There’s more on the line than just a W when No. 5 Oklahoma squares off with No. 2 Ohio State Saturday night.
Okay, I lied about that. But there is something you should be paying closer attention to; the future NFL players actually on the field.
No, seriously. This weekend’s matchup is one of the most talent-rich college football games of the year. The Sooners v. Buckeyes 2017-edition is filled with future first-round picks and pro-caliber players.
So who do you have to keep an eye out for? Let’s take a look (hint, there are a lot of Buckeyes).
The Sooners’ fiery leader at quarterback has placed in the top four of Heisman Trophy voting both of his years in Norman and could take home the hardware as a senior. Last season was Mayfield’s best to date, completing 71 percent of his passes for 3,965 yards with 40 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
Already seen as one of the premier offensive linemen in the 2018 draft class, the 6-foot-8, 360-pound Brown won’t be hard to spot in Ohio Stadium. He’s the son of a former NFL offensive tackle and routinely bulldozes defenders. OSU’s stacked defensive line should be a fun test for Brown.
Despite compiling 14 touchdowns over the past two years, Andrews hasn’t been a major focal point for Oklahoma. He’s still a mismatch for opposing defenses and could be the first tight end off the board in the 2018 NFL Draft. Andrews got off to a fantastic start Week 1, hauling in seven receptions for 134 yards and a touchdown.
A four year-starter, Thomas is one of the top cornerbacks in the country. He can take away an opponent’s No. 1 receiving threat and blanket an entire side of the field. After recording 17 pass-breakups in 2016, it’s safe to say Thomas could be a real problem on Saturday.
In his first season as a starter in 2016, Okoronkwo tallied 71 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, nine sacks and two forced fumbles. He’s a disruptive force off the edge and it looks like he’ll be even better this year after his one sack, two tackle for a loss performance against UTEP last week.
The glue guy of Mike Stoops’ defense, Parker has the prototypical NFL frame and playmaking ability needed to really thrive at the next level. He’s a two-year starter and will be the best safety on the field Saturday night.
His future as a quarterback will be debated all season long; we know this. But Barrett’s dominance at OSU is undeniable. He’s 27–4 as a starter and is primed to break multiple records, including Drew Brees’ career Big Ten touchdown mark. Rarely does Barrett shrink in big games and with Oklahoma on the docket, we should see No. 16 at his best.
Freshman phenom J.K. Dobbins may be getting all the headlines lately, but he’s not leaving college anytime soon. Now that Mike Weber guy? The first OSU freshman running back to rush for more than 1,000 yards? He good. Weber will be back splitting carries with Dobbins after a nagging hamstring injury forced him to sit out Week 1.
No Buckeye gets overlooked more often than Baugh. Is that because OSU barely ever uses tight ends in the passing game? Probably. While he doesn’t possess the physical tools or playmaking ability of someone like Mark Andrews, Baugh can definitely play. He’s sneaky athletic, a solid blocker and has a knack for finding open pockets in coverage. He would’ve scored a touchdown last week if not for a J.T. Barrett overthrow.
The anchor of OSU’s offensive line, Price moved from guard to center this offseason and fared well in Bloomington. He made a great decision to stick around another year in college to refine his game and it seems to be really paying off. What Price lacks in size he makes up for in technique, versatility, and leadership.
Yes, Billy Price is indeed the anchor of the Buckeyes O-line, however, Jamarco Jones isn’t too far off. He’s grown a lot in recent years and has worked hard to get stronger with a more fluid weight distribution. Ogbonnia Okoronkwo will likely match up with Jones at least a few times (strictly for our enjoyment, of course).
Had the rules permitted, Baker would’ve bolted for the NFL when last season ended. He’s an absolute freak athlete with potential through the roof. Baker finished 2016 second on the team in tackles, second in tackles for a loss, and third in sacks. Not to mention two interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown against…
A surefire draft pick had he elected to leave for the pros as a junior, Hubbard instead chose to stay in Columbus and refine his game. He’s hasn’t quite lived up to expectations as a Buckeye, but Hubbard’s athleticism, skill and motor are why he remains so dangerous coming off the line.
Hats off to the player that gets drafted without ever starting a game in college. Well, Holmes might end up being that player, as he totaled 8.5 sacks in 2016 coming off the bench. His stock will improve with another productive season.
Why did Tyquan Lewis, the reigning Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year that led one of the best D-lines in the country in sacks for a second straight season, decide to stay in school for his senior year? He has his reasons. Regardless, Lewis’ two sacks in Week One say more than enough and speak to the type of player the Buckeyes get back for a final go-round.
With the likes of Raekwon McMillan, Darron Lee, Joshua Perry, and Ryan Shazier long gone in the NFL, Chris Worley has carried the linebacker torch at OSU. He’s shifted from the outside to the inside with McMillan out of the picture, and could enjoy a career-high in tackles this year.
Another platoon swap in the Buckeyes secondary left potential future first-round pick Denzel Ward as the only experienced cornerback on the roster. He has enough on his plate this season as the leader of a defensive back group that was searching for answers after being thoroughly humbled by Indiana.