With the NFL declaration date looming on January 15, Ohio State has had some good news of late on Buckeyes who have decided to return. Running back Mike Weber, receivers Parris Campbell and Johnnie Dixon, and defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones all announced their returns, while linebacker Jerome Baker, defensive end Sam Hubbard, and cornerback Denzel Ward have opted to enter the 2018 NFL Draft.
The return of Weber, Campbell, Dixon, and Jones is huge for the 2018 Buckeyes and their national title hopes. This then got me wondering about Buckeyes who have left early over the years, who — had they returned — would have very likely been the difference in Ohio State winning a national title.
There are certainly more than the five I will list below, and if I’m missing any, please include your own thoughts in the comments below.
1. Terry Glenn
Wide receiver Terry Glenn left following the 1995 season, but had he returned for the 1996 season, he would have been part of a receiving corps with Dimitrious Stanley, David Boston, Buster Tillman, Mike Wiley, Dee Miller, and more. With Glenn in the Ohio State offense, I feel like the Buckeyes would have been able to overcome one little mis-step by Shawn Springs against Michigan. It would have also made life much easier for Stanley and Boston against the Wolverines.
2. Shawn Springs
Speaking of Shawn Springs, the former Buckeye great left following the 1996 season and was the No. 3 overall draft pick by the Seattle Seahawks. Had he returned, he would have been paired at cornerback with a sophomore named Antoine Winfield. Springs and Winfield are arguably the two best Ohio State corners ever, so how do you think they would have done together? The Buckeyes lost to Penn State that season, 31-27, because they couldn’t stop the Nittany Lion offense. Springs would have helped that. They also lost by six points at Michigan that season. Brian Griese completed 14 passes in that game, and none of them went to a wide receiver. But he did complete a 37-yard pass to Charles Woodson that led to Michigan’s first touchdown drive. That completion was the result of coverage confusion — confusion that wouldn’t likely have happened if it was Winfield and Springs together on the field. If the Buckeyes pull that game out, they would have then gone on to the Rose Bowl to face Washington State, thereby avoiding Florida State’s destructive defensive line.
3. Donte Whitner
Donte Whitner was one of the best safeties in Ohio State history, and his departure after the 2005 season left the Buckeyes short handed in 2006. If you’ll recall, Nick Patterson and Brandon Mitchell were the opening day starters, and Patterson lasted all of about one half as a starting safety for the Buckeyes. He was then replaced by Anderson Russell, who played well for the next four games. Russell was then lost for the season due to injury. Jamario O’Neal started the final seven games, and for the most part, they were able to get away with it. Everything was going fine until Ohio State met up with Urban Meyer and the Florida Gators. The Gators went after O’Neal repeatedly, and they were successful in doing so. I don’t know if Whitner would have been the difference, but he certainly would have made the OSU defense less likely to be abused like they were.
4. Orlando Pace
Any time you can get Orlando Pace to return for a senior season, it would behoove you to do so. Pace left for the NFL after the 1996 season, which left the Buckeyes a little short handed on the offensive line for the 1997 season. Had he returned, however, he would have made life much easier for Stanley Jackson and Joe Germaine, and he would have been able to help a running game that only averaged 3.8 yards per carry. And this was a group with Pepe Pearson, Michael Wiley, Matt Keller, and Joe Montgomery. One year earlier — with Pace on the offensive line — the Buckeyes averaged 4.8 yards per carry. Pace would have made Ohio State’s offense more complete, which would have helped against both Penn State and Michigan.
5. Raekwon McMillan
Raekwon McMillan left following the 2016 season. He started at middle linebacker in 2015 and 2016, but the Buckeyes missed him a whole bunch this past season. McMillan was always a solid pass defender — going all the way back to his freshman season. How did the Buckeye linebackers do in pass coverage this past season? Not great. In fact, not even good. Chris Worley suffered an injury, which only made matters worse. But the situation was already bad early in the season, as evidenced by the Oklahoma game. Raekwon McMillan’s presence would have made things better for the Ohio State defense, and his leadership would have helped in making sure the Iowa game never happens.
Bonus: Vonn Bell
Imagine Vonn Bell and Malik Hooker at safety together in 2016. It may not have helped Ohio State score enough to beat Clemson, but between the two of them they probably would have made it at least 31-14.
Bonus: Joey Bosa
If for no other reason than it would have been fun to watch the Bosa Brothers play together in 2016.
Bonus: Santonio Holmes
Santonio Holmes left after the 2005 season, meaning that had he returned for the 2006 season, the Ohio State offense would have been Troy Smith, Antonio Pittman, Beanie Wells, Holmes, Ted Ginn, Anthony Gonzales, Roy Hall, Brian Hartline, and Brian Robiskie. That’s not too bad. Of course, you might look at those receivers and say that the Buckeyes didn’t need Holmes, but I would then remind you of what happened when Ginn was injured and Florida no longer had to worry about him.
Bonus: Michael Thomas
Michael Thomas left Ohio State following the 2015 season and has proven himself to already be one of the best wide receivers in the NFL. If you’ll recall, he was also pretty good at Ohio State. Could he have made a difference against Clemson last season? Maybe, but would it have been 31 points?