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Five Questions as Buckeyes start building for next season

Justin Fields-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football
Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields will be returning as a favorite for the Heisman Trophy. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Ohio State Football

Five Questions as Buckeyes start building for next season

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Ohio State made its return to the College Football Playoff, and it will certainly feel like it should have stayed there longer.

And while there are several excuses the Buckeyes could make for why they didn’t, that didn’t happen in a somber locker room after the Fiesta Bowl on Saturday night after the 29-23 loss to Clemson.

Ohio State pointed the finger at itself, not untimely injuries or blatantly blown calls. And then it turned its attention to the future and what it can do to make sure it gets back for another shot at a national championship next season.

“We didn’t do what we came here to accomplish,” Ohio State guard Wyatt Davis said. “And since I’m definitely coming back, this will give me more motivation to go even harder.”

The Buckeyes certainly weren’t lacking for effort in the College Football Playoff, and the matchup did live up to its billing with arguably the two most complete teams in the nation battling for a spot in the title game in New Orleans.

Ohio State just came up a couple plays short and one win shy of where it wanted to go.

“With the way this year went, I definitely do think we took a step forward,” Buckeyes quarterback Justin Fields said. “But, of course, it didn’t end the way it wanted to — but we took a step in the national race.”

Now the Buckeyes have to turn their attention to taking one more. A busy offseason is officially underway for Ryan Day and his program as he heads into his second year in charge, and Lettermen Row is starting to turn the page with Five Questions for the start of that process.

Kerry Coombs-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football

Former Ohio State cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs could return to the program. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Can Ohio State reel in Kerry Coombs?

The first order of business for the Buckeyes has been clear since the moment Jeff Hafley accepted the job offer from Boston College earlier this month, and landing another elite secondary coach is an absolute necessity. The Buckeyes know full well what kind of impact Kerry Coombs can have for the program as a recruiter, talent-developer and energy-giving force on the staff, and sources have told Lettermen Row that Day will wait until he gets a decision from the current Tennessee Titans cornerbacks coach before pursuing other candidates. The fit is obvious for Ohio State, especially now that Coombs has two more seasons of experience at the NFL level that should have him ready for that co-coordinator role. The decision will be up to Coombs, and that’s the first major domino for the Buckeyes.

How will Buckeyes proceed to fill offensive staff?

A parting of ways after one season with Mike Yurcich has felt like an inevitability for a while, and a move there leaves Day with a chance to retool his offensive staff and perhaps find a better cultural fit and recruiter to work with his quarterbacks. Day is always going to be the primary draw for the offense, and Kevin Wilson has proven himself to be an invaluable asset alongside him in the meeting room. It’s early and unclear exactly what direction Day will go to replace Yurcich, but the departure does open up at least one opportunity to give Brian Hartline more money and potentially more responsibility — which could be significant to keep him safely locked up with his alma mater. The loss of Yurcich is absolutely not a surprise for the Buckeyes, and odds are Day is already working off a short list of candidates. Right now, though, it’s unclear where that search will lead.

Chase Young-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football

Ohio State defensive end Chase Young is expected to declare for the NFL Draft. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Who will be leaving Ohio State early for NFL Draft?

The stinging defeat in the Fiesta Bowl might be the kind of unfinished business that could prompt a couple on-the-fence players to return for another season at Ohio State, especially because the pieces are there to get right back to the College Football Playoff again. Jeff Okudah admitted that might factor into his decision, although as a projected top-10 pick at cornerback alongside potential No. 1 overall Chase Young, those two defenders seem unlikely to risk millions of dollars to come back to campus. Offensive linemen Wyatt Davis, Josh Myers and Thayer Munford have all indicated they will return, which is a huge deal for the Buckeyes. And from there, the attention will shift to pending decisions from guys like versatile defensive back Shaun Wade, linebacker Baron Browning and record-setting tailback J.K. Dobbins. The assumption has long been that Dobbins will head to the next level, but the Buckeyes will be waiting official word from him and Wade as those moves will be critical in establishing the ceiling for next year’s roster.

Does Justin Fields need rest or surgery?

Justin Fields was upfront and honest about what he was going through with his injured knee, and eventually Ohio State pulled the reins and told the sophomore quarterback to stop talking about his health and the brace on his left leg. The Buckeyes called it a sprained MCL after going down against Penn State and aggravating it the following week against Michigan, and even after three weeks of rehab, Fields was clearly still not at full speed against Clemson. So, is there anything structurally wrong with the knee that will require surgery or does Fields just need a couple weeks away from practice and games to allow the knee to heal on its own? Obviously there’s plenty of time for Fields if a medical procedure is necessary, and the Buckeyes won’t need to rush him back just for the sake of Mat Drills in the winter. But another year of physical development for Fields under Mickey Marotti figures to be a big bonus for him and could take him to another level.

Will Ohio State use transfer portal again?

Regardless of what Wade winds up doing with his future, there appears to be a need for Ohio State to add another starting-caliber player in the secondary as the Silver Bullets reload — assuming Okudah jumps to the NFL as expected with Damon Arnette and Jordan Fuller having both graduated. The Buckeyes have talent waiting in the wings, and Josh Proctor appears ready to take the next step as a single-high safety and guys like Sevyn Banks and Cameron Brown are poised to take their shot at cornerback. But especially after losing both Isaiah Pryor and Brendon White during the season, the numbers in the defensive backfield are taking a hit. And if a perfect fit like the one Jonah Jackson provided on the offensive line last year emerges, expect the Buckeyes to be aggressive in trying to recruit some help in the secondary.

Austin Ward

Austin Ward is Lettermen Row's senior writer covering Ohio State football and basketball. The award-winning journalist has covered the Buckeyes since 2012, spending five of those seasons working for ESPN after previous stints at the Casper Star-Tribune and Knoxville News Sentinel.