COLUMBUS – On a Big Ten football teleconference earlier this week, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer restated the obvious about his team going into today’s spring football game at Ohio Stadium.
“There will be a lot of starting opportunities available,” he said.
Ohio State will have 16 new starters this fall. And while it is extremely rare to see anyone win a starting job based on a spring game alone, a good performance there can confirm a coach’s opinion of a player and a bad one can leave some doubts.
Meyer says this year’s spring game could provide more evaluation opportunities than any of his previous four OSU spring games.
While spring games are a long way from real games, at Ohio State they at least provide the opportunity to see how players react to competing in front of a crowd that is nearly as big as they will see in regular-season games.
Meyer is pushing to put 100,000 fans in the seats, which is not unreasonable considering OSU drew 99,391 fans to last year’s spring game.
Here are a few things to look for if you go to the game or if you watch on television (1:30 p.m., Big Ten Network):
— Which of his current or former teammates will quarterback J.T. Barrett spend the most time talking with on the sideline because he’s not going to be playing much.
There is probably no way Meyer is going to put his No. 1 quarterback on the field for more than a handful of plays.
There is nothing to be gained by putting Barrett on the field for an extended time behind a mostly inexperienced offensive line and without the top four returning receivers, who sat out spring practice because of injuries or surgeries.
Also, OSU’s two returning starting offensive linemen, Pat Elflein and Billy Price, are not going to see the field much, either, because Meyer has limited their playing time this spring.
— Will Mike Weber make a statement that he will eventually jump over senior Bri’onte Dunn to become the No. 1 running back in the fall.
Meyer insists that the battle to replace Ezekiel Elliott at running back is “neck and neck” between Dunn, a senior who has gained a total of 291 yards in three seasons, and Weber, a redshirt freshman who might have gotten playing time last season if not for a preseason knee injury.
Ohio State won a heated recruiting battle with Michigan to get Weber. And then there were a few days of drama when Weber and his high school coach were upset that OSU had not told him running backs coach Stan Drayton was leaving.
He reportedly was very impressive last summer before a torn meniscus turned his first season in Columbus into a redshirt season.
—Will back-up quarterback Joe Burrow solidify that position?
Unlike last season, there is no competition over the No. 1 quarterback job, but the No. 2 spot is up for grabs.
Burrow, a redshirt freshman, was a four-star recruit and threw for 4,400 yards and 63 touchdowns his senior season at The Plains High School in Athens. He has been the No. 2 QB throughout the spring with No. 3 Stephen Collier getting only a brief mention or two from Meyer.
If Burrow struggles he might be looking over his shoulder to see if the competition is catching up to him. By August that competition could include incoming freshman Dwayne Haskins, who OSU flipped from a Maryland commitment late in the recruiting process.
—Will early enrollees Austin Mack and Michael Jordan be as impressive in front of a near-sellout crowd as they have been on the practice field.
Mack, a wide receiver from Fort Wayne, had the black stripe on his helmet removed faster than any freshman in Meyer’s four seasons. Freshmen wear the black stripe until Meyer thinks they look like college players.
Jordan, an interior defensive lineman from Canton, Mich., has been practicing with the first team since the middle of spring practice.
Both of these players have benefitted from several veterans at their positions not participating in spring drills. But adding a strong effort in the spring game to what they’ve done on the practice field could mean something for them.
—Will Chris Worley and Dante Booker look like they can pick up where Darron Lee and Joshua Perry left off.
Who will be the starting linebackers on either side of returning middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan has been one of the biggest questions for Ohio State this spring.
Meyer says Worley and Booker appear to have earned the starting jobs.
Teammates insisted last season that Worley was nearly as good as Lee but he had to beat out Jerome Baker to become Lee’s replacement, and apparently he has for now.