Just a few short hours from now, arguably the best recruiting class in the history of Ohio State football will make its way onto campus. Mothers will cry, and overconfident young men (as basically all incoming freshman males tend to be, only further multiplied by the personality traits necessary to be an outstanding intercollegiate athlete) will head out into a world they think they've been ready for for months. And like all first-week freshmen, they'll be horribly, horribly wrong.
Sitting across the aisle of the meeting rooms deep in the inner channels of the Woody Hayes Athletic Center will be Eli Apple, J.T. Barrett, Cam Burrows, Tyquan Lewis, and Tracy Sprinkle. The five (four roommates and Barrett) have only been college students for a single semester, and yet, their conditioning – both physical and mental – will lead them to snicker when they hear their new peers arriving Sunday act overconfident, say something that draws their coaches' ire, or stumble through the same pitfalls they conquered as early enrollees this past January. And as they should, because this is all old hat to them at this point.
But for the 19 other newcomers, this marks their respective rebirths. With no other choice but welcoming their trial by fire, stepping away from home for the very first time, and at the same time, taking the first steps to try to stand out, to catch the eyes of their coaches and trainers, and begin the process which may ultimately lead them to seeing the field this fall earlier than they would've otherwise.
We saw Apple make his presence known this past April in Cincinnati. We've heard the glowing praise for Barrett, who despite major surgery just seven months ago might ultimately dodge a redshirt and see action sooner than anyone could've possibly imagined after suffering a torn ACL with cartilage damage. Burrows and Sprinkle have both looked the part in the early going, and Lewis just means a defensive line so talented it's almost unfair gets another ace in the hole.
So which of the other Ohio State newcomers can move into the dorms tomorrow and kick-start a process that ends in them being gushed about when The Game rolls around? Whose early contributions will be invaluable despite their relative lack of experience? Who will prove they're more than just a popsicle or flag on a castle?
Marcus Baugh - TE
For everything Ohio State has in tight ends Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett, which is to stay a lot – both guys are more than starter capable at a program of Ohio State's stature and despite numbers that didn't deviate too dramatically from the tight ends of the Tressel era, represented strong showings contextually in the circumstances that presented themselves last fall – Baugh's skill set is such that it might be awfully hard to deny him the early looks.
Baugh first drew attention nationally last summer at Nike's The Opening 2012, when he looked every bit more the receiver than tight end as he pulled down confident receptions in the event's 7-on-7 tournament and showed all Ohio State fans watching either in person or on ESPNU that they may just have the most athletic specimen at tight end since Rickey Dudley starred in Columbus.
Derrell Warren evaluated Baugh for SB Nation a year ago roughly around this time:
Baugh is an excellent receiving tight end. One of his major strengths is his ability to line up at different spots within an offensive scheme and be a consistent threat in an aerial attack. Baugh is a natural pass catcher with the quick twitch movement skills of a smaller player. He has the flexibility to extend his arms and cleanly pluck the football away from his frame. Baugh also has very good body control. This trait is evident in the instances in which he is asked to adjust in mid-air to off-target throws, and haul in contested catches versus tight coverage.
Given how Tom Herman leveraged James Casey (now of the Philadelphia Eagles) at Rice in a variety of capacities, there shouldn't be a shortage of ways the Buckeyes' resident card-carrying Mensa member can conceptualize working Baugh into the rotation.
Corey Smith - WR
Smith isn't a freshman; in fact, far from it. This will mark the third school for Smith in as many years and start the clock on a period in which the former JUCO standout will have three years to complete two seasons of eligibility.
Smith's age isn't the only thing advanced about him, however, as he brings an instantaneous speed upgrade to a Buckeye wide receiver unit, who although exceeded Urban Meyer's tepid expectations after he first stepped foot on campus, still lacked the kind of high-end burners he was accustomed to from his very successful run at the University of Florida.
As a more advanced route runner with speed to burn and a variety of offensive concepts already under his belt, Smith should be able to crack the two-deep sooner rather than later, and if he showcases the kind of rapport with Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller he's been Instagram-ing of late, there's no reason he won't be making big catches as early as the Buffalo game.
Dontre Wilson - Pivot/RB/WR
This header could've just as easily read 'Dontre Wilson/James Clark/Ezekiel Elliott/Jalin Marshall'. Speaking of speed upgrades, Ohio State now has a gluttony of otherworldly fast, athletic weapons with which to work into the arsenal offensively. Jalin Marshall was a five star according to Scout.com, and yet there are plenty of legit cases to make that any number of these four guys could be "it factor" players from day one.
For this exercise's purposes, we'll single out Wilson, the versatile playmaker whose DNA screams Oregon, but an expert recruiting job on the part of Zach Smith, Tom Herman, and Urban Meyer ultimately meant Chip Kelly's abrupt departure for the NFL was the Buckeyes' gain. The dynamic Wilson might not have pure running back bulk, at least not without some time in the weight room under the tutelage of world-class strength and conditioning coach Mick Marotti, but who's going to catch him?
Wilson is said to run a pure 4.4 40, according to at least one major evaluation service, and in WHAC achievement board figures, could trend favorably towards the best times demonstrated by Florida's bevy of burners.
Whether it's on end arounds, screen passes, short throws, or at pivot, running back, or wide receiver, Wilson has the talent to make opposing Big Ten defensive coordinators throw their headsets down in disgust. And he just might.
Christopher Worley - S
Worley is one of the guys that not only was amongst the last to commit to Ohio State's 2013 class, he also did so without a ton of fanfare. His recruiting process was low drama (other than some rumored qualifying score and/or grade holding patterns, which is hardly irregular), and he was all in for Ohio State pretty early in the process despite his late in the cycle commitment.
The latest member of the storied Glenville pipeline might also not blow you out of the water when you read his recruiting profile pages, but don't let the 3-star marks fool you. Part of Worley's underratedness looms from recruiting services (and college coaches alike) not knowing how to peg Worley. Is he a linebacker? Is he a safety? Is he something someone can find out how to leverage on offense?
He's far more likely to find himself between the first option listed and the second, when everything's said and done, but from the get-go, Worley will star for the Buckeyes on special teams. Unfortunate kick and/or punt returners all season should find themselves on the end of some vicious Worley decleaters. And if a loose ball on those units finds its way into Worley's hands, watch out.
It's thoroughly unlikely he's going to be breathing down the neck of Tyvis Powell, at least right off the bat. But there's little doubt that Worley will find someway to contribute right away, even if it's in a fashion that doesn't often get the message boards and comment sections stirring.