Talented upperclassmen make for great college football teams. Quality freshmen contributors, though, are the difference between those great teams and championship teams.
This mentality pervades Urban Meyer's coaching philosophy at Ohio State. While Meyer is effusive in praise for veteran leadership of players like John Simon and Evan Spencer, he has also shown no deference to upperclassmen if they are not performing to the caliber of the younger players on the roster. A player like Bri'onte Dunn redshirted the 2013 season, in part, because true freshman Ezekiel Elliott outperformed him in fall camp.
The new players excite the coaches and also intrigue the subset of Ohio State fans who passionately follow recruiting. Both coaches and fans alike want to know which new face signed in February will become regular attractions this coming season. This feature will attempt a forecast over which true freshmen see the field this year and which will use this year as a redshirt season.
Fans who want to know which true freshmen will play regularly should follow updates on who is getting their "black stripe" removed from their helmet. This is a reliable predictor of who plays as a true freshman. By this point last year, ten true freshmen and new players had their black stripes removed. These were, in order, Curtis Samuel, Raekwon McMillan, Darius Slade, Damon Webb, Aaron Parry (a walk-on), Noah Brown, Jalyn Holmes, Sam Hubbard, Dante Booker, and Johnnie Dixon.
The first two players had their black stripes removed a week into camp. Incidentally, both were conspicuous all-season as freshman contributions to last year's national championship team.
Overall, seven of those players saw the field last year. Darius Slade, the third player to have his black stripe removed, constitutes a real anomaly. Hubbard, a redshirt legend, is a story in and of itself.
|JOSHUA ALABI||58||DL||Detroit, MI||Link|
|A.J. ALEXANDER||88||TE||Burke, VA||Link|
|DAMON ARNETTE||3||DB||Ft. Lauderdale, FL||Link|
|JEROME BAKER||4||LB||Cleveland, OH||Link|
|RASHOD BERRY||24||TE||Lorain, OH||Link|
|BRANDEN BOWEN||76||OL||Draper, UT||Link|
|MATTHEW BURRELL||56||OL||Woodbridge, VA||Link|
|JOE BURROW||10||QB||Athens, OH||Link|
|NICK CONNER||34||LB||Dublin, OH||Link|
|JASHON CORNELL||9||DL||St. Paul, MN||Link|
|KEVIN FEDER||77||OL||Ramsey, NJ||Link|
|TORRANCE GIBSON||6||QB/WR||Plantation, FL||Link|
|ERIC GLOVER-WILLIAMS||19||DB||Canton, OH||Link|
|DA'VON HAMILTON||53||DL||Pickerington, OH||Link|
|K.J. HILL||14||WR||North Little Rock, AR||Link|
|JUSTIN HILLIARD||47||LB||Cincinnati, OH||Link|
|DRE'MONT JONES||86||DL||Cleveland, OH||Link|
|ROBERT LANDERS||57||DL||Dayton, OH||Link|
|LIAM MCCULLOUGH||49||LS||Columbus, OH||Link|
|JOSH NORWOOD||14||DB||Valdosta, GA||Link|
|ISAIAH PRINCE||59||OL||Greenbelt, MD||Link|
|GRANT SCHMIDT||67||OL||Sioux Falls, SD||Link|
|ALEX STUMP||87||WR||Cleveland, OH||Link|
|DENZEL WARD||12||DB||Macedonia, OH||Link|
|MIKE WEBER||20||RB||Detroit, MI||Link|
With that in mind, expect to see plenty of Isaiah Prince, Mike Weber, and K.J. Hill this year. Though Prince is still raw in pass protection, he has adapted to fall camp better than I had anticipated (given his raw mechanics). He is already in the two-deep at tackle.
I have always thought K.J. Hill was a possible star among this freshmen class. Ohio State needs receivers this season, and especially against Virginia Tech. Hill promises to fill that void.
Mike Weber's black stripe removal highlights the great fall camp he had to this point. He was threatening to supplant Warren Ball and Bri'onte Dunn as backups to Ezekiel Elliott. His meniscus tear will cost him the remainder of fall camp and will compromise his ability to contribute early in the season. However, I still expect him to play this year, barring another meniscus injury.
Though Torrance Gibson has not had his black stripe removed yet, he expects to figure prominently as a true freshman. A long-hinted and now-actualized move to wide receiver suggests he should see the field immediately.
More true freshmen may position themselves to play this year even if their names have not been prominently featured in scrimmage reports. Matthew Burrell may provide some spot duties at the interior of the offensive line. Ed Warinner has been upbeat about all the freshmen offensive linemen.
Further, Joey Bosa's one-game suspension makes an appearance by Jashon Cornell more likely even if a redshirt year may benefit the Cretin-Derham Hall product. Cornell has been on campus since January.
We can have some confidence that the aforementioned players will factor prominently as true freshmen on both sides of the ball. Forecasting special teams contributions is a little more difficult.
Ohio State fans should expect all three linebackers to play as true freshmen, though they may see them more on special teams than defense. Meyer is keen on Jerome Baker, Nick Conner, and Justin Hilliard. Ohio State fans may also remember Conner from a solid spring game performance. However, Ohio State's starters at linebacker are fairly established and Dante Booker may factor more prominently in the unit as a sophomore as well. There is a possibility the Virginia Tech game may open an opportunity for one of these true freshmen at linebacker, though this hinges on whether Josh Perry plays defensive end for that contest.
Ohio State's signees at linebacker look more promising as day-one contributors than the signees at defensive back. I thought for sure Damon Arnette would feature prominently on special teams, at least. However, he is sidelined right now with an unspecified injury.
Given a choice between Denzel Ward and Josh Norwood, I think Ward's speed is better suited for "piranha" duties this year than Norwood. I do not expect either one to factor into the two-deep at cornerback this year.
Though he shares the same small stature as his other freshman defensive backs, Eric Glover-Williams should see the field on special teams. Glover-Williams is electric with the ball in his hands and may thrive in kick return duties. Kerry Coombs already speaks highly of him.
The remaining players are players recuperating from injury (e.g. Dre'Mont Jones), players who are long-term, albeit promising, projects (e.g. Joshua Alabi, Joe Burrow, Da'Von Hamilton, Robert Landers), or players who could command some playing time if not for the wealth of talent ahead of them on the roster (e.g. Branden Bowen, Kevin Feder).
This is the story of Ohio State's 2015 team. The Buckeyes had some important attrition at wide receiver and scattered, though not concentrated, through the defense. However, a wealth of talent returns from last year's national champions. Coaches can be more selective in who plays among the true freshmen when several major contributors from last year were draft-ineligible or opted to return for another season.
Ohio State's talent glut should make the 2015 Buckeyes another great team to follow last year's national champions. It may also make coaches more selective about which true freshmen play. However, those freshmen contributors will still be the difference between great football teams and the national champions Meyer coached at both Florida and Ohio State. Expect some big things this fall from some of the freshmen, especially those who have already lost their "black stripe".