By Pete Ruden
It’s a big season for Ohio State.
After suffering a rare 31-0 loss in the College Football Playoffs at the hands of Clemson, the Buckeyes will try to bounce back in a way reminiscent of the 2014 season, in which they took home the National Championship.
Still, even with suffering through that monumental loss, Ohio State’s talent cannot be denied. Last season’s squad was one of the youngest in the country, and it made it to the national semifinals.
This year, the Buckeyes have experience on their side.
They return eight starters on offense and seven on defense, making them one of the most experienced postseason teams in all of college football.
Even though Curtis Samuel is no longer suiting up in the Scarlet and Gray, Ohio State returns its two leading rushers: Quarterback J.T. Barrett is back to lead the offense, as is running back Mike Weber.
Most of the secondary, including first-round draft picks Malik Hooker, Marshon Lattimore, and Gareon Conley, have gone on to the NFL, but the defense is still more than capable of getting the job done.
That side of the ball will be anchored by linebacker Chris Worley, as well as a superb defensive line that includes Sam Hubbard and Tyquan Lewis.
That will be the core taking the field when they try to get the Clemson taste from last January out of their mouths.
“It’s awful, and it’s one of those things that’s still not completely out,” Worley said. “It’s one of those things we’re still recovering from. I don’t think we’ll ever get it completely out until we’re faced with another opportunity like that.”
Because of that taste, the Buckeyes have unfinished business on the field.
That unfinished business prompted Lewis to return for another year. He had a life-changing opportunity in front of him but opted for one last chance on the college gridiron.
Combine the result of last season with Lewis’ family life, and it adds up to another year in Columbus.
“It was more so about unfinished business on the field, but football wasn’t the main thing,” Lewis said. “It was more so about my family, about my life. That was the main thing.”
No matter how experienced this team is, though, the path back to the College Football Playoffs will not be easy. Playing in the Big Ten East, every week will be a battle, but that’s something head coach Urban Meyer is familiar with.
When he was the head coach of the Florida Gators, his teams played against the best of the best in the SEC East, including Georgia, South Carolina, and Tennessee, not to mention Alabama and Auburn in the West Division.
Now in his sixth season with Ohio State, Meyer doesn’t see a gap.
“I’ve coached in the SEC East when that was one of the strongest in the country, and I think the Big Ten East right now is every bit as strong as I can remember the SEC East,” he said.
The Buckeyes are one of the strongest teams in the stacked division, but even with all of the returning starters, there are plenty of position battles for Meyer to judge.
There’s a battle of seven players for the open right-guard position, in addition to the wide receiver and tight-end spots that Meyer said are “wide open.”
But everything a Buckeye kept saying in Chicago comes back to this: Though they now have experience, it’s a new team in a new year.
Last year is over, and even though the Clemson game is still in the back of their minds, the Buckeyes aren’t focused on it.
“That ship has sailed. It’s gone. And we’ve not addressed it. We’ve not talked about it,” Meyer said. “But where we’re at as a team, I like where we’re at. So we’re just pushing forward.”