Buckeyes Not Alone With Holes To Fill

Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports /

With just over a week left until draft day, Buckeye fans will face even more reminders of the amount of talent that has left the Ohio State program. That talk is not going to fade away as spring turns to summer, and speculation on the upcoming season ramps up. It is impossible to discuss the Buckeyes’ position in the 2016 pecking order without discussing everything they have lost.

While no other program in the nation can rival the departures that Urban Meyer and Ohio State saw this winter, he is by no means the only head coach in the Big Ten with significant holes to fill.

Michigan State continued its rise into the upper echelon of college football last year when they came into Columbus and pulled off a shocking defeat of a previously undefeated Buckeyes team. They rode that momentum all the way to a second Big Ten Championship in three years, and a spot in the College Football Playoff.

Mark Dantonio now faces a bit of a fork in the road as he prepares his team for the upcoming season. Gone is Connor Cook, a three year starter who only managed to set school records for career passing yards and touchdown passes in his tenure in East Lansing. If awards are more of your thing, he was a two-time Big Ten Championship game MVP and a Rose Bowl MVP.

To add to the major questions that the Spartans offense faces, center Jack Conklin and receiver Aaron

Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports /

Burbridge have both moved on. Conklin was a three year starter, and could be a top-10 pick next week. Burbridge bursted onto the scene last year, earning all-conference honors and winning the Big Ten receiver of the year award.

While Dantonio has elevated Michigan State’s presence on the recruiting trail to a level it has never been before, he faces possibly his biggest task to date in trying to build on the momentum he has harnessed over the past three years. He will have a favorable schedule to navigate, getting both Michigan and Ohio State at home. They do have a monster early season test, though, when they travel to South Bend to take on Notre Dame in the third week of the season.

Unlike their already proven “little brother” to the Southeast, Michigan will head into 2016 looking to firmly announce their arrival back into prominence.

Jim Harbaugh’s first season in Ann Arbor was an overall success, although they were dealt a sobering blow in the final game of the regular season when the Buckeyes went into the Big House and had their way with the Wolverines.

They rebounded nicely in their bowl game, a 34-point beatdown of Florida in the Citrus Bowl, to send them into the offseason with a lot of momentum. That momentum has made them a trendy early pick to win the Big Ten, despite plenty of questions on a roster that was already in need of a talent boost.

Just like the Spartans, the Wolverines will need to replace their quarterback-center combination. Jake Rudock was solid for Jim Harbaugh as a graduate transfer, proving to be a very good fit in that offense. He is out of eligibility now, and Michigan now has a wide open race for the job.

John O’Korn, another transfer, could have the inside track to winning the job. As a true freshman in 2013, O’Korn threw for over 3,000 yards and 28 touchdowns. He lost his job, though, after five games in 2014. The decision was made to transfer, and after sitting out last year, he could be the new trigger man of the Michigan offense.

Other options include highly touted true freshman Brandon Peters, who was an early enrollee and arrived in Ann Arbor in January. Peters was a four star recruit, and the sixth ranked pro-style passer in the country.

Whoever ends up winning the job will have a favorable early schedule to work with as they settle in. Two daunting road tests will come though when they travel to East Lansing in the last week of October, and then to Columbus to close out the regular season.

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Defensively, Michigan put together a very good season, the Ohio State game being an outlier. The Wolverines will have to replace all three starters at linebacker from that team. That group maybe underperformed at times last season, but replacing an entire unit will certainly call for a transitional phase.

New defensive coordinator Don Brown, hired after D.J. Durkin took the Maryland job, has moved Jabrill Peppers to linebacker. An excellent athlete, Peppers will bring some excellent play making ability to the position. It remains to be seen how he will hold up against physical, down hill running attacks that Michigan will see in the Big Ten.

Iowa, coming off of a West division championship and a Rose Bowl birth, will need to replace their two top offensive linemen. They will also need to replace both fullbacks, a position that is absolutely crucial to them with their heavy reliance on running the football.

If the Hawkeyes are not able to find the success they had last year running the football, C.J. Beathard and that offense will struggle to score points.

There isn’t a team in the conference that isn’t facing serious questions, although the losses the Buckeyes are enduring will continue to get talked about the most due to the profiles of the players leaving.

Next: Spring Game Takeaways

The 2016 Big Ten race could very well be a showcase of the importance of recruiting year in and year out as program depth will go a long way in deciding who is playing in Indy in December. Buckeye fans will absolutely take their chances in that department.