Talk of 2016 repeat for Ohio State starts
Dallas — Here’s the scary part for the rest of major-college football: Some of Ohio State’s best players didn’t play in Monday night’s championship game, and many of those who did are coming back.
“We’ll be very good,” Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer said in the understatement of the season.
Asked about repeating, he smiled and said, “Tough questions, man. We just won a championship!”
Sure, but it’s hard to hide the fact that the Buckeyes are loaded. Half of their starters in the championship game were freshmen or sophomores.
The quarterback who led the Buckeyes to a 3-0 postseason mark, including the 42-20 victory over Oregon, said on Tuesday that he’s not ready for the NFL and will be coming back.
“To me, right now, it’s far out,” Cardale Jones said.
As far as staying in the fold, the same goes for the two injured stars who used to be in front of him: the graduated Braxton Miller (shoulder surgery) and spectacular sophomore-to-be J.T. Barrett (broken ankle).
A four-word caveat should be added for all three players’ commitment statements: “at least for now.”
So those headlines about a three-way quarterback competition don’t look like they’re going away immediately. And that could be a distraction, possibly a disruption. We’ll see.
Another major consideration is finding replacements for some not inconsequential personnel: Meyer’s choice for team MVP, receiver Evan Spencer; tight end Jeff Heuerman; linemen Michael Bennett and Steve Miller; linebacker Curtis Grant and shut-down corner Doran Grant.
But in each situation, it appears there are quality players waiting in the wings. Three of the top recruits — wide receiver Johnnie Dixon, reputedly the fastest player on the roster; linebacker Kyler Berger; and cornerback Marshon Lattimore — were injured and redshirted. If healthy, they’ll jump right back into the battle for spots on the two-deep.
One other notable absence is one of the architects of Ohio State’s offense, coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tom Herman. He took the Houston job last month, and will be replaced by Nebraska coordinator Tim Beck.
Herman was invaluable, but it’s Meyer’s system. The Buckeyes added a defensive coordinator, Chris Ash, a year ago and that turned out fine, with the defense revamped by Ash continually coming up big down the stretch.
That’s about it, however, for changes, losses and possible problem areas.
Championship game MVP Ezekiel Elliott, leading receiver Michael Thomas and everybody else on both lines, at linebacker and in the secondary, are returning.
“I wonder what they’ll question now,” Thomas said in the celebratory locker room. “It’s a blessing to be in this situation, this position. I felt we deserve it 100 percent. And we’ll be back next year.”
Of course, Meyer is one of the sport’s pre-eminent recruiters. Less than 12 hours after hoisting the CFP trophy, he was talking about chasing potential Buckeyes on Thursday.
Now he will make visits as the coach of the national champions.
“Oh, the door’s open,” the three-time national championship coach said of the reception from recruits in the wake of a title. “You move to the front of the line.”
So the deck seems stacked. Certainly, there’s no doubt that the talent level is high. Ohio State loses some of the team’s best leaders, but every team deals with that. And Meyer and his staff will be on the lookout for complacency.
Safety Tyvis Powell, the defensive player of the game on Monday night, doesn’t duck from the high expectations.
“After getting a taste for it, we know the things we have to do to get here,” he said.
“All we basically have to do is continue that culture and keep that same intensity and carry it over to the next season, and we should be able to come here again.”
Then he grinned as he watched his teammates dancing around him as the party got started.