May 27, 2024

2023 Big Ten Betting Preview Series: Ohio State Buckeyes

Eric Froton is previewing every Big Ten squad by looking back at their 2022 season, breaking down any changes in 2023, analyzing their rosters and handicapping their win total for the season.

In the last installment of the Big Ten Team Betting Previews series, the Ohio State Buckeyes:

Ohio State

HC – Ryan Day (6th year)
OC – Kevin Wilson (7th year)
DC – Jim Knowles (2nd year)

2022 Record: 11-2
Second Order Win Total:

Points/Yards Per Game: 44.2 points | 491 yards (298 pass | 192 rush)
Points/Yards Allowed: 21 points | 322 yards (200 pass | 121 rush)

2023 SP+ Overall: 2nd
2023 SP+ Offense: 2nd
2023 SP+ Defense: 13th

Offensive Returning Production: 61% (73rd)
Defensive Returning Production: 74% (22nd)

247Sports Avg. Offensive Player Rating: .9288 (2nd)
247Sports Avg. Defensive Player Rating: .9388 (2nd)

Pace of Play: 27.1 seconds per play (85th) | 67.5 plays per game (77th)

2023 Schedule Strength: 27th

Looking Back at 2021 & 2022

Six years ago HC Ryan Day took the reins of the Ohio State program from Urban Meyer and has maintained the level of on-field excellence while creating fewer off-field distractions than his predecessor. In 2021 they dealt with a disappointing loss to Oregon in Week 2 where they had a 56% post-game win expectancy behind an untested C.J. Stroud making just the second start of his career. However it was the Buckeyes’ defeat at the hands of a Michigan offense that rang up 291 rushing yards and 7.2 yards per carry for the Wolverines’ first win in a decade that ultimately dashed Ohio State’s playoff hopes and slotted them against Utah for what became a thrilling 48-45 Rose Bowl victory.

Heisman front-runner C.J. Stroud helmed a ruthlessly efficient 2021 offense that led the nation by averaging 47 yards and 3.60 points per drive while also topping the charts in success rate (54%) and marginal efficiency. Last year, 72% of their production returned from a 2021 team that led the nation by averaging 45.7 points per game. HC Day fielded another elite offense, recording 44.2 points (2nd in FBS) and 491 total yards per game (9th). Their elite performance was right in line with Day’s historical trend, as the Buckeyes have averaged 41+ PPG in each of their last six seasons. In 2021 Stroud led the offense to a 381 passing/180 rushing split, which was a notable outlier from a team that threw for exactly 263 YPG in three-of-the-previous-five seasons. In 2022 the passing yardage dropped to 298 YPG/192 rush, as OSU accrued under 500 total YPG for the first time in the HC Ryan Day era.

Stroud was excellent once again, completing 66% of his passes with Ohio State averaging 8.9 yards per dropback (2nd in FBS) while leading the country with a 10.2% touchdown rate and 88.8 QB Rating. Their 16.2% explosive play rate ranked 7th overall, as 22.6% of their passes went for 20 or more yards (14th). For all the NFL Draft talk about Stroud’s perceived lack of playmaking when off-platform, it was rarely noted that Ohio State allowed sacks on just 2.7% of QB dropbacks, the eighth-best mark in FBS. How the 2023 pass game adjusts to QB Stroud’s departure will be vital, since Ohio State is winless (0-4) against the spread when making less than 5 explosive passes in a game since the 2021 season, tied for worst in FBS (Avg: .357). The receiver room is brimming with talent, as Marvin Harrison Jr. (3.18 yards per route/60% contented catch rate/1,263 rec yards) and Emeka Egbuka (2.98 yards per route/7.1 YAC/1,151 rec yards) are currently viewed as the consensus top-two 2024 NFL Draft WR prospects.

Injuries marred the potentially devastating 1-2 punch of Tre’Veyon Henderson & Miyan Williams, as they both got injured against Michigan State in Week 6 which sapped their effectiveness down the stretch. Henderson had 436 yards through five games before gaining just 135 yards over the last seven. Miyan Williams led the Big Ten in yards after contact in 2021 (4.7 YAC) and was second in B10 YAC yardage last year (4.36), but he was only able to gain 70 yards on 23 carries against Iowa/Penn State/Michigan/Georgia due to the nagging ailments that followed him around this season. Dallan Hayden filled in admirably (571 rush yards, 5.0 YPC), but the Buckeyes desperately need their two star RBs healthy if they want to beat Michigan and advance in the CFP Playoff. For perspective, Ohio State is 2-8 (.182) against the spread when averaging less than five-yards per rush since the 2021 season, tied for 11th-worst in FBS (Avg: .348).

