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You’re Nuts: Biggest Ohio State burning question

It could be sports related — or otherwise.

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

Everybody knows that one of the best parts of being a sports fan is debating and dissecting the most (and least) important questions in the sporting world with your friends. So, we’re bringing that to the pages of LGHL with our favorite head-to-head column: You’re Nuts.

In You’re Nuts, two LGHL staff members will take differing sides of one question and argue their opinions passionately. Then, in the end, it’s up to you to determine who’s right and who’s nuts. This time around, the guys will be keeping in tune with the theme of the week: Burning Questions.

This week’s topic: Your biggest Ohio State burning question.

Josh’s Burning Question:

Gene, I have many burning questions, most of which revolve around worldly affairs or events, both past and present. Who assassinated JFK? What happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370? Why can’t we all just get along? But in staying true to the spirit of LGHL, I should at least hit you with a burning question that pertains to Ohio State.

My inquiry is not relative to Ryan Day, Chris Holtmann, Tom Ryan, Kelly Kovach Schoenly (all OSU coaches), or even a Buckeye athlete/position group. This is a strange approach to take on a sports-related platform. A very strange approach. You’d really have to be a LGHL fan to even know what I’m talking about right now. I don’t even know if Gene knows what I’m talking about. Why would I do that? Why would I, an individual who writes and talks primarily about sports on this platform, take a different approach? Why would I do that? Well, because I find the mystery that I will get to shortly, to be a fascinating one... And why is that?

If you haven’t caught on to the fact that I am doing my best (use your imagination) Brian Windhorst impression by now, I encourage you to look up his recent appearance on ESPN’s First Take. His two-minute bit on the Utah Jazz was a TED talk on captivating one’s audience, and I felt it very necessary to pay homage. Now, let’s get nuts.

My burning question is not even remotely sports-related. However, it is directed toward one of the most unfathomable “events” to ever take place on Ohio State’s campus, in the city of Columbus (OH), and/or involving a person affiliated with the university. It goes a little something like this: What happened to Brian Shaffer?

For those who are unfamiliar with the story and open-ended mystery of Brian Shaffer, it is a wild one. Shaffer was a second-year medical student at OSU when he decided to go bar-hopping on the night of March 31, 2006. No big deal, right? He was celebrating the end of classes, getting ready to go on spring break, and just wanted to toss a few back with his roommate. Many of us have been there before. Some more than others, but I digress...

Shaffer and his roommate began the night at Ugly Tuna Saloona, a bar located in the gateway area of Ohio State’s main campus. I myself frequented this establishment on “fish bowl” night, and aside from the time I was offered a role in a German adult film at 6am (true story, kegs n eggs, creepy guy & gal, don’t ask), I found it to be an enjoyable experience. This was not some hole-in-the-wall bar. It was your typical college hangout, complete with live music, colorful mixed drinks, and cheap domestic beer.

The roommates had a few drinks starting around 9pm, but then left Ugly Tuna, and ran into a friend close to downtown Columbus (a few miles away) around midnight. That trio ultimately decided to go back to Ugly Tuna – where the night had started – and were seen riding up the escalator to the bar’s entrance at 1:15am (now April 1). Shaffer was next seen on surveillance cameras at 1:55am, just outside the bar. He was speaking with two women, appeared to send them off with some sort of goodbye, and then moved off camera in the direction of the bar’s entrance once again. It was the last time anybody would knowingly see Shaffer.

I am not going to get into all the theories and assumptions people have made about this disappearance, but the quick version is this: Shaffer was never seen leaving the bar, and the only other exit – which was not used by the public – led to a construction site that would have been very difficult to navigate if even a little bit tipsy. The camera footage was reviewed for weeks and/or months, and the construction site was searched multiple times. Investigators also canvassed different areas around campus, to no avail. There was no sign of Shaffer. It was as if he had completely vanished.

In the years since Shaffer’s disappearance, there have been tons of theories put out there and amateur investigations that have taken place. Many people have questioned his roommate’s refusal to take a lie detector test, but that individual was never named as a person of interest in this case. And some 16 years later, there have been no new developments. Not one. There was an obituary for Shaffer’s father that was deemed to be a hoax, and an odd homeless sighting in Tijuana, Mexico that gathered steam on the internet and local television. But ultimately... nada.

The disappearance of Shaffer is of particular interest to me for a number of reasons. I was a student at Ohio State when this happened. I went to this same bar many times! And it is just plain odd! This individual seemingly disappeared off the face of the earth, on a casual night out with friends, never to be seen again. And I get it, people go missing all the time. It is sad, unfortunate, tragic — all of those things. But this one has stuck with me for 16 years. What happened to Brian Shaffer (?) is a hell of a burning question in my mind.

