All this week, LGHL writers will be bring you articles with inspired by their favorite Ohio State theoretical questions. Check out all of our What If? thoughts throughout the week HERE. Whether you disagree, let us know what you think in the comments below and on Twitter @Landgrant33.
It seems like a lot of our ‘What if?’ week has centered around hypotheticals of the past, many of which bring up bad memories of times where Ohio State could have done something better to potentially improve that season’s outcome. Instead, I want to look at a ‘What if?’ moving forward, taking a look at this year’s roster and the potential for freshmen to start at each position.
Which top spots on the Buckeyes’ depth chart have the greatest chance at seeing a fresh face? Let’s run through each position group and see where freshmen are most likely to to take over a role, and where it would be really tough for them to see much action in 2021.
We will go in order from most likely to least likely.
Punter/Kicker: Jesse Mirco/Jake Siebert
Let’s get the obvious out of the way first and foremost. Freshman punter Jesse Mirco is almost without a doubt the team’s starting punter to begin the season. Mirco comes to Ohio State by way of ProKick Australia — the same program that produced former OSU punter and current Houston Texan Cameron Johnston. The Buckeyes love themselves an Aussie punter, and Mirco is the next in line.
Kicker is a little more up in the air, but there is still a very good chance redshirt freshman Jake Siebert earns the job. Siebert was the No. 2-ranked kicker coming out of high school, and made all 16 of his extra points for the Buckeyes in 2020. The water has been muddied a little bit with the addition of grad transfer kicker Noah Ruggles, who in 2019 connected on 19 of 27 field goal attempts and nailed all 45 PATs at North Carolina. A position battle that could go either way, I'll give the edge to Siebert with Ruggles there as a backup plan should the underclassman struggle.
Running Back: TreVeyon Henderson
Ohio State has to replace the production of Trey Sermon, who came on strong as a true workhorse back towards the end of the 2020 season, but does return Master Teague. Teague struggled at times last year and lacked some of the explosiveness and lateral quickness you would like to see out of the Buckeye backfield. If those issues persist, TreVeyon Henderson could be your starting tailback — if not to begin the season, then by mid-year. Henderson is a five-star prospect and the No. 1 RB in the 2021 class, and between his scouting reports and his highlight tape seems like every bit the next star running back in Columbus.
Defensive Line: Jack Sawyer/J.T. Tuimoloau
Larry Johnson really outdid himself in the 2021 class and brought in the greatest pair of defensive linemen Ohio State has ever had in one single class. While Tyreke Smith showed flashes of stardom in 2020 and we await the breakout season of Zach Harrison — Ohio State’s most likely pair of starting defensive ends to begin the season — those jobs could easily be taken over by Sawyer and Tuimoloau. At the very least, the two freshman will almost certainly be included in the Buckeyes’ Rushmen package that sees four defensive ends on the field at once.
Both five-star guys, Tuimoloau is the No. 2 DL in the class and Sawyer is No. 3. Both will feature into Ohio State’s defensive end rotations, with a good chance for either to crack the starting lineup.
Quarterback: Kyle McCord
I debated putting this in the next category in terms of its likeliness, but I do think Kyle McCord is a very very good quarterback prospect and has a legit chance to win the starting job this season. Coming in as the nation’s No. 3 QB and the No. 25 player in the 2021 class overall, McCord helped lead St. Joseph’s Prep to three-straight state championships and set league records for passing yards and touchdown passes. He faces stiff competition from C.J. Stroud — the odds-on favorite to win the job — and Jack Miller, but it would not be at all shocking to see the true freshman trot out there with the ones against Minnesota in a little over a month’s time.
Defensive Back: Jakailin Johnson/Jordan Hancock
It is no secret to anyone that Ohio State’s defensive secondary was not up to par in the 2020 season. While a lot of that can be blamed on losing two first-round corners to the NFL Draft and a pandemic-halted offseason, there are questions as to whether the guys that took the field last season can make the necessary jump in 2021. Outside of Sevyn Banks, who most expect to develop into a lockdown corner, there are lots of unknowns, and that is where Johnson and Hancock could play in. The No. 3 and No. 5-ranked CBs in this freshman class, respectively, both could see some early time if others continue to struggle.
Neither will be at the top of the depth chart on day one, but by midseason I could see one or both making their way towards the top of that cornerback rotation.
Wide Receiver: Emeka Egbuka/Marvin Harrison Jr.
As good as Ohio State’s incoming receiver class is once again — and that also includes Jayden Ballard — the room is just too deep for any of these freshmen to have much of a chance to start barring injuries. Now, will these guys get some legit playing time outside of just blowout minutes in 2021? Absolutely. Egbuka is the No. 1 WR in the class and Harrison has drawn rave reviews from nearly everyone around the program since he stepped foot on campus. Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson and Jaxon Smith-Njigba are your obvious starting three, but outside of that trio and Julian Fleming, definitely expect these stud freshmen to get their fair share of reps.
Offensive Line: Donovan Jackson/Ben Christman
Again, like wide receiver, a very strong incoming class at an important position for the Buckeyes, but simply another room with too much depth. Jackson is the No. 1 IOL in the 2021 class, and Christman is a highly-touted in-state prospect, but Ohio State’s offensive line is incredibly strong and returns a bunch of talent. Thayer Munford and Nicholas Petit-Frere will once again be your starting tackles, while the interior will be manned by some combination of Paris Johnson Jr., Harry Miller, Matthew Jones and Luke Wypler. The freshman duo will get their chance to start sooner rather than later, but it probably won't be this season.
Linebacker: Reid Carrico
Ohio State is returning none of its starting linebackers from the 2020 campaign, but there is too much going on at the position already and a bunch of players who have waited more than their fair share of time to make an impact for Carrico to earn a starting job in year one. Tuf Borland and Pete Werner played in Columbus for what felt like the last decade, and the opportunity has finally arrived for guys like Teradja Mitchell, Dallas Gant, K’Vaughan Pope Craig Young to make their mark. Carrico is a good linebacker and someone whose game looks a lot like that of the aforementioned Werner, but this doesn’t look like the year for a freshman linebacker to get the start at Ohio State.