Former Oklahoma State DC Jim Knowles took over after leading the Oklahoma State defense to a fourth overall SP+ ranking with 57 sacks and a 20% havoc rate just three seasons after taking over a unit that allowed 33 points and 452 yards per game. DC Knowles inherited an Ohio State D that returned eight starters, nine of their top ten tacklers and boasted the second most talented defensive roster in the country, sporting a .9397 average player rating according to 247Sports. The last time Ohio State returned this many starters (2019) they allowed 13.8 PPG, 260 YPG and tallied 54 sacks.

DC Knowles was tasked with fortifying a 2021 defense that ranked 102nd in 3-and-out percentage, while crumbling in red zone situations allowing touchdowns 74% of the time. Though OSU did a decent job at limiting big plays, they couldn’t get third-down stops and ranked 81st nationally with a 43% defensive success rate.

Last year they allowed 21 PPG in addition to cutting their total yardage from 373 YPG-to-322 YPG and allowing 3.5 yards per carry. For the first seven weeks of the season, everything was going smoothly with OSU allowing 307 total YPG or less in each contest. However, in Week 8 Penn State hung 482 yards (371 passing)/31 points before Maryland would manage to put up 402 yards (318 passing)/30 points on the Buckeyes. Those shaky performances that the vaunted OSU offense propelled them through were harbingers of what was to come, as big plays doomed Ohio State vs. Michigan (530 yds/45 pts), and ultimately against Georgia (533 yds/42 pts) in the CFP Playoff.

For the season, the D was still rock solid on a down-to-down basis allowing a 36% success rate (11th in FBS), 1.40 points drive (9th) and a laudable 44.4% 3-and-out% (3rd). Despite their issues with containment against Michigan/Georgia/Penn State, OSU still only allowed a 10.4% explosive play rate (23rd). The major, central issue with the defense was the magnitude of the relatively few explosive plays they did allow, as they ranked 112th in IsoPPP and 119th in marginal explosiveness. On a unit level, they ranked 71st in rushing explosiveness and 123rd in passing explosiveness, so there’s plenty of work to be done in both phases.

The Buckeyes’ deep and talented defensive line rotation was one of the nation’s best, ranking seventh overall with a 9.7% DL havoc rate and fourth nationally with a 36.4% pressure rate. The OSU defensive front rated 20th nationally in line yards and 11th with a 54% power success rate, which is especially relevant since Ohio State is undefeated (21-0) when allowing less than 5 yards per rush since the 2021 season, tied for best in FBS (avg: .590). All-American MLB Tommy Eichenberg (120 tackles/9.5 TFL/68 stops) and WLB Steele Chambers (77 tackles/33 stops) were key contributors to the formidable run defense’s success as well.

The secondary allowed a respectable 6.8 yards per pass (36th) while ranking 32nd in overall pass D performance according to CFB Winning Edge, but the overall numbers don’t account for the ability of advanced offenses to exploit weaknesses in the defensive backfield. OSU’s DB havoc rate of 6% ranked a troubling 97th, and their 9.9 adjusted yards per pass in man-to-man coverage ranked 122nd. Though their overall 37.5% passing success rate ranked 30th in FBS, Ohio State is 3-7 (.250) against the spread when allowing 200 or more passing yards since the 2021 season, tied for 12th-worst among Power 5 Teams (avg: .401).

Looking ahead to 2023

The Buckeyes have work to do on offense, ranking 73rd in returning offensive production thanks to the departure of three OL who were NFL Draft selections and their star QB CJ Stroud going #2 overall to the Houston Texans. QB Kyle McCord is the slight favorite to win the starting job after fellow highly-rated signal caller Devin Brown missed time this spring. McCord has one start under his belt back in 2021 completing 13-of-18 passes for 319 yards and two touchdowns against the hapless Akron Zips. The competition is far from over of course and will be hotly contested when fall camp opens. Fortunately he will be working with the best wide receiver corps in the nation led by future NFL first-rounders Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka. How the QB position develops will dictate whether or not Ohio State beats Michigan after two straight losses.