Gene’s Burning Question:

If you’ve been following the Hangout in the Holy Land podcast with Josh and I, you likely know by now that aside from my work here at LGHL, I also work for MLB Network. While baseball and college football don’t have all that much in common, I think I can use a previous marketing slogan from Major League Baseball to relay my burning question about Ohio State: Let the Kids Play.

As you well know, baseball is always fighting the stigma that it is an old and boring game. The games themselves are rather long — upwards of three hours on most nights — there is a lot of down time, and the general audience is a bit older than say the NFL or NHL. As such, the traditionalists will often criticize the younger players in the league for ‘not playing the game the right way’ or some other lame complaint that takes away from the fun of the sport. To combat this, MLB launched the ‘Let the Kids Play’ campaign, highlighting some of the game’s most exciting athletes including Fernando Tatis Jr., Tim Anderson, Mike Trout, Francisco Lindor, and a handful of others.

While college football doesn’t suffer from the same problems from a marketing standpoint as the MLB does, my burning question revolves around Ohio State letting the kids play. We have beaten to death how bad the Buckeyes’ defense was last year, and now many of the same players from that unit are returning this season. The coaching staff on that side of the ball has been completely overhauled, but I worry that some of the guys we saw on the field last year aren’t quite good enough to get the job done, whether that be because of their own level of talent or because the previous defensive staff has ruined them, for lack of a better term. So, I ask, will Ohio State let the kids play in 2022?

It’s no secret that Ohio State’s roster is loaded with talent from top to bottom, but what impresses me the most about the current crop of Buckeyes’ is the amount of stellar youth on the team thanks to a strong run of recruiting under Ryan Day. We will see a bunch of that youth on offense, with underclassmen like TreVeyon Henderson, Marvin Harrison Jr., Emeka Egbuka, and Donovan Jackson, among others, set for big roles. However, it is less clear what the depth chart is going to look like on defense. If new defensive coordinator Jim Knowles is true to his word about the players on this roster all starting with a clean slate in his eyes, it would not at all shock me if we see some first and second-year guys getting significant time.

It is almost a guarantee that we will see that youth movement along the defensive line, where Jack Sawyer and J.T. Tuimoloau are two of the top players at the position in addition to guys like Tyleik Williams, Mike Hall and Ty Hamilton up the middle. There isn’t really much in terms of upperclassmen to block their way on the line outside of Zach Harrison at end and Taron Vincent/Jerron Cage at DT. I think we will see some combination of all of those guys getting playing time throughout the year, so I'm not super concerned about how that will all shake out.

Linebacker is a bit more of an interesting spot, with a handful of guys with starter experience returning in Steele Chambers, Tommy Eichenberg, Teradja Mitchell and Cody Simon in addition to transfer Chip Trayanum. However, we all know that group faired last season, and while coaching certainly did not help out in any meaningful way, the fact of the matter is that those guys struggled. The wild card of the group is freshman C.J. Hicks, who comes to Ohio State as the No. 1 LB and No. 7 player overall in the 2021 class. As the unparalleled leader of that recruiting cycle, any sort of youth movement for the Buckeyes, at least in my opinion, revolves around how much they’re willing to play Hicks. Spoiler: it should be a ton.

The secondary is pretty much all youth already, but there is still some room for fresh faces. Denzel Burke enters year two as the team’s top corner, and while Cam Brown is the incumbent starter on the other side, it would not be at all surprising to see either Jordan Hancock or JK Johnson starting opposite Burke — or at least getting a ton of playing time. Your trio of starting safeties will likely be Ronnie Hickman, Josh Proctor, and Tanner McCalister, but dont sleep on the young guns like second-year man Cam Martinez or freshmen Sonny Styles and Kye Stokes. Like Hicks, Styles comes to Ohio State as a five-star prospect and the No. 1 player at his position, while Stokes has really turned heads both in practice and at the Spring Game.

I have always been a firm believer that the depth chart should be based on performance rather than seniority. If some of these younger players are truly the best option at their position, then there is no reason they shouldn’t be starting even if there is an upperclassman in their way. There won’t be a ton of room for error for these fresh faces, as Ohio State starts the season out with a big test against Notre Dame, but I'm ready to let the kids play. Give me a Buckeye defense with Sawyer, Tuimoloau, Hicks, and Styles all on the field at once — a quarter of former five-star prospects — and mix in some of that other tremendous young talent and let’s see what they can do.