Ohio State Buckeyes fans have been waiting a long time for this, and the moment has finally arrived. Yes, I’m referring to the fact that the Buckeyes will no longer be held in the shadow of the fascist NCAA‘s sanctions, they can now play for championships.
Fans of the Scarlet and Gray couldn’t help but wonder what would’ve happened if the sanctions had been lifted last year. The Buckeyes, in Urban Meyer’s first season as head coach, went 12-0, just the tenth time an OSU football team has gone undefeated, and the first since the 2002 National Championship season. Had they been eligible, it could’ve been them playing Notre Dame in the Big Dance last year, and not Alabama.
This will be a slightly different squad from last year, however. There’s going to be more freshmen playing this year than last year’s team, so there could be some growing pains. But still, any time you have a quarterback like Braxton Miller paired with a brilliant coach like Meyer, you have to feel confident.
The defensive side of the ball especially could see some young guys getting a lot of snaps. Three true freshmen in particular stand out to me as candidates for early playing time: middle linebacker Mike Mitchell, cornerback Eli Apple and safety Vonn Bell. Here’s why…
Mitchell was considered by most to be a 5-star linebacker prospect out of the 2013 class. Right now, sophomore Curtis Grant is manning the starting middle linebacker spot, but with a strong summer camp, Mitchell could beat him out. Grant, who was a 5-star prospect the year before, looked less than impressive in the action he saw last year, and a position change could be in the works. If Grant continues struggling or changes positions, look for Mitchell to get the first crack at replacing him.
Apple will have the benefit of going through spring drills with the Buckeyes, which always goes a long way in seeing early playing time. Apple is talented enough that he should, at worst, start the year out manning the nickel spot, covering the opposing teams slot receivers. But with a strong showing in spring and during the summer, he could win a starting spot opposite Bradley Roby, who could be an All-American next year.
Bell was the big surprise on Signing Day. Everyone pegged the standout safety from Rossville, Georgia, to stay in the region and opt for the Tennessee Volunteers, but he surprised many and signed with OSU instead. Bell is a physical safety at 6’1” 200lbs, and is exactly what the Buckeyes were looking for: an supremely athletic free safety who has a knack for making big plays. Even though the Buckeyes are returning both starting safeties from last year, Christian Bryant and C.J. Barnett, neither were very consistent. Expect Bell to see snaps in the secondary, if he doesn’t win the job outright.
All in all, the Buckeyes got better on National Signing Day. There could be a number of guys, both on offense and defense, that could see early playing time. And do you have any idea how good you have to be to play as a true freshman on a top 5 team?
It’s going to be interesting to watch the positional battles raging in Columbus throughout this spring and summer.
Rick Stavig is a National Recruiting Columnist for RantSports.com. In addition to covering College Football, he also covers the NFL and NFL Draft. Follow him on Twitter @rickstavig or add him to your network on google.