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Hawkeye Football Opponent Preview: Ohio State Buckeyes

How will the Buckeyes bounce back after their CFP championship hopes were dashed last season?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 28 CFP Semifinal at the Fiesta Bowl - Clemson v Ohio State Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

As we countdown the days and weeks until the beginning of the Iowa football season, we’ll be previewing each of Iowa’s opponents in 2020. While the season may seem more and more unlikely by the day, there are still games on the schedule as of this moment, so we’re previewing the teams, even if we don’t know when the season might start anymore after the Big Ten cancelled all fall non-conference games in every sport, instead slating only conference opponents for all seasons.

But we’ll keep on going until we have nothing to write about, and then we’ll just write about other random stuff. Our fifth and latest entry in our series of previews is Iowa’s Week 6 (maybe?) matchup against the Ohio State Buckeyes, the reigning Big Ten champions, who fell against Clemson in the College Football Playoff and lost tons of talent on both sides of the ball.

Ohio State Buckeyes

2019 Record: 2019 Record: 13-1 (10-0), 1st in Big Ten East, Big Ten Champions

The Ohio State Buckeyes looked unstoppable in the 2019 regular season, riding an undefeated campaign all the way to Indianapolis for a Big Ten Championship title, leaving all its opponents in the dust on the way, all during head coach Ryan Day’s first full season at the helm of the program. But Trevor Lawrence and the Clemson Tigers put an end to the Buckeyes’ title hopes with an epic 4th quarter come-from-behind victory.

It was a sour end to what was an incredible season for Ohio State. The Buckeyes essentially cruised to a 12-0 season, with not even one close call, thanks to an explosive offense led by quarterback Justin Fields and running back J.K. Dobbins, and an even more explosive defense led by defensive end Chase Young and an elite secondary.

A lot of talent on both sides of the football are gone. But Fields and a few key offensive linemen return, and this is still Ohio State we’re talking about. There’s yet to be untapped talent up and down the roster.

Key Departures

The biggest departure, as mentioned above, is Young, who was drafted 2nd overall in last year’s draft by the Washington Unnamed Professional Football Team. He had an incredible junior season, garnering recognition after recognition, and was a key component of Ohio State’s insane margin of victory in every game except the Big Ten Championship and the loss to Clemons in the CFP Semifinal. According to ESPN’s Bill Connelly, “Despite being increasingly double-teamed as 2019 went on [Young] generated pressure on 19% of his pass rushes (easily the most among players with 200-plus attempts) and sacked QBs 16.5 times (also the most).” That’s ridiculous, and I agree with Connelly, who says that no matter what kind of talent steps into the role, they probably won’t be able to match Young’s contribution.

The defense will also hurt from the loss of a lot of talent in the secondary, most notably its starting corners, both of whom were taken in the first round as well. Jeff Okudah was drafted right behind young at No. 3 overall by the Lions, while Damon Arnette was drafted No. 19 overall by the Raiders. The team lost a lot of talent at safety as well, with Jordan Fuller declaring early for the draft and being picked up by the Los Angeles Rams in the 6th round, while his teammate Brendon White transferred to Rutgers for his final year of eligibility.

Offensively, the team lost running back Dobbins as mentioned above, who was selected in the 2nd round of the draft by the Ravens with the 55th overall pick after rushing for over 2000 yards on the season. Gone too is top receiver KJ Hill, the school’s all-time leading receiver, who was picked up by the Chargers in the Draft, along with Binjimen Victor.

But again, this is Ohio State, a program that annually loses elite talent and still follows up with at least a shot at playing in the CFP (unless they travel to Iowa City, that is...) thanks to great recruiting and key returning talent.

Key Returners

The offense will be just fine with Fields under center once again. Throw him into the mix, and good things will continue to happen for the Buckeyes. Add in the fact that he will be protected by standouts Thayer Munford and Nick Petit-Frere at tackles. Running back will most likely see a by-committee approach, as sophomore Master Teague III (great name) continues to heal from an Achilles injury. He was the team’s second leading rusher last season with 789 yards and four touchdowns. He’ll be joined by Oklahoma transfer Trey Sermon — a key addition for the team — and fellow sophomore Marcus Crowley, along with RS freshman Steele Chambers.

At wideout, the squad will have plenty of returning, if inexperienced talent with Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson, who combined for over 1,000 receiving yards last year. Incoming freshman Julian Fleming is poised to be an interesting addition as well.

Defensively, Jonathan Cooper will return, albeit from injury, and at DE, Tyreke Smith and Zach Harrison have experience, but will need to get up to speed quickly. Linebacker Pete Werner returns as well after logging 64 tackles, along with playmaker Tuf Borland (So many good names on this squad). The defense will have work to do replacing so many of its top tacklers, but the offense will probably be explosive enough that it won’t matter, especially early in the season (despite being against Big Ten opponents). And at corner, Shaun Wade returns, ready to step into the limelight after the standout performances at corner last season.

And I’d be remiss as always to not mention special teams, with returning senior talent from punter Drue Chrisman and placekicker Blake Haubeil

2020 Preview

It’s tough to say what will happen now with this Ohio State squad given all the uncertainties with the season. They have enough talent to be right there at the top of the Big Ten, but as the schedule stands currently, the Buckeyes have a tough slate of games, particularly a rough stretch on the road against Michigan State and Penn State in back-to-back weeks.

No matter how shaky the defense is initially, with Fields running the offense, Dobbins or no Dobbins, the team will find success. They just might not steamroll through whatever conference slate they have again, especially with no tune up games.

Normality is out the window now, so anything goes, but this will be a team that wins the vast majority of their...9 games? 10 games? There are still so many unknowns at this point (like whether there will be any sort of season at all) but if football gets played, Ohio State will be at or near the top of the Big Ten standings.

It’s also worth nothing, however, that last week Ohio State paused its voluntary practices for every program because of an unknown number of positive COVID-19 tests among athletes in all sports. However, as of Tuesday, practice has resumed, according to ESPN. I look to Ohio State to be the conference’s guiding force here. If the star-studded program ends up deciding to continue pausing practices, or go against the conference’s wishes and declare that they won’t play due to whatever reason, it would probably cause the whole conference to just shut down the season, or move it to spring. But who knows.

Iowa/OSU Prediction

No woodshed this time, sadly. I think this Ohio State squad will just have too much talent for Iowa to keep up with, especially if the two teams meet in the third game of the season. It might be closer than we might think, but Ohio State will take the victory.

Ohio State 27, Iowa 17