On Friday, I wrote about how it hadn’t yet felt like college football season to me, since Ohio State was still two Saturdays away from kicking off, but man, this past week of games was great. There was a good helping of chaos with a couple of other close calls mixed in as well, and now that there is just one Saturday between us and the Buckeyes being on the field, I am now officially excited.
So, with this newly found excitement in mind, I decided to look at the five players that I am most excited to see get some more playing time this season. Of course we’re all pumped to watch Justin Fields, Shaun Wade, Chris Olave, and the other returning stars, but as has been preached at OSU for generations, the Buckeyes don’t replace, they reload.
With 10 players from the 2019 roster drafted into the NFL, there are now plenty of opportunities for young (and not so young) guys to step up and claim spots in hopes of becoming the next Buckeye to leave his mark on this storied program.
There are a lot of players to be excited about from this year’s roster, but these are my five favorites in single-digit, numerical order; you can also vote for your favorite of the five in the poll below.
Teradja Mitchell | LB | No. 3
I know that this statement will anger some of you, so I’m just going to get it out of the way now: Tuf Borland will be Ohio State’s starter at middle linebacker for the entire season (and likely next season as well), barring some sort of unforeseen injury — and even then, he’d probably find a way to play after having a leg amputated anyway.
However, as we have seen in recent years, when it comes to linebackers, starting does not necessarily guarantee a stranglehold on playing time. Though Borland started the entire 2019 season at Mike, his back-up, Baron Browning, ended up on the field for a significant number of snaps as well, as evidenced by Eleven Warriors’ season total snap count.
By 11W’s count, Borland ended the Fiesta Bowl with 425 plays, while Browning had 368, despite missing two games due to injury. That means that the starter, Borland, averaged 30.36 plays per game, while the reserve, Browning, averaged 30.67. And while the assumption might be that most of Browning’s plays came in garbage time, that’s not really the case, as after the first series, Tuf and Baron more or less rotated for the duration.
With Browning being moved over to the Sam linebacker position for the fall in conjunction with Pete Werner moving to Will, that means that there’s an opening to play behind/alongside Borland, and I think that Teradja Mitchell has earned the opportunity to split time in the middle of Ohio State’s defense.
The Virginia native came to Columbus as the No. 44 player in the 2018 recruiting class, and has patiently waited his turn to get on to the field consistently, and as far as I’m concerned, he’s past due to get that opportunity. The OSU linebackers have been a sore spot ever since Billy “Best Man” Davis decimated the previously iconic position group.
But, under new LB coach Al Washington’s leadership the Silver Bullets are returning to form, and I think that Mitchell can absolutely be a part of that resurgence this year. He is an incredibly athletic and intelligent player, and I am excited to see what he can do with an increased role on the defense this fall.
Garrett Wilson | WR | No. 5
Garrett Wilson had a pretty strong true-freshman season for the Buckeyes in 2019, going for 432 yards and 5 touchdowns on the campaign (fourth best on the team in both categories). But, with the departures of Binjimen Victor, Austin Mack, and especially K.J. Hill, Wilson is poised for a breakout season this fall.
The 6-foot wide receiver was a backup on the outside last season, but with Hill now playing for the Los Angeles Chargers, Ryan Day and Brian Hartline need a talented, sure-handed pass-catcher to play in the slot, and all indications seem to point to that being Wilson.
While Chris Olave led the Buckeyes in receiving yards last season by more than 200 (840 to Hill’s 636), it was Hill who led the team in receptions (57 to Olave’s 48). Olave and Jameson Williams (more on him next) will likely be the starting receivers on the outside (imo), and Wilson’s mix of consistency and explosion will have him occupying the middle of the field.
I am excited by what having a receiver of his talent and athleticism coming out of the slot can do for Fields. Wilson will require attention from opposing safeties over the middle, but should also be able to take advantage of the quick-hitting mesh routes that we have seen Buckeye QBs take advantage of in small doses in recent years as well. We don’t yet know if he has the durability and consistency of Hill, but we do know that he is even more dynamic, which is very, very intriguing.
Jameson Williams | WR | No. 6
Now back to the aforementioned Jameson Williams, or Juiceman if you prefer. Williams didn’t get a ton of opportunities in 2019, only catching six balls for 112 yards and a touchdown, but as he showed on his scoring play against the Miami Red Hawks (in a clip package put together by our old friend Colton Denning), his burst is unbelievable.
I think that Williams will end up starting on the outside opposite Olave, but with the way that Hartline has utilized his incredibly talented WR room over the past two seasons, he is likely to have the opportunity to make an impact even if he is technically a reserve.
However, you can’t not be excited by the flashes of speed and athleticism that the Juiceman showed as a true freshman in 2019, and if he is given the chance to take the top off of a defense, he should be in line to turn in even more highlight-reel plays as a sophomore.
Trey Sermon | RB | No. 8
This one is a little different than the previous three. In those cases, I talked about guys who have had handfuls of opportunities, but have been behind more veteran Buckeyes since arriving in Columbus. However, with Trey Sermon, he is not only completely new to Ohio State, but he’s also had more chances to shine having already wracked up over 2,000 rushing yards as a member of the Oklahoma Sooners.
What I am most excited to see is how he will fare in a much different offense, and much different conference than he has played in before. At 6-foot-1, he’s a fairly tall back, and as his position coach Tony Alford has noted in recent press availabilities, he still has a tendency to run a bit too vertically.
Since we know that everyone in the Big 12 is allergic to playing defense, I am a little concerned about whether Sermon is ready for the physicality that he is going to come up against in the Big Ten — albeit in a shortened season without any crossovers against the toughest B1G West defenses.
If he is able to get his pads low, as Alford wants, I think that his experience and athleticism could provide an interesting addition to the offense. As I’ve said before, I don’t think that the Buckeyes have to have a stud running back to reach their championship goals this season, but if Sermon is able to provide a dynamic option out of the backfield, that can only help to open things up for Fields and the receivers.
Zach Harrison | DE | No. 9
I do not envy Zach Harrison. As if being the 12th ranked player in the 2019 recruiting class wasn’t enough to generate sky-high expectations for a sophomore defensive end, he is also now expected to step up and be the next link in OSU’s chain of dominant DEs that started in 2013 with Joey Bosa, transitioned to Nick Bosa in 2016, and continued unbroken with Chase Young last season.
As a freshman, Harrison notched 5.5 tackles for loss, including 3.5 sacks, and earned the start opposite Young in the Fiesta Bowl after Jonathon Cooper decided to sit out the postseason in order to maintain his redshirt.
Though no depth chart as officially been unveiled yet, because of the unquestioned potential that he displayed in 2019, it is widely assumed that Harrison will be starting opposite Cooper this season, and that has to excite all Buckeye fans.
Harrison has the potential to be an absolutely game-changing, offense-exploding force on the defensive line; heck, there’s a reason that they call him “Sack” Harrison beyond the fact that it rhymes with his first name.
I certainly don’t want to put the pressure of living up to the Bosas and Young’s legacy as a first-time starter on anybody, but if anyone can do it, I certainly think that Harrison can.
Which player are you most excited to see play more this fall?
This poll is closed
Other (elaborate in the comments)
After some unexpected start and stops, I am back to posting a column every single day from preseason camp until whenever Ohio State’s football season ends. Some days they will be longer and in depth, some days they will be short and sweet. Let me know what you think of this one, and what you’d like to see me discuss in the comments or on Twitter. Go Bucks!