Five for Friday: Which Buckeye Who Has Yet to Play is Most Important to Ohio State's Success?
By Tony Gerdeman
COLUMBUS, Ohio — You'll have to forgive me for writing about existing Buckeyes rather than future ones, but I needed a slight breather from all of the recruiting going on. I'm sure there will be six or seven more commitments in the next two or three days, so we'll get back to that in due time.
Anyway, I had somebody ask me the question above this week, so it seemed like an appropriate topic to tackle on a Friday. I don't know if there's one answer that is better than the next, but I do know there are several possibilities.
With expectations as high as they are heading into the 2014 season, there will be moments this season where a play or action by a completely unproven player could decide a game. Good or bad, games will be won or lost by players who haven't yet done it on the college football field for the Buckeyes.
Who are the most likely of these players for Ohio State? Let's take a look.
1. Darron Lee
This one is a slight cheat, since Darron Lee has actually played, but it was negligible and not enough to disqualify him from my completely made up rules. That being said, the pressure on this Ohio State defense is going to be immense, and Lee's performance as the walk-out linebacker is going to go a long way towards determining success or failure. This new defensive scheme is going to ask Lee to chase slot receivers, tight ends, running backs, quarterbacks and anybody else who shows up with the football. In terms of success or failure on defense, Lee may have more say than any other of the "unknown" players.
Photo by Dan Harker
2. Gareon Conley/Eli Apple
Gareon Conley and Eli Apple are lumped together because there is so little separation in their potential. There is a decent chance that one of these two players will be a starting cornerback for the Buckeyes at some point this year, which means that their impact will be constant. Considering the struggles with the pass defense over the last few years, the importance of simple competence cannot be overstated. Forget about excelling, because right now all fans should be looking for is competence. If you get any more than that, be thrilled. The potential at cornerback this season is tremendous, but it's pretty rare for a pass defense to go from terrible to great in the span of one season, and to do it with an entirely new group of players.
3. Chad Lindsay
Okay, this one is cheating as well given that Chad Lindsay has played in plenty of games, although none of them have ever been in the Scarlet and Gray. The Alabama transfer has a chance to move right in and become what Urban Meyer calls "The Apex of the Offense". If he can win the center job, then his impact on this season will be sizable. The center position will be one to watch regardless of who wins the job. Heck, if redshirt freshman Billy Price wins it, then he would be right in this same spot on this list.
4. Sean Nuernberger
The freshman kicker. The bane of football coaches everywhere. However, if that kicker turns out to be pretty good, then those same coaches are set for the next four years. How will things go for Sean Nuernberger and the Buckeyes? That's the question. He closed well in the spring, so he has the momentum on his side. Sure, only three of Urban Meyer's 26 games at Ohio State have been decided by a field goal or less, but how Meyer goes about his decision making when it comes to kicking will depend on Nuernberger's ability to handle pressure. If he can't be relied on, then Meyer will be forced to go for more fourth downs than maybe he would have liked to. After all, kickers don't just affect a team with the kicks they take, they also affect a team with the kicks they don't take.
5. Raekwon McMillan
I don't know if it would be good news or bad news if Raekwon McMillan is in a position to decide games for the Buckeyes. Be it good news or bad news, however, McMillan will definitely find himself in a position to make some very meaningful plays. How much of that is his doing versus Curtis Grant's doing is probably the real question here.
Photo By Dan Harker
Bonus: J.T. Barrett
You probably didn't want to read this one, but it had to happen. Of course, it would require both J.T. Barrett winning the backup job, as well as an injury to a certain starting quarterback. If both of these things happen, then Barrett shoots to the top of the charts.
Bonus: Corey Smith
The Buckeyes need more production from their wide receivers, and Corey Smith is a guy who could give it to them. If Braxton Miller is going to avoid a bad case of the Novembers, it would help if he had a reliable receiver.
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