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Underdog Week: Ohio State’s under the radar talents in 2020

Which lesser-known Buckeyes could rise to the occasion this season?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: AUG 31 FAU at Ohio State Photo by Adam Lacy/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

We continue on with Underdog Week here at SB Nation. On Monday, I took a look at Ohio State’s recent success in the rare occasions they've found themselves not the betting favorite. On Tuesday, Tia walked us down memory lane for one fateful day in November of 2018 — you know, that time when a “Revenge Tour” came to Columbus only to have it come to a crashing halt at the hands of the Buckeyes.

But I digress. Today, we’ll take a step in a bit of a different direction.

Ohio State doesn’t usually have many players you could consider “underdogs.” As the school likes to promote, they don't rebuild, they just reload. However, on a roster full of four and five-star recruits, it’s easy to slip between the cracks. Occasionally, you’ll find a player like Chris Olave — a guy who was ranked No. 399 in the country as a prospect and has quickly become the Buckeyes’ No. 1 wide receiver.

For the most part, being an underdog in Columbus just means you haven't had your chance to shine yet. Even if you aren’t the most highly recruited player in the world, signing with Ohio State means that the coaching staff saw something in your game that made them believe you could make the team better. With that being said, which player is primed for their Olave-esque — albeit maybe not to that level — breakout season in 2020?

Who are Ohio State’s underdogs?

Marcus Hooker

Jordan Fuller just finished up a long, successful career as Ohio State’s top safety. Under last year’s defensive scheme, which we are sure to see return this upcoming season despite coaching changes on that side of the ball, Fuller was featured as the team’s lone deep safety. Now that he is one of the newest members of the Los Angeles Rams, the Buckeyes will be searching for the next man up. While many have pegged Josh Proctor as Fuller’s successor, don't sleep on Marcus Hooker — yes, the brother of Malik Hooker.

The younger Hooker came to Columbus as the team’s lowest-rated recruit in the 2018 class — a three-star prospect, and the No. 640 overall player in the cycle. After redshirting his first year on campus, Hooker spent this past season starting all 14 games on special teams. He saw defensive action in seven games, getting more snaps as the year went on as he continued to show improvement. Now, with a starting job open, Hooker will have a chance to prove he deserves to be No. 1 on the depth chart.

Proctor showed some obvious struggles in limited time in 2019. To be fair, the staff was asking a lot of him to step up in some big situations — especially when they tried to run two safety sets against Clemson in the CFP. While both guys are clearly talented athletes, if Hooker can channel even a little bit of his brothers famed ball-hawking ability, he has a real shot to make a big impact in 2020.

Dawand Jones

Ohio State’s offensive line should be in rather good shape this upcoming season, as Wyatt Davis, Josh Myers and Thayer Munford all return as starters. With two spots left to fill, and those likely being Harry Miller at guard and whoever wins the Nichols Petit-Frere/Paris Johnson Jr. battle at tackle, Jones isn’t all that likely to earn a starting spot. However, he could become an incredibly valuable piece as the first man up off the bench.

Everything about this 6-foot-8, 359 pound offensive lineman screams underdog. Like Hooker, he was the lowest rated member of his respective recruiting class, coming in as a three-star prospect and the 86th-best OT in the cycle, ranking in the 1,000s nationally. As a true freshman in 2019, Jones actually saw the field quite a bit despite being more of a project player. He appeared in 10 contests, totaling 90 offensive snaps while being a force on special teams. As a truly hulking figure, he became a topic of discussion almost every time he lined up late in games during blowouts.

As previously mentioned, Ohio State is more or less set with its starting offensive line this upcoming season. Best suited for a tackle spot, Jones has a pair of five-star recruits in front of him. However, he did surprise people in such a minimal role last year, and has quickly become a crowd favorite as a lovable giant. It would not be at all shocking for Jones to find himself on the two-deep in 2020, and could possibly become a valuable asset to fill in should someone go down with an injury.

Kamryn Babb

When people talk about Ohio State’s offense heading into 2020, almost all of the discussion is surrounding Justin Fields and the talented group of Buckeye wide receivers. With Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson returning, along with an embarrassment of riches being added in the 2019 recruiting class, there is a lot to like about the OSU passing game moving forward. However, while fresh faces like Julian Fleming and Jaxon Smith-Njigba get all the hype, there is another guy flying under the radar whose yet to take the field in Columbus: Kamryn Babb.

Now, there may be some Ohio State fans that are unaware of who Kamryn Babb is, and would be surprised to see he will be a redshirt sophomore this upcoming season. While he doesn’t exactly fit the bill of the two previously listed underdogs — as he was a four-star prospect and the No. 73 recruit in the nation in 2018 — his path has been much more rocky. Despite joining the program over two years ago, his debut has been put on hold after two knee injuries have kept him on the sideline.

If he can stay healthy, Babb would become almost like another incoming big recruit for the Buckeyes — one that has been able to study the playbook for two full seasons. A talented wide receiver in a room with a bunch of competition, theres a real chance he could be a legitimate No. 3 or No. 4 receiver for Ohio State in 2020 given his familiarity with the scheme and staff. After being named one of the team’s most improved players in winter conditioning back in March, let’s hope Babb gets to make his long awaited debut in Scarlet and Gray this year.

It’s impossible not to root for this kid to finally get the chance to show out.