From now until preseason camp starts in August, Land-Grant Holy Land will be writing articles around a different theme every week. This week is all about our Unreasonable Expectations. You can catch up on all of the Theme Week content here and all of our Unreasonable Expectations here.
This week we are discussing our unreasonable expectations for the 2023 season. At this point in the offseason, when news is slow and you’re experiencing withdrawal symptoms from months without football, that’s when unreasonable expectations start to creep in. This point in the offseason is always when national title hopes start to creep in.
Instead of going that route I have a more reasonable, unreasonable expectation: Tommy Eichenberg will be the best linebacker in the nation. He will win the Butkus Award as well as the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and Linebacker of the Year awards. Unlike last year, he will also be a first-team All-American and get a tree planted in the Buckeye Grove.
To set the stage for next season, I want to relitigate last year. In my opinion, which is backed up by the stats, Tommy Eichenberg was the best linebacker in the Big Ten and arguably the best linebacker in the country. Instead, that title and the awards that went with it were bestowed on former Iowa linebacker and first-round draft pick Jack Campbell. Campbell, in his own right, is a great player. I don’t know that he’s a first-round pick, but that’s not what this article is about. It is about Tommy Eichenberg.
Eichenberg outperformed Campbell in every metric, as evidenced below.
2022 Eichenberg vs. Campbell Comparison
|Stats||Tommy Eichenberg||Jack Campbell|
|Stats||Tommy Eichenberg||Jack Campbell|
|Tackles For Loss||12||5.5|
Campbell had five more total tackles, but Eichenberg has 18 more solo tackles, which is the more important metric for a linebacker. Eichenberg had 7.5 more tackles for loss, 1.5 more sacks, 3 more passes defensed and his only interception went for a touchdown. Despite all of this, Campbell won the Butkus Award for the best linebacker in the country as well as the Narguski-Woodson and Butkus-Fitzgerald awards for best defensive player and linebacker in the Big Ten.
Campbell was also a unanimous first-team All-American, relegating Eichenberg to second-team on every major outlet. So, if the stats and the tape suggest that Eichenberg was the better linebacker last season why didnt he win the awards?
Campbell had one thing that Eichenberg couldn’t make up for: national name recognition. Campbell had a great season in 2021, while Eichenberg was barely on the map. Most people — especially in the media — don’t know how to evaluate linebacker play, and Campbell had a season deserving the awards. So in a battle of semi-comparable stats, Campbell won the battle of name recognition.
So why am I bringing this up? Besides the fact I believe the Tommy train got slighted last season? I bring this up because, unlike the 2022 season, Tommy Eichenberg is entering the 2023 season with name recognition. He is already on a preseason watch list for a few major awards, and will most likely be named on every watch list. All that’s left is for him to have a season comparable to his 2022 season.
That is not an easy feat, and why this should be considered an unreasonable expectation. Expecting Tommy to end the season with 100+ tackles, double-digit tackles for loss, as well as any number of sacks and interceptions is a tough standard. Luckily for Tommy and the Buckeye defense as a whole, I think he is capable of it.
Entering his fifth year in the program, Eichenberg has gotten better every season he’s been a Buckeye. There may not be much room for improvement, but at the bare minimum, he will be one year stronger, faster, and more knowledgeable about Jim Knowles’ system.
One other factor that will weigh heavily on his ability to reach this expectation is the play of the defensive line. In front of him will be studs J.T. Tuimoloau and Jack Sawyer, who will be focused solely on playing defensive end. There is also the disruptive trio of Ty Hamilton, Tyliek Williams, and Mike Hall Jr. at defensive tackle. Ohio State should have one of the best defensive lines in the country, which will allow Eichenberg to run around untouched and make tackles.
Ultimately, Eichenberg first needs to stay healthy, but last season he played through multiple injuries, earning the nickname two-thumb Tommy.
It may be unreasonable to expect this. Tommy was special last season. His 77 solo tackles were the second most by a Buckeye in 20 years second only to Ryan Shazier who had 103 solo tackles in 2013. Since 2000, Ohio State has only had four players post back-to-back 100 tackle seasons. AJ Hawk and James Luarinitas, who each posted three back-to-back 100 tackle seasons, as well as Ryan Shazier and Raekwon McMillian.
McMillian is underrated as a Buckeye, but the other three players are Buckeye legends and are arguably some of the best players in Ohio State history. Hawk and Laurinitis should both be in the College Football Hall of Fame before all is said and done. It may be unfair to bring up Eichenberg’s name in the same breath as Hawk or Laurinitas, but that is the company he’ll join if he meets this expectation by accumulating 100-plus tackles, becoming an All-American and winning Big Ten and National end-of-season awards.