Why didn’t Ohio State football land a starting offensive tackle in the transfer portal? Hey, Nathan

ohio state university football players

Ohio State's inability to find offensive tackles in the transfer portal has put more urgency on players such as Josh Fryar (70) to perform this season.David Petkiewicz, cleveland.com


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Hey, Nathan: “How worried should we be that OSU took an offensive tackle in the portal who was a really low ranked recruit who has played poorly? We haven’t recruited well at the tackle position and now we can’t get quality guys to transfer in either. Seems like we should all be really concerned about our offensive line next year.” — Scott from Pasadena

Hey, Scott: I received several versions of this question. People want to know why OSU could not reach into the portal and pull out a starting-caliber offensive tackle, if not two.

The plain answer is none of the available offensive linemen were certain to start over the internal options. I think a couple of them could have come to OSU, competed for a job and won it. I would not go so far as to guarantee it.

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We saw this hole developing at least 18 months ago. That is too short of a timetable to realistically fix an offensive line problem via recruiting. The failure was not OSU’s inability to conjure a starting offensive tackle out of the portal in the winter of 2022-23. The failure was the recruiting approach two-plus years ago that put the staff’s back against this wall in the first place.

We assumed programs such as OSU could make it known they have one significant need — putting out the Buck Signal, if you will — to lure players into the portal. Star players on mid or low-tier programs would jump at the chance to step in and start for a national championship contender. That scenario has, so far, not materialized.

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Prior to this winter, the program has consistently fixed major needs through the portal. Justin Fields, Jonah Jackson, Trey Sermon, Noah Ruggles — imagine how 2019, 2020 and 2021 would have played out had those players not filled a specific roster need. Even Tanner McCalister played a crucial role for a defense transitioning to Jim Knowles’ new system last season.

I understand fans wondering why OSU did not externally address a problem known to exist so many months ago. It did its due diligence on the available candidates but found no mutual fit. Another portal window opens in the spring, but it is very likely the five opening day starters on the offensive line are currently on this roster.

Wisconsin at Ohio State, September 24, 2022

Defensive end Jack Sawyer's 4.5 sacks tied for the Ohio State team lead in 2022.David Petkiewicz, cleveland.com

Hey, Nathan: “In my mind, Jack Sawyer to the Jack position was a failure and a wasted year for him when he could’ve been growing as a defensive end. Do you think they will put him back at his natural position next year? And what about C.J. Hicks to the Jack? He seems a natural athletic fit for that position with his size and abilities. Honestly I’m not even sure what is so great about the position. Nobody raved about plays being made from the Jack position this year.” — Jim from Perrysburg

Hey, Jim: Yes, Sawyer could focus more on a traditional defensive end role this fall. The Jack was more an ancillary part of the defense than a staple. The best thing for OSU would be Sawyer proving he deserves to be on the field as much as possible, which would mean more time as a conventional edge rusher.

At the same time, defensive coordinator Jim Knowles always talked about the Jack as a position in development. He said Sawyer continued to learn and grow in the position and would gain more responsibility as he progressed. Maybe that happens between now and August and it enhances how the Jack works within the defense.

I would be surprised if Hicks makes that move. Athletically he makes much more sense at linebacker. (Sawyer has 40 pounds on him, for instance.) The young player more likely to get a look at Jack is Caden Curry. Also, Mitchell Melton was working with the defensive line before his last injury in preseason camp.

Ohio State Buckeyes vs. Iowa Hawkeyes, October 22, 2022

Iowa had not visited Ohio Stadium in seven years before playing there last Oct. 22.Joshua Gunter, cleveland.com

Hey, Nathan: “Looking at Georgia’s schedule for this past and next year. Can you imagine if THE OSU didn’t play Penn State and TTUN every year? Clearly two of the better programs in the country. What if they played every five years or something like that.? If OSU had the same scheduling, can you imagine what the talking heads on ESPN would be saying? Yet I don’t think it’s been mentioned that Georgia and Bama haven’t played in regular season in several years.” — Todd from the 561 (originally from the 937)

Hey, Todd: Ohio State does have (roughly) the same scheduling. It just rarely comes up because the Big Ten West is such a non-factor.

The Big Ten thought it solved this when it paired OSU and Nebraska as divisional crossovers from 2016-21. It did not anticipate the Cornhuskers plummeting to the bottom of the league.

The COVID-19 season foiled some of these crossovers, too. Ohio State has not played Illinois — who it plays for the Illibuck traveling trophy — since 2017. It had not played Iowa since that same year until the Hawkeyes came to Ohio Stadium this past season.

So by luck of the draw, it could instead be Wisconsin who the Buckeyes have not played in five-plus seasons. That might be the only West opponent whose extended absence on the schedule would be equivalent to what you’re describing.

The Big Ten is expected to go forward without divisions starting in 2024. OSU athletic director Gene Smith told me there is support for every team to play in every other stadium at least once every four years. Which would actually mean playing every league opponent at least twice in that span.

So depending on what other opponent is selected as a protected rivalry, that could mean way fewer games against Indiana and Rutgers and many more against … whichever team, if any, decides to be relevant from the West.

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