In the modern recruiting era, which spans the past two decades, Ohio State has signed no shortage of lauded classes.
The 2017 group featured five five-star prospects and six other ranked within the top-100 overall recruits. A trio of five-stars headed the 2019 class and 10 top-100 recruits joined the Buckeyes in both 2013 and 2014. Four four-star recruits signed in 2008. Both Jim Tressel and Urban Meyer consistently produced awe-inspiring classes.
But at the moment – maybe the 2021 class raises the bar even higher – none of them have managed to bring in the haul Urban Meyer enrolled in the 2018 cycle, which happened to be his last class as a head coach. Though Georgia brought in a higher-ranked class that cycle, it was Ohio State’s top-rated class ever.
At the forefront was Nicholas Petit-Frere, a top-10 overall prospect joined by a pair of other five-star recruits in Taron Vincent and Tyreke Johnson. Four other signees – Jaelen Gill, Tyreke Smith, Jeremy Ruckert and Teradja Mitchell – were viewed as top-50 overall prospects, with six more ranked in the latter half of the top-100 list. All of the 26 enrollees except three of them – Chris Olave, Alex Williams and Marcus Hooker – were listed as four-star or five-star recruits.
Deservedly, Meyer received widespread praise. Yet two years later, despite its once-heralded status, Ohio State’s 2018 class hasn’t produced many players who have consistently helped the Buckeyes win games.
Only four of them – Smith, Ruckert, Olave and Tyler Friday – have started more than one game, and six have played at least 300 snaps across the 2018 and 2019 seasons. Six rising third-years have played fewer than 100 snaps. L'Christian Smith (Cincinnati), Matthew Baldwin (TCU), Gill (Boston College) and Williams (Vanderbilt) each transferred, and Brian Snead got dismissed from the university. Justin Fields, the most impactful junior thus far, wasn’t even originally in the class; he transferred into the program.
Not all has been disappointing, of course. Olave, a lower-rated gem, might be a first-round NFL draft pick next spring. Ruckert, Smith, Togiai, Friday and Teague have each played important complementary roles in their first two years in Columbus.
But if Ohio State is to win a national championship this fall, it needs to have its rising third-year players emerge as they take over significant roles on what’s expected to be a title-contending team. As a group, they’re the key to a College Football Playoff run.
|NAME||CAREER SNAPS||CAREER STARTS||PAST ROLE||POTENTIAL 2020 ROLE|
|JUSTIN FIELDS||917||14||STARTING QB||STARTING QB|
|NICHOLAS PETIT-FRERE||312||1||BACKUP OT||STARTING RT|
|JEREMY RUCKERT||533||4||ROTATING TE||ROTATING TE|
|MATTHEW JONES||114||0||BACKUP OG||BACKUP OG|
|KAMRYN BABB||0||0||REHABBING||BACKUP WR|
|MAX WRAY||0||0||BACKUP OT||BACKUP OT|
|MASTER TEAGUE||194||0||BACKUP RB||ROTATING RB|
|CHRIS OLAVE||676||6||STARTING WR||STARTING WR|
Offensively, two rising third-year players will both be starters for the second year in a row – though one of them will be serving in the role for the entire season rather than part of it.
Fields, the one-time Georgia backup signal-caller, is now back as Ryan Day’s first-ever second-year starting quarterback as a full-time football coach. That might be hard to believe, but remarkably, it’s true. In Olave, he’ll have one of his top targets back for the second year in a row before they both potentially have a shot to get selected early in the 2021 NFL Draft. Olave only started six games last year, but he’s become the Buckeyes’ undisputed No. 1 receiver in 2020.
Ohio State will likely have a third third-year player join Fields and Olave as a starter: Petit-Frere. Ranked as the top recruit Ohio State signed in 2018, he has served as a backup the past two seasons, and as a redshirt sophomore, he has the early edge to start at right tackle. He’ll have to fend off Paris Johnson and Dawand Jones, but as Greg Studrawa recently said, this should be the year that Petit-Frere captures the starting spot.
The other five on offense? None are likely starters, though a couple of them will be regular contributors.
