More than halfway through the month of January, and the Ohio State football team has wasted no time in making decisive moves that will dramatically impact the 2024 season. New Year's resolutions are often made, and quickly forgotten or discarded - it seems as though Ohio State head coach Ryan Day took the painful lessons of the Cotton Bowl loss to Missouri to heart, and is making substantial changes to the program that should have the Buckeyes well-positioned when the 2024 season kicks off versus Akron on August 31st.
1. New Staff Members (Done)
This was an item that I had submitted as a priority New Year's resolution to Coach Day - even with the tepid response that the hiring of Bill O'Brien as Ohio State's offensive coordinator has received, I will consider this item checked off.
Bill O'Brien has extensive coaching experience at both the college and NFL levels, and it will bear watching to see how O'Brien assimilates into the Ohio State program. For all of the fans who have complained about Ryan Day stretching himself too thin, O'Brien represents a stark departure from what Ohio State fans have seen since Day became the head coach prior to the 2019 season. Turning over the reins to the offense is a huge step for Ryan Day, and should be commended.
Not to dwell too much on Bill O'Brien, but it bears repeating that other staff changes have been made. Matt Guerreri will return to Ohio State as the safeties coach, replacing Perry Eliano. A native Ohioan, Guerreri has a strong knowledge of Jim Knowles' defense, having coached under Knowles' direction at Duke. In other words, having another person who knows what Jim Knowles wants, and why he wants it that way, can only help as the Buckeyes prepare for their third year under Knowles' direction on defense.
Something else to contemplate about Matt Guerreri, and this comes from the official Ohio State release ~ perhaps Guerreri is going to take on the duties of coaching the special teams. Parker Fleming was not retained, and in Guerreri's hiring, Ohio State listed "additional responsibilities to be assigned".
2. Transfer Portal (To Be Determined)
In the aftermath of the regular season loss to Michigan, Ohio State lost several players from their roster to the transfer portal, with the most notable being 2023 starting quarterback Kyle McCord. How would Ohio State respond to losing a quarterback with starting experience?
The answer - quite well. Kansas State quarterback Will Howard, who was projected as a day 2 selection in the upcoming 2024 NFL Draft, decided to bypass the NFL Draft and play one more season at the collegiate ranks for the Buckeyes.
Listed at 6'5", 242 pounds, Howard has demonstrated a willingness to run the ball from the quarterback position, something the Ohio State offense has sorely lacked since Justin Fields left after the 2020 season. As I wrote up above regarding Ryan Day handing over the reins of the offense to Bill O'Brien, give credit to Ryan Day for recognizing that the quarterback run element was something missing from the Ohio State offense, and has found a quarterback who will be able to incorporate that in 2024.
Will Howard was not the only notable addition. Ole Miss RB Quinshon Judkins will be in the mix for Ohio State at running back, alongside returning RB TreVeyon Henderson (more on him momentarily). Alabama OL Seth McLaughlin is projected to compete for the starting center position, after starting for the Crimson Tide from 2021-2023. Ohio TE Will Kacmarek will add depth and experience to the tight end room, which is going to be looking for a new starter, following the departure of Cade Stover to the NFL.
I wrote up above "To Be Determined", with regards to the transfer portal. The retirement of Nick Saban from Alabama has resulted in a domino effect across multiple programs and multiple players. Ohio State is presently in the mix for some additional transfer portal players, and it is important to remember that there is another transfer portal window that will take place after the conclusion of spring football.
3. Returning Players (Bravo)
As I wrote above, the painful loss to Missouri in the Cotton Bowl impacted Ohio State dramatically. After such a dismal performance, the NFL Draft-eligible players are going to be making a beeline for the exits, right?
Wrong. Big time wrong.
With the exceptions of surefire first-round draft choice Marvin Harrison, Jr. and probable day-two selection Michael Hall, Jr., Ohio State had just about every other player decide to return for the 2024 season. WR Emeka Egbuka, RB TreVeyon Henderson, OL Donovan Jackson, DE Jack Sawyer, DE J.T. Tuimoloau, DT Tyleik Williams, CB Denzel Burke, and CB Jordan Hancock will all be on the roster in 2024.
Winter conditioning and spring football will be dominating the Ohio State football headlines for the next few months. Considering how 2023 ended, it would be fair to say that the 2024 season has started off with a burst of positive energy and enthusiasm.