Ohio State football: How can the Buckeyes reach their potential?

Like any season, Ohio State’s 2019 campaign figures to turn on a variety of variables.

As such, taking a look at how the season could unfold based on the best of times or the worst of times can be a fun exercise to help set a realistic ceiling and floor for the Buckeyes.

>>RELATED: 5 things to know about Ohio State’s first opponent

Here is how the Ohio State season will look if all of the questions the Buckeyes are facing turn out positive:

1. The offense is a three-dimensional thresher that defenses can’t stop no matter which poison they pick. 

Dwayne Haskins was great in 2018 — he posted the best passing season in Big Ten history — but his limitations as a runner presented some challenges for a coaching staff used to game-planning around a dual-threat quarterback.

(The Buckeyes made do, obviously, but the level of execution required to continue being an elite unit was higher. That’s just how good Haskins and his receivers were.)

His replacement, Justin Fields, should be at least a capable passer, but Fields' running ability gives defenses something else to think about and opens up the playbook by making the Buckeyes harder to outnumber at the point of attack.

A retooled offensive line looks like it will be more physical than last year's version, and J.K. Dobbins is back looking not only for a third 1,000-yard rushing season but also to carry the team as much as the coaching staff will let him.

Despite the loss of three NFL-caliber receivers, Ohio State has three more seniors (K.J. Hill, Austin Mack and Binjimen Victor) ready to plug into the lineup and talented youngsters Chris Olave, Jaelen Gill and Garrett Wilson looking to earn larger roles, too.

Throughout the offseason, the tight ends have generated buzz that they can present more options both in the passing game and (perhaps more notably) running game, something new co-offenisve coordinator Mike Yurcich was hired to help exploit if the personnel is judged to be there.

Add it all up, and Ohio State could be better on offense than it was last year — perhaps the best it has been since the Buckeyes won the College Football Playoff in January 2015.

2. The defense is sound — and nasty. 

Ohio State’s historically bad 2018 season on defense was mostly a result of giving up too many big plays.

A more mature group coached up better in fundamentals should yield improvement on its own, but a new scheme that figures to rely on a greater variety of coverages should make the Buckeyes less susceptible to giving up chunks of yardage at a time and could yield more game-changing plays for the defense.

Ohio State could also benefit from having more contributors on the defensive line. The Buckeyes were second in the Big Ten last season in sacks, but more than half of those came from Dre’Mont Jones, Chase Young and Nick Bosa (who missed the last 11 games).

3. Ryan Day pushes the right buttons. 

Ohio State's new head coach is establishing a program he says is based on "tough love," and players have said there is a greater feeling of togetherness on the team this season.

Day wants to be a player’s coach who crafts a team with an edge, and the pieces are in place for that given the motivation from falling just short of the College Football Playoff two years in a row and being picked by many to finish behind Michigan in the Big Ten East this season.

Day also has the potential to be more opportunistic on game days after Meyer grew increasingly conservative with his play-calling and decision-making following the Buckeyes’ surprising run to the 2014 national championship.

A balanced offense with a dynamic quarterback and powerful offensive line is easier to trust on fourth-and-short, of course, especially if the coach has a defense he feels he can rely on anywhere on the field.

Bottomline: This version of Ohio State football will end that two-year College Football Playoff drought and give Clemson or Alabama all it wants. Yes, the Buckeyes have some questions to answer, but many national champions arrive a year earlier than expected. 

But what if it all goes wrong? Check back tomorrow for the flip side of this exercise. 

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