Ohio State Football: 5 Biggest Offseason Goals for Buckeyes
This time last year, Ohio State was coming off a historic postseason run and was the odds-on favorite to repeat as national champion in 2015. But after falling short of that goal and losing eight starters on each side of the ball, the tone for this offseason will be very different in Columbus, Ohio.
The Buckeyes, who are currently working through their winter conditioning, will be filling out a new-look two-deep rotation while breaking in a key new addition to the coaching staff.
With so many questions and unknowns surrounding Urban Meyer's squad, here are five things to watch during a crucial offseason.
Beat Michigan Again
Urban Meyer is a perfect 4-0 against Michigan as the head man at Ohio State, but he'll be looking for another victory off the field on national signing day.
The Buckeyes' 22-member class is headlined by 5-star defensive end Nick Bosa, and it ranks No. 2 nationally behind LSU, and more importantly, one spot ahead of the rival Wolverines. Jim Harbaugh's 24-member class, anchored by 4-star offensive tackle Ben Bredeson and 4-star quarterback Brandon Peters, is threatening the Buckeyes' four-year run of signing the Big Ten's best recruiting class.
A lot of coaches don't care about recruiting rankings, but that isn't the case for Meyer. He keeps track of the standing, especially when it comes to Michigan.
"We do keep score against the rival in everything we do, and they're great recruiters; they always have been," Meyer said last February, according to Dan Rogers of Buckeyes Grove. "But absolutely you keep score of that one."
Build Around J.T. Barrett
Unlike last year, there's no question as to who will lead the Ohio State offense heading into the 2016 season.
The quarterback controversy that hung over the entire 2015 campaign turned into a major distraction, serving as a part of the dysfunction in the Buckeyes offense. With Cardale Jones declaring for the NFL draft, J.T. Barrett will be the unquestioned centerpiece of the offense this fall.
And with so many departures at wide receiver and running back, Urban Meyer wants to bring more balance to the Ohio State offense and put more of the game in Barrett's hands.
“We're going to adapt our offense here a little bit in the offseason. I want to make some adjustments," Meyer said, according to Patrick Murphy of The Ozone. He later added, “I want more of a balance, like we were in 2014. We need to throw the ball.”
With Elliott in the backfield, the Buckeyes only threw the ball on 36.4 percent of its offensive snaps in 2016. Considering Barrett will be the most experienced and explosive playmaker this fall, Meyer would be smart to build his offense around him.
Identify Ezekiel Elliott's Replacement
How do you replace a running back who tore through Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon and carried the team during the entire 2015 season?
That's a question Urban Meyer will have to answer this offseason, and he has a couple of explosive options in Curtis Samuel and Mike Weber.
Samuel was Elliott's primary backup during Ohio Sate's title run in 2014, but he moved to the perimeter last year in an effort to utilize his playmaking ability. But Samuel's reported foot surgery may open the door for Weber, who was in line to back up Elliott last season before a knee injury derailed his 2015 season.
Before that knee injury, Weber was breaking out during fall camp and providing a spark for the second-team offense. He was at his best during a camp scrimmage, when he ran the ball 15 times for nearly 200 yards and "a few touchdowns," according to Dave Biddle of 247Sports.
Is Weber destined to be the next great running back at Ohio State, or will Samuel be healthy enough to spark a position battle this spring?
Reload at Wide Receiver
Ohio State's wide receiver corps was hit hardest by early deflections and graduation. With the departures of Michael Thomas, Jalin Marshall and Braxton Miller, Urban Meyer will need starters at all three of his receiver spots this year.
Fortunately for the Buckeyes, there's loads of talent on the perimeter just waiting to prove itself.
It'll start with Noah Brown's return. Brown was primed to have a breakout 2015 before a leg injury ended his season in fall camp.
Find a Groove Under New Defensive Coordinator Greg Schiano
Co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash's departure could have derailed the progress Ohio State made defensively over the last two years, but Urban Meyer hauled in a big-time replacement in former Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Greg Schiano.
The defensive-minded coach is ready to pair with co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell and enhance what he and Ash had built since the start of 2014.
"I had a chance to meet with Luke before I took the opportunity. So he and I talked through a lot of different scenarios, and I'm very comfortable with what I'm here to do, and it's going to be a great situation," Schiano said, according to Doug Lesmerises of the Plain Dealer. "Again, playing great defense. So just anyway that I can enhance and help, that's what I'm here for."
Ohio State has to replace likely first-round picks Joey Bosa (defensive end), Darron Lee (linebacker) and Eli Apple (cornerback)—and eight starters total—so it will be important for Schiano and Fickell to jell quickly.
All recruiting information via 247Sports.
David Regimbal is the Ohio State football lead writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.