At a school like Ohio State, it's rare for freshmen to play right away, let alone make make an impact on the football field. Even Heisman winners Troy Smith and Eddie George did little to nothing in their first year at Ohio State.
As recruiting coverage has grown, though, so have the expectations for freshmen to immediately be playmakers. This past offseason, a friend asked me if I thought Gareon Conley was a bust after taking a redshirt in his first season at Ohio State. I pointed out that almost the entire 2013 recruiting class was redshirted and to call him a bust so early in his career was unfair. I don't know if Conley will be a playmaker, but after watching Conley at practice this spring I think he'll be a real contributor.
For every Maurice Clarett, dozens of players labor on the scout team and special teams before seeing real action. Even so, in a culture fascinated by "who's next" speculation, it's fun to guess who the next freshman phenom will be.
The recruiting services give us a good idea of who should be good at some point, but as fall camp kicks into gear we grasp at tidbits that could point to the next breakout guy. So, what exactly should we expect from one of the most highly-touted recruiting classes in recent Buckeye history?
The players best-equipped to see the field this fall are those who enrolled at Ohio State the earliest. With spring ball and most of an off-season under their belts, these players have bulked up, studied the playbook and acclimated to life on campus. This year's group of early-enrollees arguably includes the class's most highly-touted prospects.
Raekwon McMillan and Curtis Samuel were headliners of the 2014 class, and they were the first two to lose their black stripes. These two are the obvious choices to make an instant impact; both had great springs and play at positions with questionable depth. I expect both to start the season in the two-deep and see major time in non-conference games, maybe earning starting roles at some point this year.
Johnnie Dixon and Sean Nuernberger are the other obvious impact players in this group. Dixon showed that he was prepared for the physicality of college football this spring, and like Samuel he joins a group of largely unproven backup receivers. Dixon has a strong shot at making the two-deep and earning snaps early in the season. Likewise, Nuernberger showed off a strong leg in the spring game. He's the only scholarship kicker, and likely to start from day one.
The two offensive linemen who enrolled early, Kyle Trout and Marcelys Jones have both been praised by Ed Warinner at different times this off-season. They have a shot at the two-deep, but it's hard to see either of them playing a significant amount of time this year.
Last is Stephen Collier, the lone quarterback in the class. Collier may be very good down the road, but he won't see the field this year. He will almost certainly redshirt.
Other likely impact players
While it's much harder for summer enrollees to get playing time, a few of these guys have a shot. Dante Booker enters a position with almost no proven depth and is a big, fast athlete who could at least be an impact special teams player. I would expect something like Trey Johnson's freshman season last year.
Sam Hubbard is someone else who could get on the field. Hubbs has been working at tight end and linebacker this summer as the staff tries to determine the best position for him. He probably won't see time at either position this season, but he's too good as an athlete to be left off the field entirely. He's an early candidate for "special teams beast."
Marshon Lattimore is my other top candidate, helped by his potential to be a multi-faceted playmaker. 10 years ago, the Buckeyes brought in a freshman cornerback from Glenville who led the nation in punt return yardage. With Philly Brown out the door and the punt returner job up for grabs, could Ohio State turn to another Tarblooder?
Darius Slade jumped to the top of this list when he became the third Buckeye to lose his black stripe. The defensive end/outside linebacker hybrid fits the "viper" mold well and could model the impact Jamal Marcus made at the end of last season.
Other dark horses include Parris Campbell and Malik Hooker. Due to his young age, it's always been assumed that Campbell would redshirt, but he could impress some folks this fall and earn special teams work. Hooker hasn't been talked about much, but he's a versatile athlete and a good tackler, necessary traits for coverage teams.
Kyle Berger will receive a redshirt after tearing his ACL again. It's a tough break for a great kid, but he'll be back and better than ever next year. Dylan Thompson is likely to join him; after breaking his kneecap, Thompson is expected to miss 2-3 months.
Other surefire redshirts include the offensive linemen who did not enroll early: Jamarco Jones, Demetrius Knox and Brady Taylor.
What about the redshirt freshmen?
15 members of last year's recruiting class redshirted in 2013, and most hope to see some action this fall. Eli Apple and Gareon Conley will push Armani Reeves for the starting corner spot opposite Doran Grant.
Meanwhile, Billy Price is in the mix for playing time at offensive guard, and he could even earn the starting left guard job.
Finally, Jalin Marshall will have one of the most highly-anticipated debuts this fall. After reports of a great series of bowl practices and a strong off-season, he could be one of Miller's top passing targets this fall.