Ohio State Football: The Biggest Offseason Storylines for the Buckeyes
Ohio State was supposed to be in the midst of another playoff run, but an upset loss to Michigan State in Week 12 kept Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes from repeating as national champions.
The Buckeyes' offseason got off to an earlier start than expected after they bulldozed Notre Dame 44-28 in the Fiesta Bowl. It was a big win, but the thrill of it fell short of the lofty expectations Ohio State entered the season with, as it was the first-ever unanimous No. 1 team in the AP Top 25 preseason poll.
With so much talent leaving Columbus and heading to the NFL, next year's Buckeyes will look a lot different when they open the season next September against Bowling Green.
Here are the top storylines to look out for until then.
National Signing Day
Recruiting will always be big news with Urban Meyer at the helm, and on national signing day next month, he'll look to ink the Big Ten's best recruiting class for the fifth straight season—and possibly the No. 1 class overall.
The Buckeyes' 18-member class currently ranks second nationally behind LSU's, but with the targets still left on the board, they can make a serious run at the top spot.
It starts at quarterback with Dwayne Haskins, a 4-star quarterback and current Maryland commit. The Buckeyes reentered the picture when Randy Edsall was fired as the Terrapins head coach. In addition to Haskins, Meyer is trying to lure some top-flight wide receivers to complement the passing attack with targets such as 4-stars Sam Bruce, Binjimen Victor and Donnie Corley.
But with only a handful of remaining scholarships available, Meyer and the Ohio State coaching staff will have to be selective down the stretch.
The Young Guns in Spring Practice
With the early defections to the NFL, Ohio State is set to replace an incredible eight starters on each side of the ball for the 2016 season.
That attrition will make another run at the College Football Playoff difficult, but it'll open up some big opportunities for some of Ohio State's younger players.
Defensively, each position unit will get one starter back with defensive end Tyquan Lewis, linebacker Raekwon McMillan and cornerback Gareon Conley. Thanks to Meyer's recruiting efforts, there's a deep talent pool at every level, but there's little experience to complement it.
Defensive end Sam Hubbard and tackle Michael Hill got their feet wet in 2015, which will pay off as they're expected to start in 2016. The linebacker unit will promote Dante Booker and Chris Worley to flank McMillan.
On the back end, safety Erick Smith and cornerback Marshon Lattimore—who played as teammates at Cleveland Glenville High School—will play alongside Conley.
Offensively, the Buckeyes have their centerpiece to build around in quarterback J.T. Barrett, but they'll have to identify new starters for the entire wide receiver unit in addition to the tight end and running back positions.
But like with the defense, there's a lot of talent lurking on the depth chart.
Torrance Gibson remains the most intriguing possibility. The former quarterback turned wide receiver battled an ankle injury that prevented him from seeing the field in 2015, but after rumors of transferring, he reaffirmed his commitment to Ohio State and is still entertaining the opportunity of playing on the perimeter.
"I made some strides. Michael Thomas, Jalin Marshall, those guys have been teaching me a lot about being a receiver. Receiver just came naturally to me," Gibson said, according to Eric Seger of Eleven Warriors.
"I gotta work on a few things, but I'll be ready next year. Guarantee I'll be ready," Gibson later added, via Seger. "During the summer, I'll be working my ass off—excuse my language—to get on that field next year."
J.T. Barrett's Improvement
After a year of uncertainty at quarterback, there's no question as to whose team this will be when the Buckeyes kick off their 2016 season.
That fact alone gives Ohio State an edge it didn't have in 2015. With Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett in the fold, the Buckeyes had to split repetitions and style during their preparation for their title defense, which significantly hindered the chemistry and momentum of the offense.
That lack of chemistry was on display in the early part of the year, when Ohio State struggled through sluggish performances against the likes of Hawaii, Northern Illinois and Western Michigan.
The Buckeyes didn't gain significant traction until they settled on Barrett at quarterback, and with the exception of the Michigan State game, the offense started to produce at the rate most expected coming into the year.
With no questions at quarterback heading into 2016, Ohio State should be able to build some semblance of continuity, which will be vitally important with so many players heading to the NFL.
Ohio State's Historic NFL Draft Showing
Ohio State is going to own the NFL draft.
The wave of talent that's leaving Columbus to crash on draft night in Chicago will be staggering. Defensive end Joey Bosa leads the charge and is widely considered Ohio State's best draft prospect and a likely top-five pick.
But he's not the only first-round talent—Bleacher Report's Matt Miller is projecting an incredible seven Buckeyes to be taken on the first night of the draft.
NFL Draft season is here, who will your team take in the first round? pic.twitter.com/0appPmSkVB— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) January 4, 2016
While Ohio State is projected to comprise of 22.6 percent of the first-round talent this year, it doesn't stop there.
Receiver Braxton Miller, safety Tyvis Powell, defensive tackle Adolphus Washington and quarterback Cardale Jones headline the Buckeyes' second-tier draft prospects, and guys such as receiver Jalin Marshall, linebacker Joshua Perry, defensive tackle Tommy Schutt, tight end Nick Vannett and offensive lineman Jacoby Boren are mid- to late-round prospects.
If all those players are drafted, and the first round goes down as Matt Miller projected, Ohio State will break two records on draft night—most first-round picks from one school (the previous record is six, per Ben Axelrod of Bleacher Report) and most draft picks overall from one school (the previous record is 14).
All recruiting information via 247Sports.
David Regimbal is the Ohio State football lead writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.