Ohio State football has an intense fan base with fans from all over the country. It also has a significant amount of people and organizations that cover the team, and, following in the footsteps of what Scott Bell did on the Michigan beat, Buckeye Sports Bulletin wanted to get the answers of what they were expecting from the team this season, as well as which players they think will step up.
BSB spoke to 31 members of the Ohio State beat across the past few weeks, and four of our writers – Wyatt Crosher, Joe Dempsey, Andrew Lind and Patrick Mayhorn – also answered the same questions, giving the poll 35 unique answers about everything from Ohio State’s title chances to which freshman will have a breakout season.
Ohio State’s Record Through Nine Games: This was a near-unanimous decision from the beat, with 34 out of 35 polled saying that Ohio State would go undefeated through the regular season and the Big Ten Championship.
The lone voter for a loss, Tom Orr of Buckeye Scoop, had the Buckeyes losing in Week 2 against Penn State.
Ohio State’s Playoff Ranking: Orr still had Ohio State in the College Football Playoff despite the early season loss, meaning all 35 beat members were unanimous in the Buckeyes making the top four after the championship game.
From there, 62.9 percent said Ohio State would be ranked second, while 24.3 percent said third, 8.6 percent said first and 4.3 percent said fourth. The ½ point shown is from Buckeye Grove’s Griffin Strom, who said Ohio State would finish “3 or 4.”
Will Ohio State Win A National Title: One of the more even splits from the group came with this question, but just over 60 percent (61.8) had Ohio State avenging last year’s loss in the playoff, and this time coming home with the hardware.
Rob Oller of The Columbus Dispatch specified “but REALLY close” when picking against the Buckeyes, while Bill Rabinowitz of the Dispatch said he likes the Buckeyes chances, but said he voted no “because I think it’s incredibly difficult to win one.”
Jacob Benge of Buckeye Grove elected to keep this one to be determined because “it’s so hard to predict a champion for any sport.”
Ohio State’s Team MVP: Another on that almost had the same answer across the board, this open-ended question on Ohio State’s most valuable player almost all ended with quarterback Justin Fields, and understandably so considering his run last year as a Heisman Trophy finalist.
But Patrick Murphy of Bucknuts went with defensive end and fellow captain Jonathon Cooper, who returns following a redshirt season in 2019. “I view this award differently than most and take ‘most valuable’ literally. I think Cooper is going to impact this team in more ways than the stats indicate,” Murphy said.
Ohio State’s Leading Rusher: One of the most interesting position battles comes at running back, where Oklahoma transfer Trey Sermon and returning sophomore Master Teague are likely to be the two toward the top of the depth chart.
The poll displayed that, with 77.1 percent of voters picking Sermon to come out victorious. There was also one wild card vote, with The Athletic’s Ari Wasserman going for Fields – who had 484 yards and 10 scores on the ground in 2019 – as the top rusher for the Buckeyes this season.
Ohio State’s Leading Receiver: Ohio State loses three core wide outs from last season, but also is bringing in four top 100 prospects to fill the gaps. The two main returners – junior Chris Olave and sophomore Garrett Wilson – received almost every vote, with Olave (68.6 percent) taking a rather strong majority.
Again, there was an outlier, this time from Eleven Warriors’ Zack Carpenter, who is picking true freshman Jaxon Smith-Njigba to come in and be the top vote-getter. Buckeye Grove’s Kevin Noon and Buckeye Scoop’s Tony Gerdeman both split the vote between Olave and Wilson, with Noon liking Olave for receptions and yards, but Wilson for touchdowns and Gerdeman picking Wilson for catches, but Olave for yards.
Ohio State’s Sack Leader: In a closer battle than most of the other polls, the beat voted that sophomore Zach Harrison was most likely to lead Ohio State in sacks this season, earning 57.1 percent of the votes.
Not too far behind was junior Tyreke Smith (28.6 percent) with half the votes of Harrison, while a pair of seniors in Cooper and linebacker Baron Browning were seen as dark horses to finish at the top.
Ohio State’s Interception Leader: The question of who would lead Ohio State in interceptions this season had by far the most debate, and for good reasoning considering Jeff Okudah’s three picks led the team a season ago, and because the starters are not locked in minus preseason All-American Shaun Wade.
But Wade only got 24.3 percent of the vote, and he trailed the two lead candidates: safety Josh Proctor (37.1 percent) and cornerback Sevyn Banks (31.4 percent). Cameron Brown earned half a vote, along with Wade, from NBC4’s Jerod Smalley, who had the interceptions leader as a tie.
Ohio State’s Breakout Freshman: This question led to the most diversity in answers, with six different freshmen getting mentioned, but Smith-Njigba was far and away the top pick, earning 61.4 percent of the votes while fellow wide out Julian Fleming was next closest at 14.3 percent.
Safety Kourt Williams was the lone defender selected, and he also split a vote for Carpenter, who had him along with Smith-Njigba. Noon put quarterback C.J. Stroud, with his reasoning being that Ohio State “will need to rotate some when games get out of hand and to protect Fields, and that the wide receivers “will cancel each other out and Stroud (will be) left standing.”
Here’s a look at the full results of the poll:
This is a story from the Oct. 17 print edition of BSB. For four free issues of the print edition, no card required, sign up at the link here: http://www.buckeyesports.com/subscribe-4issue-trial/