Earlier this week, ESPN released their rankings of the top 100 players in college football this year. As you’d expect, the list is loaded with stars from the national powerhouses at the top of the list.
Alabama is the top ranked team in the country in preseason polls, so it makes sense that defensive end Will Anderson and quarterback Bryce Young are the top two players on the list, but the order might be a little surprising. Even though Bryce Young is the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, Anderson takes the top spot since there are many out there who believe that he has the talent to win the prestigious trophy, even though he plays on the defensive side of the ball.
Following Anderson and Young are two players from Ohio State, who sit just behind the Crimson Tide in the preseason rankings. The Buckeyes actually are the only team with three players in the top-10, giving them a leg up over Alabama, Georgia, and USC, who all placed two players in the first 10 spots. The only player in the top-10 that wasn’t joined by a teammate was Texas running Bijan Robinson, who was rated the fifth-best player in college football this year.
Ohio State players in ESPN’s top 100
3) C.J. Stroud - Quarterback
How things can change in almost a year. After the Tulsa game, there were some that thought Stroud wasn’t the answer to replace Justin Fields at quarterback. Stroud sat out against Akron to give his shoulder some extra time to heal, and the gunslinger returned with a vengeance, tossing 14 touchdowns over the next three games.
While Stroud and the Buckeyes lost to Michigan, the California product was still impressive in wintry conditions in Ann Arbor, throwing for nearly 400 yards against the Wolverines. Stroud was a Heisman Trophy finalist last season, and even though he didn’t win, he made a strong case to be put in the mix in 2022 with his Rose Bowl performance, throwing six touchdowns in a thrilling win over Utah.
Stroud finished the 2021 season with 4,435 yards passing, 44 touchdowns, and just six interceptions. Even though Stroud doesn’t have Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson to throw to this year, he still has a dynamic group of receivers to work with, as he was able to show in the Rose Bowl. There’s no reason to think that Stroud won’t throw for at least 50 touchdowns this year.
4) Jaxon Smith-Njigba - Wide Receiver
Smith-Njigba started the 2021 season slow, with just one 100-yard game over Ohio State’s first five contests. But it’s not about how you start, it’s about how you finish, as Smith-Njigba proved, cracking triple digits six times over the last eight games. The breakout performance for Smith-Njigba came against Nebraska. With Garrett Wilson out of the lineup, the then-sophomore caught 15 passes and nearly broke Terry Glenn’s single-game record with 240 yards receiving in the 26-17 victory over the Cornhuskers.
The wide receiver from Texas would break Glenn’s mark in Ohio State’s final game of the season, catching 15 passes for 347 yards in the Rose Bowl win over Utah. Even though the performance solidified Smith-Njigba as one of the top receivers in the country, you could see the signs of his chemistry with Stroud growing week-by-week. Over the last five games of the 2021 season, Smith-Njigba caught at least nine passes in each of those games. Expect the duo to connect early and often in the 2022 season, setting the table for a run at the Biletnikoff Award for Smith-Njigba.
7) TreVeyon Henderson - Running Back
With the huge numbers that C.J. Stroud put up in 2021 throwing the football, it’s easy to forget that TreVeyon Henderson had an outstanding season at running back. The scary thing for the rest of college football is Henderson did all of this as only a freshman. Imagine what Henderson will be able to do running the ball with a year of experience under his belt.
There was a lot of hype surrounding Henderson coming out of high school. Henderson showed the hype was justified when he set an Ohio State freshman rushing record with 277 yards against Tulsa, carrying the Buckeyes to a 41-20 win. Even though Henderson only had two other games during the year where he cracked 100 yards rushing, he averaged 6.8 yards per carry during the season. Henderson finished the year with 1,248 yards and 15 rushing touchdowns.
What will make Henderson even more dangerous in Ohio State’s offense is his ability to catch the football. Last season Henderson caught 27 passes for 312 yards and four more scores. Henderson’s effectiveness both running the football and catching it will cause even more headaches for opposing defenses, who already have a big enough problem figuring out how to slow down Stroud, Smith-Njigba, and the rest of the Ohio State passing attack.
36) Paris Johnson Jr. - Offensive Tackle
Ohio State has produced some great offensive linemen over the years. The next one that looks like he could be taken in the first round of the NFL Draft is Paris Johnson Jr., who is entering his second season as a starter of the offensive line. Johnson is the first offensive tackle in ESPN’s rankings this year. If Johnson plays up to his potential this year, it’s hard to imagine returning to Columbus next year for his senior season, as the lure of the NFL would be too hard to pass up.
This year will see a bit of a return for normalcy for Johnson, who will return to left tackle — the position that he played in high school. Last season saw Johnson shift to right guard since Nicholas Petit-Frere and Dawand Jones started at the tackle spots. Johnson should also be primed for another strong season with the addition of Justin Frye as offensive line coach.
88) Zach Harrison - Defensive End
To me, the inclusion of Harrison in the rankings is a bit puzzling. Even though Harrison came to Ohio State with loads of potential, he hasn’t quite lived up to the hype. While he has had some solid seasons, I guess Buckeye fans were spoiled by the Bosa brothers and Chase Young recently.
One thing Harrison does have going for him is experience. The question is does he have the hunger to lead an Ohio State defense that has been embarrassed over the last two years. Harrison is going to have to produce early, or else it wouldn’t be surprising to see J.T. Tuimoloau and Jack Sawyer get even more snaps since they are the future at defensive end for the Buckeyes. Hopefully Harrison has a huge senior season and makes me regret having doubted his abilities.
Ohio State will open up their 2022 season squaring off with a Notre Dame team that saw four players included in ESPN’s top-100. Tight end Michael Mayer was the first Fighting Irish player on the list, with ESPN slotting him at No. 16. Center Jarrett Patterson was ranked 22nd, with the three-year starter in the mix to become Notre Dame’s first Rimington Award winner.
The other two Notre Dame players are on the defensive side of the football. Defensive end Isaiah Foskey ranked 31st after recording 11 sacks and six forced fumbles in 2021. Brandon Joseph was an All-American in 2020 at safety while with Northwestern. The 37th ranked player will be tested right away against Ohio State’s prolific passing attack.
The first Big Ten player that isn’t a Buckeye is Mohamed Ibrahim. The Minnesota running back ranks 28th and is the sixth running back on the list. Paving the way for Ibrahim is offensive lineman John Michael Schmitz, who makes an appearance as the 73rd player in the rankings.
Another Big Ten running back that was recognized is Wisconsin’s Braelon Allen, who was deemed the 34th best player in the country after a fabulous freshman year. Joining Allen on the list is linebacker Nick Herbig, with the 92nd ranked player being the only other Badger to make the list.
The first Michigan player to make the list is running back Blake Corum, who checks in at 79. Cornerback DJ Turner is the only other Wolverine that was included in the top-100. Michigan joins rival Michigan State, as well as Iowa as Big Ten teams to have two players make the list. Ohio State was the only Big Ten team to have more than two players in the top-100.