Hoping to Help Produce a CFP Title, Ohio State's 2018 Seniors Face Tall Task If They Plan to Match 2014 Senior Output

By Chris Lauderback on June 28, 2018 at 11:05 am
Parris Campbell, Isaiah Prince, Demetrius Knox, Terry McLaurin, Brady Taylor and Sean Nuernberger lead Ohio State's senior class.

Since Urban Meyer strolled into town it's commonplace to enter each season with national championship aspirations. 

Through his first six campaigns in Columbus, Meyer boasts two College Football Playoff appearances and one national title courtesy of the magical ride provided by the 2014 squad. 

The Buckeyes slotted just outside the top four in most of that season's preseason polls thanks in large part to hype surrounding a plethora of young but not totally proven former four and five-star players and of course the very much proven Braxton Miller returning at quarterback. 

The list of first-year underclassmen starters featured names like Ezekiel Elliott, J.T. Barrett, Mike Thomas, Billy Price, Jacoby Boren, Pat Elfein, Darron Lee, Vonn Bell and Eli Apple. 

Elliott stole the show with a monster season featuring nearly 1,900 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns, Thomas led the squad with 54 receptions, Joey Bosa went off for 21.0 TFL and 13.5 sacks, Bell recorded 92 tackles, Lee got loose for 16.5 TFL, Apple led the team with 10 PBU and the Price/Boren/Eflein middle of the offensive line did work. The combo of Barrett, then a redshirt freshman, and Cardale Jones (R-So) also fared pretty well at quarterback. 

While those younger guys blew up, the senior class didn't get as much run but produced key starters such as Daryl Baldwin, Jeff Heuerman, Devin Smith, Evan Spencer, Michael Bennett, Curtis Grant, Doran Grant and Steve Miller. 

Baldwin is still one the lesser-heralded players on that squad but did a hell of a job as a first-year senior starter at right tackle. Heuerman was an exceptional leader from the tight end spot while hauling in 17 balls. 

Smith served as a big-play machine all season tallying 931 yards on a ridiculous 28.2 yards per catch with 12 touchdowns while fellow wideout Spencer served as an elite leader and blocker well before his effort to spring Elliott's 85 yard run through the heart of the South that serves as a career-defining play along with his touchdown toss to Thomas earlier in that same game. 

Devin Smith
Devin Smith averaged 28.2 yards per catch and hauled in 12 touchdowns as a senior in 2014. 

On defense, Michael Bennett was the glue of the defensive line on the way to 14.0 TFL, 7.0 sacks and three forced fumbles. Bennett was an absolute animal in the postseason, saving his best for last while playing in honor of fallen teammate Kosta Karageorge. 

Joining Bennett along the D-line, Steve Miller nearly tripled his tackle total from the year before with 34 stops and contributed a clutch 41-yard interception return giving Ohio State a 34-21 lead over Alabama midway through the third quarter of the CFP semifinal. 

Curtis Grant ended his career with a bang posting 69 stops while corner Doran Grant went for 63 stops and placed second on the team in both interceptions (5) and PBU (9). 

Summarized differently, while the underclassmen on the 2014 squad were sensational, there's no way that team wins the national title without the leadership and production produced by the seniors dotting the roster. 

Flipping the calendar to present day, Ohio State once again has national championship dreams sparked largely by the presence of underclassmen expected to play huge roles. 

True sophomore tailback J.K. Dobbins headlines the group along with names like Chase Young, Dwayne Haskins, Thayer Munford, Luke Farrell, Jeremy Ruckert, Tuf Borland, Baron Browning, Jeffrey Okudah, Isaiah Pryor, Dru Chrisman, Shaun Wade and Josh Proctor to just name the sophomore-eligibility guys and younger. 

A host of junior-eligibility players will also play key roles but just like 2014 – or really any year – championship-level teams must receive significant contributions in both numbers and leadership from the seniors. 

On paper, this year's senior class with projected contributors Parris Campbell, Terry McLaurin, Johnnie Dixon, Demetrius Knox, Brady Taylor, Isaiah Prince and Sean Nuernberger, among others, appears to have a tall order on its hands if it wants to match the production of the 2014 group. 

Campbell is among the most crucial pieces after a 2017 campaign featuring 40 catches for a team-leading 584 yards and three touchdowns from the H-back spot. Not only will he need to produce those long catch-and-run plays, he must shore up his hands and serve as the leader he's expected to be if he wants to go down in history. 

Parris Campbell
Parris Campbell is a threat to take it to the house with every touch but needs to eliminate drops.

McLaurin is this team's closest thing to Evan Spencer from a blocking wide receiver standpoint and he did haul in six touchdown grabs a season ago as part of a 29-catch, 436-yard effort, both of which were good for third-best on the team. 

Dixon could once again be a real wild card in his final season if he can stay healthy and build some rapport with Haskins. Averaging 23.4 yards per catch in 2017, Dixon led the team with eight touchdown grabs on just 18 total receptions. 

A pair of redshirt seniors, center Brady Taylor and right guard Demetrius Knox must seize their opportunities. Taylor in particular has a chance to pull a Baldwin and make the most of his first and final year as a starter. Whether or not he can hold off any potential position shake-up and/or fend off Josh Myers however remains to be seen.

For his part, Knox turned in a serviceable performance as the starting right guard from the Nebraska game on after the Buckeyes lost Brandon Bowen to a broken leg against Maryland. He'll need to turn in a full season of above average effectiveness to be fondly remembered in Columbus – something he is fully capable of, and should do, after starting the final eight games of last season. 

Prince earned his stripes last season with a solid performance at right tackle on the heels of a sophomore campaign that saw him struggle mightily against the better pass rushers on the schedule. Now he's a linchpin up front and an All-Big Ten season is a very fair expectation. 

Kickers don't get much love in the college ranks and Nuernberger has certainly had his ups and downs but the guy has yet to miss an extra point (177 straight) and improved his make percentage to 81% last year (17 for 21). He finished 16 of 17 on kicks of 39 yards or less but was just 1 of 4 on kicks from 40+ yards. A few of those misses came in big games including a 43-yarder against Michigan and another 43-yarder against Wisconsin. He'll need to be better than that this year if he wants to help Ohio State to a title and cement his own legacy in Columbus. 

Reserve seniors Malcolm Pridgeon, C.J. Saunders and former 24/7 Sports five-star linebacker Dante Booker should also have some chances to contribute, especially Booker on special teams.

Whether or not the senior class can put it all together in the name of a national title is anyone's guess but no matter what the young guys do, Meyer will need big contributions from his elder statesmen if the 2018 squad is to make a run at greatness.

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