COLUMBUS, Ohio — The reigning Big Ten champions are going back to work, and Ohio State has designs on adding even more to the trophy case this year.
That process starts now for the 2018 edition of the Buckeyes, who begin their 15-practice spring journey on Tuesday ahead of the annual spring game on April 14 in the Horseshoe.
The entire roster isn’t on campus yet. There isn’t a game that counts for months. And Mickey Marotti and the strength staff still have an entire summer to get their hands on the Buckeyes and get them ready for another run at some championships.
But this is still a meaningful stretch for Ohio State, particularly with some key positions open for competition — including the most important one on the roster. So, ahead of the opening practice of camp, here are our five predictions for what will play out over the next few weeks.
1. Dwayne Haskins will win starting quarterback job
There is a distinct possibility that Urban Meyer won’t confirm who will be officially sliding into J.T. Barrett’s old role leading the offense by the end of camp. There also may well be good reasons not to make a public declaration, from the potential motivational value of keeping the competition open into training camp or maybe just leaving some doubt for opponents trying to do some advance scouting work on the Buckeyes. But the bet here is Dwayne Haskins and his big arm will make the strongest impression on the practice field, making it clear by April that he will be the pick to lead the Buckeyes on the road back to earning a College Football Playoff bid.
2. Tate Martell will still steal show in spring game
The clamoring for the dual-threat weapon coming off his redshirt season isn’t going to die down any time soon, and the exhibition game in April will probably only ramp up the buzz to get him involved. Given how Ohio State has showcased other athletes with versatile skill sets on some previous gorgeous afternoons in April with nothing on the line other than intrasquad bragging rights, it seems likely Martell is going to get a chance to do more than just throw passes with a huge crowd watching in the Shoe. Does that mean he’s definitely going to have a package of plays ready for the season assuming Haskins wins the job? Hey, that’s a prediction for training camp.
3. The secondary will lay foundation for dominance
There were some growing pains early last season for cornerbacks Kendall Sheffield and Damon Arnette. And it sounds kind of crazy to look at a unit that loses a likely first-round pick in Denzel Ward and a position coach in Kerry Coombs who made developing NFL talent look frighteningly easy and proclaim that it can be even better this season. But that’s probably what’s going to happen with Sheffield and Arnette having clearly matured, Jeffrey Okudah emerging as a future star, safety Jordan Fuller already playing at a high-end level and a scary amount of elite recruits waiting for a shot at playing time. Ohio State has an embarrassment of riches in the secondary, and the only challenge this spring is figuring out what to do with them all.
4. Thayer Munford is the name to know at Ohio State
For all the attention on the quarterbacks, Ohio State needs to find some answers when it comes to protecting the passer and opening up holes for a backfield loaded with quality tailbacks. Again, the Buckeyes have recruited well up front, have plenty of viable candidates to put together a stout, aggressive group of blockers and could keep the competition going into August. But after getting just a taste of experience last season, Thayer Munford is poised to break out and nail down a starting job at right tackle — assuming Isaiah Prince moves to the left side, which doesn’t feel like all that much of a bold projection.
5. The biggest cheer of spring will go to an honorary coach
The announcement that Ryan Shazier will be returning to the Horseshoe for some honorary duties at the spring game should give fans plenty of time to prepare emotionally for what should be a truly special moment. The former Ohio State linebacker and member of the Pittsburgh Steelers has handled his spinal injury with the same kind of relentlessly positive attitude and off-the-charts athleticism that has defined his career since college. And coming back to be around the Buckeyes and a fan base that has rallied to support him should be unforgettable for everybody involved. Spring games have become a time for unique, special moments around the country — and simply welcoming Shazier back with the Buckeyes after all he’s been through will be one for sure.