The offensive line sustains massive losses, as star LT Paris Johnson, mammoth RT Dawand Jones and C Luke Wypler left for the NFL. All-Big Ten LG Donovan Jackson and RG Mathew Jones are back on the interior, but will be breaking in a new set of bookends with LT Josh Fryar (229 snaps at RT/RG, 2.1% pressure rate, 0 sacks allowed) sliding over from the right side. Fryar struggled in 2022, recording team-lows with a brutal 3.8% blown run block rate, and 3.1% total blown block rate in his limited snaps, so he is far from a sure thing and will be pushed in camp. San Diego State transfer Josh Simmons started 13 games last year as a freshman, earning a sluggish 47.1 PFF overall grade, and is the leader to start at RT. It will be interesting to see how the turnover affects OSU’s 192 rush yards per game and 5.4 yards per carry output. Ideally, better health from RBs Miyan Williams and TreVeyon Henderson should help ease the transition on the OL, but it’s still a major concern considering Ohio State has to play the imposing defensive fronts of @Notre Dame, @Wisconsin, Penn State, Minnesota and Michigan.

Defensively the Buckeyes bring back a trio of All-Big Ten caliber performers who were rated at the top of their high school class in DT Michael Hall (80.3 overall grade/16 pressures/4.5 sacks), plus DEs Jack Sawyer (11.8% pressure rate//20 pressures/4.5 sacks) and JT Tuimolau (32 pressures/22 stops/83.0 pass rush grade). Despite the departure of DE Zach Harrison and DT Taron Vincent, the defensive line should once again be a disruptive force. Which is imperative, as Ohio State is 3-8 (.231) against the spread when allowing 100 or more rushing yards since the 2021 season, 10th-worst among Power 5 Teams (Avg: .376). All-American LB Tommy Eichenberg (120 tackles/9.5 TFL/21 stuffs) leads a veteran unit and is flanked by converted running back, WLB Steele Chambers (77 tackles/8.0 TFL/12.3% tackle rate). Syracuse DB Ja’Had Carter transfers here to play the nickel role vacated by Tanner McCalister.

The susceptible OSU secondary that allowed a 62% completion rate with a 22-to-12 ratio returns CB1 Denzel Burke, who forced 12 PBU in 2021 but allowed completions on 20-of-36 targets for a 55% completion rate on 292 coverage snaps, earning a PFF cover grade of 70.8 last year. There will be a spirited competition to see who emerges as the CB2 between Jordan Hancock, Jyaire Brown and Ole Miss transfer Davison Igbinosun. The safety position is loaded, with BS Lathan Ransom (74 tackles/3 PBU/.72 yards per cover snap), talented super-sophomore FS Sonny Styles and the return of injured FS Josh Proctor. In Year 2 of DC Jim Knowles’ defensive system, the secondary needs to perform at a higher level against elite opponents if Ohio State wants to truly challenge for a national title, as Ohio State is 1-7 (.100) against the spread when allowing 22 or more points since the 2021 season,13th-worst in FBS( Avg: .300).

Analyzing Ohio State’s Win Total

OSU has the benefit of opening slow against @Indiana/Youngstown State/Western Kentucky before a pivotal Week 4 trip to South Bend against @Notre Dame that serves as their first major gut check. The Irish were the only team to hold Ohio State under 400 yards and 22 points besides a weather stricken affair against Northwestern. They will recalibrate with a Week 5 Bye before a two-game set against Maryland and @Purdue that marks the midway point of the season.

The second half kicks off with a challenging two-game set vs. Penn State at The Horseshoe, followed by a trip to Camp Randle to take on OSU’s former interim-HC, Luke Fickell’s @Wisconsin. The Buckeyes take on @Rutgers in Jersey then head home to face a rebuilding Michigan State squad. A trap-game against a solid Minnesota team could pose problems before The Game @Michigan in The Big House.

FanDuel lists Ohio State at 10.5 Wins (-128 Over) while their Big Ten Championship odds rest at (+165), which is roughly on par with Michigan as is customary. However their CFP Championship odds is (+650) while Michigan is (+800).

Ohio State’s 27th ranked schedule is significantly more difficult than Michigan’s favorable slate, playing @Notre Dame in non-conference and pulling both @Wisconsin and Minnesota out of the West. They are breaking in a new QB with major losses on the offensive line that is almost guaranteed to allow more than the 12 sacks and 2.9% sack rate of 2022.

Outside of their 2021 Week 2, 35-28 loss to Oregon in CJ Stroud’s first test as a starting QB, OSU hasn’t lost a regular season game to any team besides Michigan since dropping a 49-20 loss to Purdue in 2018.

I think the weaknesses on the Oline and secondary costs Ohio State who will suffer a rare loss in one of the non-Michigan games against @ND/PSU/@Wisconsin which leaves them in a showdown against the Wolverines with a B10 Championship bid hanging in the balance. Accordingly, I don’t feel comfortable taking the Over 10.5 Wins on Ohio State this year and feel like Michigan is a better National Championship value at +800.

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