Every player on the Ohio State football team plays a key role on gameday. However, some players are more impactful than others during the course of the regular season. Below are six players who will play pivotal roles if the Buckeyes hope to play into the second week of January.
Let’s take a trip down memory lane.
August, 2014. Braxton Miller, entering his senior season, hurts his shoulder in camp and in steps redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett. The offense doesn’t skip a beat as Barrett amasses over 2,800 passing yards with 34 touchdowns in addition to rushing for more than 900 yards and 11 TDs on the ground. Then comes November 29th against Michigan when he breaks his ankle, followed by Cardale Jones leading the Buckeyes to a National Championship.
Next stop: 2015. J.T. Barrett, Cardale Jones, and Braxton Miller are back. Barrett’s yardage through the air drops to under 1,000 yards with only 11 touchdowns, but let’s write that off due to him splitting time at QB with Jones.
Now we move forward to just a year ago. Cardale Jones and Braxton Miller are gone. Ezekiel Elliot is off to the NFL. This is J.T. Barrett’s time to take over the spotlight.
Unfortunately, he couldn’t live up to the hype he created as a freshman. He threw for better than 2,500 yards but only had 24 TDs through the air. His completion percentage and yards per attempt dropped to career lows of 61.5% and 6.7. His yards per rush fell to just over four, another career low. For a QB who was supposed to have the best season of his career, the results were a bit discouraging.
Fast forward to 2017. Here’s what we know for sure:
J.T. Barrett is a play-making QB who’s dangerous both through the air and on the ground.
- He’s never had more than 10 interceptions in a season.
- He’s been in the top five in the conference during both of his full seasons in passing yardage.
- Barrett’s been the top-rushing QB in the conference in each of his three years at Ohio State.
Urban Meyer knows what he has at quarterback, and there’s value in that. Perhaps with expectations not quite as sky high as they were a year ago, he can go out there and put up the numbers Buckeye fans have been waiting for. Or maybe he won’t. Either way, the Buckeyes are still in good hands.
With Ohio State’s top three leading receivers from last season all moving on to the next level, there’s an obvious void to fill in terms of pass catching with this year’s squad.
Curtis Samuel, who was one of those three guys, reeled in 865 receiving yards last year in addition to gathering 771 yards on the ground. Of all the offensive weapons returning in 2017, Parris Campbell is one of the more promising players who should help fill that role.
As a sophomore in 2016, Campbell primarily made his impact on special teams. He ranked 12th in the country and first in the Big Ten in kick returns, averaging 27.8 yards per return. He didn’t make a huge splash in the receiving game, but does rank third among returning players (second among receivers) in receiving yards. Finally, although it’s a small sample size, he also averaged 13.5 yards per carry with a TD on four rush attempts last year.
The door is open for somebody to step up and be “a playmaker” in the Ohio State offense, and Parris Campbell appears poised to fill that void as he enters his junior season.
Mike Weber returns for his sophomore season at Ohio State after a breakout season for the Buckeyes in 2016. Weber ranked 6th in the Big Ten with 1,096 rushing yards and 10th in the conference in rushing touchdowns with nine. Most impressive however, was that Weber ranked second in the nation among all freshmen in rushing yards.
Although Weber didn’t post eye-popping yardage numbers or TD totals that Bucks fans were spoiled with from the likes of previous running backs Ezekiel Elliot and Carlos Hyde, his yards per carry were actually pretty close to Elliot’s from the year prior (6.30 YPC for Elliot in 2015, 6.02 YPC for Weber in 2016).
The biggest thing missing for Mike Weber was the touches. (Did I mention he was a freshman?)
Weber averaged 14 carries per game compared to Elliot‘s 22 the previous campaign. In games against Michigan and Clemson late last year, Weber saw his fewest carries of the season. Not surprisingly, his performances during those two games were less than great. He gained 26 and 24 rushing yards respectively against the Wolverines and Tigers, including a lost fumble in the College Football Playoff Semifinal against the University of Clemson.
Mike Weber will undoubtedly see an increased role in the offense this year as a sophomore.
With Curtis Samuel out of the picture, he and J.T. Barret figure to be the primary pieces of the offense. Expect Mike Weber to build off his impressive freshman year and turn into a steady and reliable difference maker that Buckeye fans are accustomed to seeing in the backfield.
Sam Hubbard is one heck of an athlete.
He came to Ohio State as a defensive back, earned his way to playing time as a defensive end, and is now being possibly moved around to linebacker. After totaling 10 sacks between his freshman and sophomore seasons, Hubbard’s versatility opens up numerous possibilities for the coaching staff, who have the luxury of having such a deep and talented group of defensive ends.
Hubbard is garnering attention at the next level too. NFL scouts would love to have a player with his raw ability, athleticism, and versatility playing on Sundays.
For now, he’s just one big piece of the puzzle in Greg Schiano’s defensive scheme.
The six-foot-one, 225-pound Jerome Baker enters his junior season with the Buckeyes ready to take his game to the next level.
During the offseason, Baker has focused on learning the playbook and working on pre-snap alignment. Covering up mistakes with his speed and athleticism wasn’t a major concern in the past, but now he’ll have to be more accountable at all times in order to take his game to the next level.
Emerging from the shadows of first-round NFL picks Marshon Lattimore and Gareon Conley, Denzel Ward now holds the top spot on the depth chart at the cornerback position.
Ward didn’t get all the accolades Lattimore and Conley received last year, mostly due to the lack of interceptions. As far as pass coverage goes, though, he was every bit as effective as the two now-professional corners were. On 42 targets in 2016, Ward allowed only 15 completions and didn’t allow a single touchdown, something neither Lattimore nor Conley could claim.
I’m telling you he [is] as good as the other two.
Those were the words of cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs, who’s seen his fair share of talented defensive backs take the field under his tutelage at Ohio State. If Coombs is right, Buckeye fans are not only in store for an exciting season, but will also be hearing another familiar name selected on Day 1 of the NFL Draft next May.