COLUMBUS — The ongoing renovations at Ohio Stadium provide a cheap, easy metaphor for Saturday’s Ohio State spring football game.
Like the stadium, the Buckeyes are under construction. And, like the stadium, what you see Saturday and what you see during the season might be two very different things.
A sizable number of seats in B Deck have been torn out and will eventually be replaced by luxury seating. Also, because of restoration work on the concrete in C Deck on the west side of the stadium, seats there will not be available for the spring game.
So, the biggest crowd Saturday’s game can possibly draw is around 79,000 fans, down considerably from the 100,189 crowd OSU announced in 2016, the 99,391 it said were in attendance in 2015 and the 80,134 who showed up last year.
Spring games don’t always provide a lot of answers but there are always questions going into them.
Here’s a half-dozen of the top questions for the Buckeyes in this year’s spring game:
1. Who’s going to be the starting quarterback? It’s a question that is big a lot of years but it’s even bigger this season with four-year starter J.T. Barrett’s college career coming to an end in the Cotton Bowl against USC.
Dwayne Haskins got a lot of OSU fans excited with an outstanding effort when he replaced an injured Barrett and helped the Buckeyes beat Michigan last year. If he’s not the starter, Joe Burrow is regarded by most people as the player who will beat him out. But Tate Martell is in the competition, according to coach Urban Meyer.
Martell is the quarterback most similar to Barrett because he is the best runner of the three. Haskins has a big arm and is the least like Barrett. Burrow is somewhere in between the two.
It wouldn’t be surprising if Meyer continues to say he hasn’t decided who will be the starting QB long after the spring game is over. Remember, he didn’t reveal whether Cardale Jones or Barrett would start in 2015 until OSU’s first possession of its opening game at Virginia Tech.
2. Who will replace center Billy Price and left tackle Jamarco Jones, the two best players on last season’s offensive line?
Those might be the two most important positions on an offensive line. Isaiah Prince will move to left tackle from right tackle and Brady Taylor, a 3-star recruit who originally committed to Virginia Tech, could be Price’s replacement.
3. Will one or more of Ohio State’s receivers have a breakout year? Or was OSU’s passing game more productive than most people thought last season?
Ohio State receivers caught 39 touchdown passes last fall, which tied for third nationally, a fact you could probably use to win quite a few bar bets. All of last year’s top pass catchers are back. So, will someone like Parris Campbell, Austin Mack, K.J. Hill, Binjimen Victor, Johnnie Dixon or someone else emerge as a go-to receiver this year? No one did last year.
4. Will having two No. 1 running backs like J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber work?
What part of having two good running backs is a bad thing? Dobbins clearly brings more to the field than Weber but Weber would start for many of the Big Ten’s teams.
Also, it’s a position where injuries happen often, so depth is a good thing.
5. Where will the leaders come from?
Without being at practice or being inside the locker room, it’s tough to say who all the leaders on last year’s team were, but it appeared that fifth-year players like Tyquan Lewis, Billy Price and NFL-bound underclassman Sam Hubbard embraced that role.
6. Is linebacker a position to be concerned about?
Two of last year’s starters are gone and the third is injured. Jerome Baker declared for the NFL draft, Chris Worley is out of eligibility after five seasons and Tuf Borland suffered an Achilles tendon injury this spring.
Borland elevated the play of the linebacker group when he was inserted into the lineup last season, so if he isn’t healthy by September, that is a big concern.
Justin Hilliard and Baron Browning, both 5-star recruits, have been playing middle linebacker during the spring with Borland out. Malik Harrison and Keandre Jones, sophomore Pete Werner, early enrollee freshman Dallas Gant and Browning are competing for playing time at Baker and Worley’s former positions.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.
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