COLUMBUS – There is a difference in Ohio State’s offense this year.
But that difference has nothing to do with new formations, new strategies or players wearing different numbers than a year ago.
The big difference is that after having several proven playmakers the last few seasons, this year OSU has several potential playmakers to go with its only proven playmaker, quarterback J.T. Barrett.
When in doubt, hand the football to Ezekiel Elliott is no longer an option for the Buckeyes to choose when they need a few yards or a big play.
And Michael Thomas’ incredible catches will come in a New Orleans Saints uniform this year, not in scarlet and gray.
Elliott was a first-round draft choice, as was offensive tackle Taylor Decker. Thomas was selected in the second round and wide receiver Braxton Miller and tight end Nick Vannett were also drafted.
Big things are expected from Barrett now that the quarterback job is his alone after an unsuccessful time share with Cardale Jones last fall.
Two years ago as a redshirt freshman Barrett threw for 2,834 yards and an Ohio State-record 34 touchdowns before a broken ankle in the Michigan game ended his season. Last year he began the year as Cardale Jones’ back-up and never really hit his stride until the Michigan game and the Fiesta Bowl game against Notre Dame.
If Barrett is going to recreate his 2014 season or come close to it, he will need some help from the players around him on offense.
Who will provide that assistance is one of the biggest questions in Ohio State football this season.
Redshirt freshman Mike Weber is the apparent leader to take over at running back for Elliott.
Weber – the subject of a hot recruiting battle between OSU and Michigan – showed flashes of being a playmaker in the spring game. But replacing Elliott, who rushed for 1,821 yards last season and 1,878 yards in the national championship season in 2014, won’t be easy.
Curtis Samuel, who spent most of last season at wide receiver, also could be a factor in the backfield.
Receiver Noah Brown, who missed last season because of a broken leg, has drawn some comparisons to Thomas. Some people say he could have been close to as good as Thomas if he had played last season. Corey Smith, who got a medical redshirt after a broken leg ended his season in 2015, caught five passes in five games last year.
Young receivers like Parris Campbell and Austin Mack and others could have chances to play. And players like Dontre Wilson and Johnnie Dixon, who were highly hyped when they arrived at Ohio State but have not lived up to their reputations yet, could turn out to be playmakers.
Three years ago Braxton Miller called Wilson “that bolt of lightning” and said he needed to be a starter as a freshman. But Wilson, who played in only four games last season, has never rushed for more than 300 yards in a season, never caught more than 22 passes in a season and has scored only seven touchdowns in his career.
At this year’s OSU media day, Wilson said he felt like he hasn’t done anything in his injury-marred career but that he thinks he can still change that in his senior season.
Pat Elflein, who has moved to center this season, and guard Billy Price give OSU two veteran offensive linemen. They are the only returning starters on offense other than Barrett.
First-year starters Jamarco Jones and Isaiah Prince appear to have claimed the tackle spots and a freshman, Michael Jordan, could start at the other guard.