The Ohio State roster features three players from the state of Indiana. On the recruiting front, the Buckeyes don't often target their westerly neighbor, but at least two of the three names from the Hoosier State should play a significant role on Thursday night.
Yesterday, redshirt junior Terry McLaurin was listed as a co-starter alongside wideout Johnnie Dixon. The Indianapolis native signed with the Buckeyes in 2014 after impressing in a number of different high school camp settings. A former star at Cathedral High School, McLaurin held offers from the likes of Missouri, Indiana, Purdue, and Iowa.
Following a redshirt freshman season that saw playing time on special teams, McLaurin would go on to play in all 13 games in 2016. He made four starts and hauled in 11 passes for 114 yards and two touchdowns.
On Monday, the Ohio State captain spoke about heading back to the state of Indiana:
"I'd be lying if I said it wasn't a big deal. You get to be a part of this offense and play in front of your home state, a place that recruited you. I've got around 20 people trying to come."
Fellow wide receiver Austin Mack is entering his sophomore season in Columbus, and he too will be heading home later this week. A former four-star prospect out of Fort Wayne's Bishop Luers High School, Mack's recruitment was never really in doubt leading up to his eventual Ohio State pledge and early arrival in January of 2016. He selected Ohio State over Michigan, Notre Dame, Alabama, and many other programs.
Mack was a regular in Columbus throughout his junior and senior seasons. He – along with Binjimen Victor – were the two wideouts that Zach Smith and Urban Meyer coveted throughout the cycle. He would go on to play an integral part in organizing the 2016 recruiting class.
"Right now, I’ve got to go through fall camp, be consistent and hopefully I can earn a spot," Mack said. "I think I’ll be in the rotation. But my expectation, by the end of this fall camp, I’ll be one of the starters. That’s the expectation I have for myself. So I’m going to push myself to hopefully reach that expectation."
Smith's plan early on in the season is to employ a number of different wideouts, and Mack is listed as a co-starter along with the aforementioned Victor. Obviously it remains to be seen who will see the field first Thursday night, but it's clear that Austin Mack is poised for a much bigger role as a sophomore.
McLaurin isn't the only Indianapolis Cathedral alum on Ohio State's roster. A year ago, true freshman Pete Werner was suiting up and leading the defense for one of Indy's top high school programs. A Notre Dame commit at the time, the four-star backed off that pledge in late November and committed to the Buckeyes less than two weeks later. Luke Fickell's relationship with Indiana's No. 2 prospect – combined with an awful 2016 season for Brian Kelly – was enough to give Ohio State the edge.
In his final presser leading up to the Indiana game, Urban Meyer listed off some true freshmen who will be traveling with the team for the opener. He wasn't specifically asked about Werner, but in the past younger players have been permitted to travel when the team is hitting the road back to their home states. Meyer previously had mentioned him as someone who would see the field this season, but given the linebacker depth, special teams seems like the most likely option.
If you're looking for an impact from the Indiana trio on Thursday night, obviously it starts with Mack and McLaurin as Ohio State is in desperate need of an improved passing game. Both have seen the field in the past but are in line for more pivotal roles in 2017.
It's 48 hours before the team heads to Bloomington, and the wide receiver picture still isn't clear. McLaurin, Mack, Victor, and Dixon — along with Parris Campbell and K.J. Hill at H-Back — will likely all see passes thrown their way. Starting the season on the road and in conference play, the Hoosiers will present a different kind of week-one challenge, and the wide receiver pecking order may gain some clarity Thursday night.
Perhaps a bit of a homecoming is just what Zone Six needs.