pair of receivers in Noah Brown and Curtis Samuel are gone. The best center in the country in Pat Elflein moved on. One of the nation’s top linebackers, Raekwon McMillan departed and three of the best defensive back in the country — Gareon Conley, Malik Hooker and Marshon Lattimore — will all be playing on Sundays. Additionally, punter Cameron Johnston graduated. He signed as an undrafted free-agent with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Who do they return?

Quarterback J.T. Barrett — a perennial Heisman contender — returns to lead the offense. He’ll have running back Mike Weber behind him as well. Weber eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark as a freshman in 2016. They’ll line up behind four returning starters on the offensive line, led by center Billy Price and left tackle Jamarco Jones. Both should be finalists for every major award at their positions by season’s end.

When Barrett looks downfield to pass, he’ll have a dangerous deep-threat in Parris Campbell at receiver and one of the top tight ends in the Big Ten in Marcus Baugh as his top options.

On defense, Ohio State will go as far as the defensive line will carry them — and that could be all the way to the top. I’m convinced that the Buckeyes have the top defensive line unit in the country on paper, and the on-field production should prove me right. Defensive ends Sam Hubbard and Tyquan Lewis are both potential top-ten NFL Draft picks next year. Defensive tackles Dre’Mont Jones and Michael Hill will both make a living on Sundays one day as well. And don’t look now, but there is another Bosa wreaking havoc on the Big Ten: Nick Bosa logged five sacks as a freshman.

In the secondary, safety Damon Webb leads a talented-but-inexperienced group that will only get better by the week. Look for corner Denzel Ward to emerge as one of the better players in the conference at his position by season’s end.

Why should Iowa be worried?

Talent. Along with Penn State, the Buckeyes will be one of the two most talented teams on the Iowa schedule. The Buckeye offensive line will give the Hawkeye front seven all it can handle. Weber, Baugh, Campbell and Barrett are all as dangerous as you’ll find at their respective positions. They are going to get theirs as far as lighting up the scoreboard goes, it’s just a matter of Iowa being able to keep up. That will be easier said than done, as this might be the only time all season where Iowa’s offensive line is overmatched by the personnel lining up across from them.

Why should Iowa not be worried?

The Buckeyes have lost plenty of head-scratching games during the Urban Meyer-era. Teams that punch Ohio State in the mouth early and minimize mistakes tend to give the Buckeyes problems. Iowa has the personnel to do that. A solid front-seven led by one of the best linebacking corps in the conference could be what breaks the will of Ohio State as the game goes on. On the other side of the ball, Ohio State’s strength on the d-line is the pass rush. Akrum Wadley and the Hawkeye line have the ability to turn that defensive aggression into serious running lanes, keeping the ball and the clock moving and Barrett and Co. on the sidelines. If this is a night game and it’s close after the first half, all bets are off.

Key player for Ohio State

J.T. Barrett — He makes it all work on offense. There could be a standstill in the trenches, requiring Barrett to win this game with his arm. If he’s not on his game through the air, this one could get dicey for the Buckeyes. If he’s moving with ease and hitting his targets, it’ll be lights out in Iowa City, possibly pretty early.

Key Player(s) for Iowa

The Offensive Line — This is where push will come to shove quite literally. The best offensive line in the Big Ten vs. the best defensive line in college football. Iowa needs to move the ball, milk the clock and score points to have a chance in this one. The Hawkeye offensive line will need to play their best game all season to get that done.