Ohio State's 2020 campaign will finally get underway on Oct. 24 when the Cornhuskers head to Columbus. Ryan Day and his crew will play nine games with the final one hopefully coming for the conference crown in Indianapolis. The Buckeyes are set to face six East Division foes with another three coming from the West.
Last season we saw players like Purdue's George Karlaftis and Penn State's Journey Brown become household names. Today, we're looking at some names to know and potential breakout players on Ohio State's upcoming schedule. Some are newcomers while others are familiar faces expected to step into more prominent roles.
Oct. 24 • Nebraska • WR Omar Manning • Junior (JUCO)
The biggest question surrounding Scott Frost's program is whether or not Adrian Martinez can make that next step. He regressed as a sophomore in 2019 after giving Ohio State a run for its money in 2018. We know about Martinez and all-purpose weapon Wan'Dale Robinson, but the Huskers are going to need someone else to help fill the void after JD Spielman transferred to TCU.
At 6-foot-4 and 225-pounds, JUCO wideout Omar Manning is the name I'm watching, but this comes with a bit of a caveat. Scott Frost has been fairly hush-hush on Manning's status after he missed some time due to personal reasons. There also have been a few rumblings of him potentially opting out. Oddly enough, Manning actually signed with TCU back in 2017 before spending some time at Kilgore Junior College in Texas. We'll see if he's available to try his hand against Shaun Wade and Co.
Oct. 31 • @Penn State • LB Brandon Smith • Soph.
James Franklin will be without Micah Parsons this go-around as the future first-round draft pick decided not to partake in his junior season. The player to watch on the PSU defense is five-star 2019 signee Brandon Smith. The Virginia native was rated as the nation's top linebacker before signing with Penn State. He recorded eight tackles in his backup role as a freshman. He'll now step in as a starter and will need to be ready in Parsons' absence.
Nov. 7 • Rutgers • DB/ATH Peyton Powell • RS Freshman
Let's be honest, it's difficult to find any star power on Greg Schiano's roster. But how often do you see a four-star kid Ohio State really wanted end up at Rutgers? Odessa, Texas's Peyton Powell is name we talked about regularly throughout the 2019 recruiting cycle. Schiano loved Powell's potential as a defensive back even though quarterback was his preferred position. He committed to Texas and ultimately signed with Baylor before transferring to Piscataway. Powell is officially listed as a defensive back on the team's roster, but he could be a part of some trickeration on offense as well.
Nov. 14 • @Maryland • Safety Nick Cross • Sophomore
Back in the Class of 2019, DeMatha Catholic's Nick Cross was the country's fourth-best safety and No. 55 overall prospect. All the heavy hitters – including Alabama and Ohio State – were courting him and at one point Cross was committed to Florida State. Now, he's arguably the most talented player on Mike Locksley's roster and has some serious NFL Draft potential. Cross started the Terps' final five games as a true freshman last season and will be one of the defensive leaders in 2020.
Nov. 21 • Indiana • QB Michael Penix Jr. • RS Sophomore
This one may be a bit obvious, but Ohio State actually hasn't had to deal with Michael Penix yet despite this being his third year on campus. Penix redshirted in 2018 and missed last year's matchup due to an injury. The dual-threat lefty started six games in 2019 and the Hoosiers went 5-1 when he was at the helm. Penix threw for 1,394 with 10 touchdowns and four interceptions. He added another 119 yards and two scores with his legs.
The injuries prevented Penix from showing what he can do against Ohio State, Michigan, and Penn State. Assuming he can stay healthy, he'll get his shot this time around. It's also worth remembering that Penix said the Hoosiers will "shock the world" against the aforementioned Big Ten powers.
Nov. 28 • @Illinois • WR Josh Imatorbhebhe • Senior
The only senior on our list, Illinois wideout Josh Imatorbhebhe was the team's leading receiver in 2019 with 634 yards and nine scores. We don't talk all that much about Lovie Smith's weapons, but the USC transfer is someone who could garner a lot more chatter in his second season in Champaign and another year working with quarterback Brandon Peters.
Dec. 5 • @Michigan State • WR Tre Mosley • Sophomore
There's nothing like an early-December trip to East Lansing, right? Who knows what the weather will be like as both teams could be dealing with the elements. Mel Tucker is looking to turn around the Spartans, and he'll need to replace starting wideouts Cody White and Darrell Stewart Jr.
The team's top returning wideout is sophomore Tre Mosley as the West Bloomfield native caught 21 passes for 216 and a touchdown last year. He was expected to redshirt but injuries forced him into action during the latter part of the season. The quarterback situation isn't pretty right now, but Mosley could be a bright spot in the passing game.
Dec. 12 • Michigan • Safety Daxton Hill • Sophomore
Potentially the league's most talented non-Buckeye, Wolverine safety Daxton Hill played in all 13 games as a freshman and had a starting role in three of them. I'll never understand why Josh Metellus saw the field so much in Ann Arbor, but he's now gone as are LaVert Hill and Ambry Thomas. Thomas was expected to lead the Michigan secondary before he opted out and signed with an agent.
That leaves Hill as the young leader in a new-look defensive backfield. Outside of the former five-star, things aren't looking so hot for Jim Harbaugh's 2020 secondary. Over the last two seasons, the unit has given up 709 yards and 10 touchdowns to Ohio State quarterbacks. Hill will be a key cog in trying to buck that trend this season.
Dec. 19 • Big Ten Championship Game
QB Graham Mertz • RS Freshman • Wisconsin
Maybe you've seen the matchup a time or two, but there's once again a solid chance the Buckeyes and Badgers meet up in Indy. Wisconsin has better odds than any team in the West, though I suppose a team like Minnesota or Iowa may give Paul Chryst a run for his money once again.
When was the last time the Badgers had a true game-changer at quarterback? The answer is probably Russell Wilson in 2011. Since then, it's mostly been a game-management role in Madison. Graham Mertz is the most talented quarterback they've had, and he now gets his opportunity in year two. Jack Coan is out for an indefinite amount of time due to foot surgery and Jonathan Taylor is suiting up for the Colts. Mertz will need to grow up quickly if the Badgers want to return to Indy.
WR Chris Autman-Bell • RS Junior • Minnesota
P.J. Fleck got some great news when Rashod Bateman opted back in for the 2020 season. The Gopher wideout looks like a sure-fire early draft pick, but he'll have a new top running mate this time. Tyler Johnson left Minnesota No. 2 on the list of receptions (213) and the all-time leader in both receiving yards (3,305) and receiving touchdowns (33). Johnson was drafted in the fifth round by the Buccaneers.
Chris Autman-Bell is now in his fourth year on campus and isn't a new name by any means. That being said, he had just 371 yards in 2019 serving as the No. 3 option behind both Bateman and Johnson. Tanner Morgan returns and the Minnesota passing game should once again be one of the Big Ten's best. Autman-Bell will be an even bigger part of that in 2020.