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Monday August 21st, 2017 12:34AM

Veteran Barrett, loaded Buckeyes expect return to playoff

By The Associated Press
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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett is an oddity in modern college football, an elite player who stuck around for five years, a guy who helped win a national championship but still has something to prove.

The 22-year-old Texan is again in the driver's seat in an Urban Meyer offense that's been a revolving door for coordinators who haven't found the right formula to get Barrett back to the kind of consistent play that propelled the Buckeyes to the 2014 national championship.

Barrett, who is 26-4 as a starter and the only three-time captain in Ohio State history, said he's been working with new offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson on tempo, footwork, accuracy and other issues that led to breakdowns last season, particularly in the humiliating 31-0 loss to eventual national champion Clemson in the playoff semifinals.

"He wants to get better," Wilson said. "He's a very mature kid who's hungry and working hard. When your best players are veterans, they've played a lot and yet they're working harder, that is a great image as a coach."

Barrett is surrounded by talent.

Junior receiver Parris Campbell started nine games last year and will slide into the hybrid H-back slot that made a star out of Curtis Samuel last season. He is one of a half dozen likely candidates to emerge as the deep threat that was lacking last season.

Mike Weber, who rushed for 1,119 yards as a redshirt freshman, anchors the backfield. With a year under his belt, he could be electrifying.

Meyer calls the defensive line — led by senior ends Tyquan Lewis, Jalyn Holmes and Sam Hubbard — the team's strongest unit. Linebackers are fast and experienced. A couple of five-star freshmen will almost certainly see some playing time in a defensive secondary depleted by players departing for the NFL.

"We didn't like how we finished last season, but I feel like we've got the guys to redeem ourselves and go harder," Holmes said. "We know what it takes."

Some other things to watch as the season arrives:

PROTECTING J.T.

Meyer always says that the passing game starts with the offensive line, and the Buckeyes struggled last year to give Barrett enough time in the pocket. Barrett was often forced to run from defenders crashing in from the edges. Guard Michael Jordan was the first freshman to start on Ohio State's offensive line in two decades.

Billy Price, who has started every game in the past three seasons, moves over to center to replace All-American Pat Elflein. The competition for Price's right guard spot will be one of the most intense of fall camp .

WHO ARE THOSE DEFENSIVE BACKS?

The Ohio State defensive secondary has been an express pass to the NFL in recent years.

Cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore and Gareon Conley, and safety Malik Hooker went to the draft from last year's team, leaving senior safety Damon Webb as the only returning starter. Corner Denzel Ward, who was heavy in the rotation last season (468 snaps), brings valuable experience and Damon Arnette has impressed in training camp.

Freshmen Jeffrey Okudah, Shaun Wade and Marcus Williamson are expected to see time at cornerback, along with junior-college transfer Kendall Sheffield. Erick Smith and Jordan Fuller will be in the rotation at safety. (Fun fact: Fuller's mom, Cindy Mizelle, has been a backup singer for Bruce Springsteen, Mariah Carey, Barbra Streisand and the Rolling Stones, among others. Her other son, Devin Fuller, is a wide receiver for the Atlanta Falcons.)

KEY GAMES

Sept. 9 vs. Oklahoma; Oct. 28 vs. Penn State; Nov. 25 at Michigan.

SEASON OPENER

It's early this year, an away game against Big Ten foe Indiana on Aug. 31. The Buckeyes will then get another early test against Oklahoma in the home opener.

PREDICTION

Meyer said he thought last season's team made it to the playoffs a year ahead of schedule. With Barrett running the offense and one of the best defenses in the nation, Ohio State expects nothing less than to be in the playoffs for the third time in four seasons. If they can get by Saquon Barkley and Penn State at the end of October, and Michigan in the Big House four weeks later, the Buckeyes could be 12-0 heading into the Big Ten championship game.

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This story has been corrected to show receiver Parris Campbell is a junior, not a senior.

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For more AP college football coverage: http://collegefootball.ap.org/

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Follow Mitch Stacy at http://www.twitter.com/mitchstacy

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