Ohio State football: Age could be more than a number this fall

If Ohio State fails to get back to the top of the heap in the Big Ten this fall, lack of experience won’t be the reason.

With most of the Buckeyes’ 2024 NFL Draft decisions breaking his way, Ryan Day is looking at fielding the oldest starting lineup of his six seasons as head coach of the Buckeyes.

That conclusion was reached by assigning points based on class for each player (1 for a freshman, 1.5 for a redshirt freshman, 2 for a sophomore, and so on) in the projected starting lineup to arrive at an experience score.

With as many as 14 senior starters, the 2024 Buckeyes could have an experience score of 80.5, besting Day’s first and most veteran team (2019) by 3.5 points.

It could end up being the oldest of the groups we studied — back to 2001 — depending how a couple of position battles shake out this spring or fall.

Here is a closer look:

1. Quarterback is one of the pivotal areas.

A transfer from Kansas State, Will Howard could become Ohio State’s first senior starter since J.T. Barrett in 2017, but the overall experience meter would still likely come in at 79 even if third-year sophomore Devin Brown beats him out.

In that case, it would match the oldest group of the bunch, Jim Tressel’s 2003 team.

Ohio State is also looking at its first senior starting running back — TreVeyon Henderson — since transfer Trey Sermon in 2020 (before that you have to go back to Carlos Hyde in 2013), and the offensive line could be older than last year.

Experience on the OL will depend on Alabama senior transfer Seth McLaughlin supplanting third-year sophomore Carson Hinzman at center and who ends up replacing right guard Matt jones, who graduated.

What seems certain is the other starters will be fourth-year junior Josh Simmons, true senior Donovan Jackson and fifth-year senior Josh Fryar.

The battle for the fifth spot figures to be wide open, but it could go to the loser of the center competition (McLaughlin or Hinzman), third-year sophomore Tegra Tshabola or true sophomore Luke Montgomery.

While tight end could go from one fifth-year senior (Cade Stover) to another (Gee Scott Jr.), one group that will be younger than last year is the receivers.

2. Then again, that might not matter much given the way Brian Hartline has recruited that position.

He has also done well even with youngsters playing primary roles, as was the case in 2022 when he started two sophomores and a junior. If sophomores Brandon Inniss and Carnell Tate slide into the startling lineup along with senior Emeka Egbuka, this group will be older than that one but younger than last season.

3. On defense, Ohio State figures to start seniors across the front line (ends Jack Sawyer and J.T. Tuimoloau and tackles Tyleik Williams and Ty Hamilton).

That has not happened since at least 2001.

With fifth-year senior Cody Simon at one linebacker spot, the front seven projects to be the oldest since 2020 when three of four linemen were seniors, as were all three starting linebackers.

That is regardless of who becomes Simon’s running mate in Ohio State’s 4-2-5 defense, though the top candidates are all juniors — C.J. Hicks, Gabe Powers or maybe Sonny Styles, who was a regular at safety last season but it is built like a modern linebacker.

4. Coach Tim Walton has a few options for configuring his secondary.

Fifth-year senior Lathan Ransom will be one starter at safety while senior Denzel Ward and junior Davison Igbinosun return at outside cornerback.

There are three versatile players for the other two spots — Styles, senior Jordan Hancock and sophomore Caleb Downs, a transfer from Alabama who started every game for the Crimson Tide last season and led the team in tackles.

5. Of course, age is not a prerequisite to winning, and youth is far from disqualifying.

Tressel’s 2002 national championship team came in right at the average age score of 70, but the ‘03 squad that was his oldest ended up being the only one he coached to not beat Michigan and one of only three not to win at least a share of the Big Ten.

Urban Meyer’s 2014 team started several second-year players and scored just 63.5, making it the second-youngest Ohio State starting lineup of the last 23 years, but that group ended up winning the first College Football Playoff (then falling short of a repeat despite being older in ‘15).

Tressel’s second youngest team also played for a national title in 2007 while his youngest went 8-4 in 2004.

Day’s oldest team so far was also his best. The 2019 campaign started 13-0 with wins over Michigan to end the regular season and Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship game, but it ended with a heart-breaking loss to Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl.

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