Every team ever invented has a player who becomes the "fan favorite". Basically, this is a favorite "low-key" player that the fans love more than any star on the team. The 2015 Buckeyes were no exception.
Sure, everyone knew that Joey Bosa was the best player on the field at all times, but this didn't just automatically make Bosa every Buckeye fans favorite defender to cheer for. Personally, Tyvis Powell was my favorite low-key Ohio State defender last season. Was Powell even a top five player on the defense last season? Nope, but he did seem to try his best to make every moment of his Ohio State career an enjoyable experience one way or another, which makes for a pretty great "fan favorite".
These low-key favorite players don't just fall off trees, however. This status as "not the star but still loved as one by the fans" is earned not given, but I think there is one particular Buckeye entering the 2016 season that has the highest odds at becoming 2016's fan favorite Buckeye. Enter: Corey Smith.
Corey Smith will be entering his sixth and final season as a collegiate football player this fall, thanks to a medical redshirt that was recently granted after Smith was forced to miss the majority of the 2015 season due to a broken leg. Because Ohio State is losing Braxton Miller, Mike Thomas and Jalin Marshall to the NFL, Smith's extra year of eligibility was seen as a big win for the Buckeyes' receiving corps as at this point, any depth is good depth.
But having Smith back for another year is a bigger win for fans of Ohio State than it is for Ohio State itself. You see, Smith has totaled just 25 catches for 317 yards in his two years at Ohio State (Smith signed with the Buckeyes as a junior college prospect in 2013). While Smith could undoubtedly increase these numbers with a bigger role in the offense this season, it's the types of moves Smith makes without the ball that makes him this season's number one contender for the most beloved low-key Buckeye.
Special teams prowess
Watching Ohio State's punt and kick coverage units are a thing of beauty. While in the old days these units consisted by and large of linebackers and fullbacks (guys who could hit and had some size), Urban Meyer has revolutionized the way teams approach kick coverage thanks to his use of fast corners and even wide receivers who can get to the ball carrier as fast as possible. No one has been better at doing this (except maybe Devin Smith on the punt team) than Corey Smith, and this was never more apparent than against Alabama.
Smith achieved the golden sombrero of football special teams stardom, tallying three tackles on kickoff duty. But these weren't just any tackles, as Smith was able to pin Alabama inside their own 15 yard line on three separate occasions.
First, it was Smith darting in from his position as the outermost "gunner" and splitting the Alabama lead blockers before taking down the returner on his own 12 yard line.
Next, Smith made a Bama blocker pay for making a lazy block attempt, and for his trouble Smith managed to bring down the returner at his own 10 yard line.
Finally, Smith teamed up with backup running back Bri'onte Dunn to make one of the bigger hits of a very physical Sugar Bowl. We need video footage of this assault:
*Note: This video also highlights the kickoff team's continuing tradition of swaying their arms prior to every kickoff. I still don't know the reason behind this, but it's a fun sub plot to follow throughout a game, as the sway gets more and more animated the further ahead Ohio State gets ahead.
So yeah, trying to block Corey Smith in the open field is no easy task, and Smith's speed and tackling ability makes every Ohio State kickoff a can't miss moment. However, kickoffs were not enough for Smith, as he often took the liberty of taking his physical brand of football to the receiver position.
Example No. 1: Michigan
After tight end Nick Vannett catches a harmless pass in the flat, shit gets real fast as Corey Smith comes from all the way across the field to viciously crack block a Wolverines defender. In football the term "keep your head on a swivel" is used for situations like this, and it's safe to say this Wolverine did not have his head on a swivel.
For a wide receiver to willingly lay this hit is great in its own right, but for the hit to come against your bitter rival? That's how average players get remembered.
Example No. 2: Wisconsin
In the second quarter of the 2014 Big Ten
Massacre Championship, a regular Cardale Jones scramble became irregular in a hurry, thanks to our guy Corey Smith.
Jones joined in on the assault himself, lowering his shoulder on an unsuspecting Wisconsin corner before going out of bounds, but it was this hit by Smith on a Wisconsin linebacker that managed to take an already fired up Ohio State squad to another level. A questionable targeting ejection was the result of this hit, but I think it's safe to say that this won't stop Smith from future endeavors surrounding decleating unsuspecting linebackers.
A wide receiver with the speed to be a special teams killer, and the physical ability to thrive in an offense that demands its receivers become marquee blockers: Corey Smith. Maybe not the best player on the field or the prototypical wide receiver, but Smith sure makes one hell of an Ohio State Buckeye.