Ruckert could equal the snap count of fellow tight end Luke Farrell, a fifth-year senior. It’s incumbent on Ohio State to figure out to involve Ruckert more as a receiving option. There’s also a chance Master Teague will also be heavily involved in the offense, likely as a complement to Trey Sermon at running back, though that’ll be determined by the health of his Achilles. He hopes to return before the season. But because Day has instituted a policy allowing minimal details about injuries to become public, his timeline to return remains unclear.
Jones could push Harry Miller for the starting left guard job, though it seems more likely that he’ll be the team’s top backup interior lineman. Kamryn Babb is expected to finally play his first snap as a Buckeye this fall after spending the past two years rehabbing major knee injuries. He’s an under-the-radar receiver who, if healthy, might be one of the most talented players in Brian Hartline’s room. Also, Max Wray will again be a backup offensive tackle.
|NAME||CAREER SNAPS||CAREER STARTS||PAST ROLE||POTENTIAL 2020 ROLE|
|TARON VINCENT||98||0||BACKUP DT||STARTING DT|
|TYREKE JOHNSON||59||0||BACKUP CB||ROTATING CB|
|TYREKE SMITH||426||4||BACKUP DE||STARTING DE|
|TERADJA MITCHELL||101||0||BACKUP LB||ROTATING LB|
|TOMMY TOGIAI||364||0||BACKUP DT||STARTING DT|
|JOSH PROCTOR||126||0||BACKUP S||STARTING S|
|TYLER FRIDAY||305||4||ROTATING DE||ROTATING DE|
|DALLAS GANT||126||0||BACKUP LB||ROTATING LB|
|K'VAUGHAN POPE||79||0||BACKUP LB||ROTATING LB|
|JAVONTAE JEAN-BAPTISTE||201||1||ROTATING DE||ROTATING DE|
|SEVYN BANKS||170||1||BACKUP CB||STARTING CB|
|CAMERON BROWN||278||0||BACKUP CB||STARTING CB|
|MARCUS HOOKER||82||0||BACKUP S||ROTATING S|
More so than on the offensive side of the ball, Ohio State has a huge amount of third-year defensive players gearing up for their biggest roles yet in college.
Though the group includes two former five-star prospects and five others once ranked among the 100 best overall prospects in the 2018 recruiting cycle, not a single defensive player has become a full-time starter yet. Together, they’ve totally only 10 starts across two years.
Undoubtedly, that will change this fall. As many as six rising third-year defenders could become first-time starters.
Tommy Togiai is the poster child for this group of players going from contributors to prominently featured in the plans of the defense. He played 250 snaps last season while rotating at nose tackle with DaVon Hamilton and Robert Landers. Now that they’re gone, he’ll become the starter. Similarly, Taron Vincent could end up becoming the defensive tackle starter – or at least a rotating 3-technique – alongside him since he has fully recovered from the torn labrum in his right shoulder that held him out the entirety of last season. Out of high school, he was the nation’s top defensive tackle prospect, and it’s time to see him on a big stage.
Up front, Tyreke Smith will either start at defensive end or rotate heavily with a group that also includes fellow third-year edge rushers Javontae Jean-Baptiste and Tyler Friday. Now that Chase Young’s gone, they’re important in Ohio State’s efforts to get to the quarterback.
Teradja Mitchell, Dallas Gant and K’Vaughan Pope might not start this fall, but they’re all jostling to be in the mix to rotate heavily at linebacker. Mitchell, a thumper, is one of the candidates to start at weakside linebacker. Gant’s an option to complement Tuf Borland as a backup middle linebacker who can play on passing downs. Pope could again back up Pete Werner at strongside linebacker.
In the secondary, because Jeff Okudah, Damon Arnette and Jordan Fuller are now in the NFL, a trio of third-year players could become first-time starters.
Josh Proctor, a playmaking safety, appears to be the most likely option to follow Fuller as the starter in the back end of the defense. Who’s his top competition for the starting spot? Hooker, a fellow third-year safety. One of them will start, and the other will likely take the field for two-safety looks. A trio of third-year cornerbacks – Sevyn Banks, Cameron Brown and Tyreke Johnson – and Marcus Williamson are the main candidates to start along with Shaun Wade at cornerback.
Combined, the third-year defensive backs have started one game. In the fall, three of them are likely to become full-time starters.
These players were once part of the best recruiting class Ohio State ever signed. It’s time for them to show the college football world why.