The Ohio State Buckeyes have won 25 of their last 26 games, with the only loss coming on a last-second field goal to a team, Michigan State, that qualified for the College Football Playoff. Urban Meyer is 50-4 at Ohio State, which is phenomenal, but he’ll face perhaps his toughest coaching challenge in 2016.
That’s because the Buckeyes return just six starters – the fewest in America – and have a tough schedule that includes games against Oklahoma, Michigan and Michigan State, among others.
“They lost a lot,” former Heisman Trophy winner and NFL Pro Bowler Eddie George said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “A lot of leadership, too. When you look at Ohio State, it all starts with J.T. Barrett. I think he’s been the catalyst for this team for pretty much the last two years. They had the Cardale Jones experiment after winning the championship and starting most of the season last year until they got erratic play out of him. But I think moving forward, they found that it was more settled and stable with J.T. Barrett. If (you’re stable) at the quarterback position, it all starts there.”
Barrett will lead the offense and linebacker Raekwon McMillan will lead the defense, but both units have to develop quickly if the Buckeyes hope to stay in the playoff picture.
“They’re going to have a great deal of talent but a lot of inexperience,” said George, who starred at Ohio State in the mid-1990s. “They’re going to have to navigate those waters early. That’s where the leadership of J.T. Barrett is definitely going to come into play to help them get through that period. It’s not going to be easy. They have to go out to Norman and play Oklahoma at their place, a team that’s going to be ranked in the top five preseason. That’s going to be an experience for them. I still think they’ll be in the thick of things. They’ll continue to mature and develop over the course of the season. They’ll be high on everybody’s list to win the Big Ten and so forth, but it’s going to be a challenge for them to find out who they are early on.”
George also discussed his other former team, the Tennessee Titans, for whom he played from 1996 to 2003. The Titans went just 3-13 last year – and are 5-27 over the last two seasons – but George has high hopes for Marcus Mariota, who, all things considered, played pretty well as a rookie, accounting for 21 touchdowns (19 pass, two rush) and 3,000+ total yards.
George expects even more out of Mariota in 2016.
“Usually for rookies, your greatest leap year is your second year,” he said. “For him, he had great success, I thought. I don’t look at the wins. I look at the quality of work that he put put there when he was healthy. I think now they have a clearer understanding of how they want to approach this season by running the ball first, protecting their quarterback with a strong running game, and they invested in the offensive line to protect him in passing situations. He’s a smart quarterback, makes very little mistakes, a great leader on the field and he’s a threat to run as well. He’s poised to have a breakout year. I think they have the weapons around him to really support him. They have DeMarco Murray running the football, they drafted another Heisman Trophy winner in Derrick Henry out of Alabama. I think the Titans could be a surprise team out of the South, a division that’s kind of up for grabs. You think about the Colts, how they came back to the pack a little bit. Jacksonville, they’ve improved a little bit. You don’t know what you’re going to get out of Houston. So I think the field is wide open for the Titans to gain some confidence early. If they can stay healthy and gain some confidence early and really find out who they are early in the season to see if they can go on a roll, I’m curious and excited to see just what they’re going to do this year.”