COLUMBUS — The work never really ends at Ohio State.
Even when the Buckeyes try to tap the brakes, there are still roster decisions being made, coaches evaluating the future and workouts just around the corner with the next wave of freshmen set to arrive shortly.
So, Ohio State was clearly exhausted after the most bizarre season in the modern era of college football, and the program tried to build in a breather after the title-game loss to Alabama. But the wheels never truly stop spinning for a team that already is putting together a plan to defend the Big Ten crown and return to the College Football Playoff next season.
“We need a break,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “We need to get away. The guys are missing their families, and we all just need a break. We’ve already started to put together the schedule for the spring, but we all need to get away for a while. This has been a long, long road. Guys miss their families, and they deserve time to be with them.
“We’ll unwind for a little while, have an opportunity to reflect on what the season has been, and then get back into it. But you’re right, you can’t just go back into work here. You need some time to rest and reflect.”
That’s a difficult balancing act for the Buckeyes at this point on the calendar, and January is a critical first step in setting the foundation for the entire offseason. As Ohio State plots the next step forward, Lettermen Row is peering into the future with Five Bold Predictions about what’s looming for the program.
Austin Ward: Justin Fields will return to Ohio State
Justin Fields has never been shy when it comes to his goals, and obviously he wasn’t able to accomplish the biggest ones on his list last season. The superstar didn’t win the Heisman Trophy, he is unlikely to have done enough to supplant Trevor Lawrence as the top pick and the Buckeyes didn’t win a national championship with him at the helm. Obviously the betting-odds would still favor Fields declaring for the NFL Draft by Monday since he remains a surefire first-round selection. But there have been at least some whispers that Fields is open to a return at Ohio State and another run at all those accomplishments while potentially solidifying himself as the top passer in the 2022 NFL Draft. Considering how adamant he was about not opting out when it looked like the Buckeyes weren’t going to play last season, the support he has from a tight-knit family and what all could be in reach with another year of development, Fields coming back with a vengeance is not as farfetched as it once seemed.
Birm: Ohio State will be deeper than expected on offensive line
The Buckeyes offensive line depth proved valuable during the last year’s tumultuous season on the way to the Big Ten title and a dominant Sugar Bowl victory. Heading into the spring, that group — despite the loss of Josh Myers and Wyatt Davis — will be a strength for Ryan Day. Nicholas Petit-Frere and Thayer Munford will anchor the unit, choosing to return for a final go in Columbus and will provide a big boost to the development of young standouts like Harry Miller, Paris Johnson, Matt Jones, Luke Wypler and others.
Spencer Holbrook: Buckeyes stay stout at defensive tackle
Ohio State began to show some signs of a thin defensive front when Tommy Togiai was forced to sit out the national title game. But the Buckeyes will address that issue this offseason when Togiai and fellow dominant defensive tackle Haskell Garrett both return for another chance to win a championship, forming the best defensive front in the sport next season. Oh, and the addition of J.T. Tuimoloau to the 2021 class won’t hurt, either. He’ll have an instant impact with the Buckeyes defensive line. Good luck trying to run the ball on this front next season.
Tim May: Vaccines pave way for normal spring camp
It has been 10 months since major college football was flipped on its ear by the widening spread of Covid-19. The pandemic forced the cancellation of spring practices, then the hiatus of organized off-season workouts until June when players returned to a highly restricted, barely collegial environment. Football eventually found a way, but the rise of Covid cases late in the fall and into winter never enabled the Buckeyes to field an intact starting lineup in its last four games. The shot in the arm — seriously — will be the availability of vaccination for all concerned hopefully by mid-February or so. Why it is taking so much longer for the state of Ohio to ramp up vaccinations is perplexing considering its acceleration in other states, such as West Virginia. But the day is coming when daily testing will be but a story for the grandkids. Spring drills should be full go this March, and the development of the team — one could see how missing spring stunted the growth of the defensive secondary last season, for example — will be back on track. The routine will be nearer to normal.
Will Crall: Miyan Williams stakes claim to Ohio State tailback job
Freshman running back Miyan Williams only had 10 carries for 64 yards during his first season with the program. But that sample size still seems big enough to start projecting big-time production down the road. The feeling here is that Williams emerges as the Buckeyes top running back and will have a dominant year behind an elite offensive line. The few carries that Williams had against Clemson were impressive. He looked the part physically and runs downhill with a nastiness reminiscent of guys like Carlos Hyde and J.K. Dobbins. Williams will be the best back in the Big Ten in 2021.