While it is always important for new stars to emerge for college football teams, it is also imperative for established players to take a step forward and become better than they were the year before.
As the saying goes, if you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse. For the Buckeyes, there are a number of players who played significant roles last season who need to be even better this year.
The reliance on the 10 players listed below is going to grow this season, which is why they need to be even more prepared this season than they were a year ago.
If these Buckeyes can meet the needs of the team, then many of the questions about this year’s squad will be answered quite succinctly.
So who needs to step up?
Michael Jordan, OL
After starting his first two seasons at left guard, junior Michael Jordan is now competing for the starting center spot. No pressure for Jordan, but a Buckeye has won the Rimington Award each of the last two years. If Jordan wins the job — and at this point he seems to be the betting favorite — he is going to need to maintain the same level of production he has become known for. Both Pat Elflein and Billy Price moved over to center from guard before winning their awards, but both also had previous experience playing the position. Jordan’s only experience has been in camp, so the expectations for things to be seamless might be a bit hopeful. Still, Jordan has been exceeding expectations and surprising people since the first day he showed up on campus.
Terry McLaurin, WR
Terry McLaurin was a captain as a redshirt junior last season, so his role on this football team is well established. His role as a deep threat for the Buckeyes, however, could stand to be expanded. Of his 29 receptions last season, only one went for more than 40 yards, and that came in the Big Ten Championship Game against Wisconsin. For comparison’s sake, Mike Weber and C.J. Saunders also had one reception of at least 40 yards last season. For McLaurin, that number needs to improve this year, and if it does, then this Ohio State offense could be setting some records.
Austin Mack, WR
Last season was Austin Mack’s first season sharing a starting role with fellow junior Binjimen Victor. As one of the team’s two starting X receivers, Mack needs to continue the trajectory he is currently on. Last year was good with 24 catches for 343 yards and two touchdowns, but there is always room for growth. With a desire to follow in the footsteps of former Buckeye Michael Thomas, the next step for Mack is creating more explosive plays and finding yards after the catch. Last year, he didn’t have a single catch of 40 yards or more, and the two touchdowns could be improved upon this year. Nobody is expecting anything other than continued improvement from Mack this year, which also speaks to the importance of it happening.
Binjimen Victor, WR
As a true sophomore in 2017, Binjimen Victor produced 23 receptions for 349 yards and seven touchdowns while splitting reps evenly with Austin Mack. That’s a pretty good year for getting 50% of the snaps. There are obviously still areas where Victor can improve, which is what the Buckeyes need to happen if this passing game is going to be as good as it could be. Victor’s size and athleticism makes him a difficult matchup for cornerbacks, but his consistency is expected to take a step forward this year.
Robert Landers, NT
Fourth-year junior Robert Landers has been in the rotation at nose tackle each of the last two seasons, but now he is the starter. He is one of the leaders on the defensive line, and he has already stepped up in that regard. Now he will need to step up as a starter and as the team’s top nose tackle. He has always been doubted because of his size (listed at 6-1 283), and this season is his opportunity to end those doubts for good. The key to a winning defense is stopping the run, and that begins with Landers in the middle.
Damon Arnette, CB
The circle of life for Ohio State cornerbacks dictates that as one player leaves for the NFL, those left behind step up and emerge as potential first-round draft picks as well. Since 2013, the only starting cornerback for the Buckeyes who hasn’t been a first-round pick was Doran Grant, who started in 2013 and 2014. Fourth-year juniors Damon Arnette and Kendall Sheffield are now on the clock. Neither were first-round picks last season, but the plan has been put in place for those goals to be achieved this season. If the Buckeyes have a pair of first rounders at corner this year, the defense is going to be in very good hands.
Kendall Sheffield, CB
If you check the mock drafts, you’ll begin to see Kendall Sheffield’s name listed in some of them. He is the fastest Buckeye on defense, which helps his cause. But if this is going to be his last season at Ohio State, he will need to take a step forward from where he was last year. Sheffield had his ups and downs in his first year as a Buckeye in 2017, but that has been the case for most redshirt sophomore cornerbacks at OSU. The experience he gained has provided a solid foundation for his forward momentum.
Tate Martell, QB
As the backup quarterback at Ohio State, Tate Martell needs to be ready to not only play, but play in uncomfortable situations. Last season as a true freshman, he probably wasn’t ready for that. As a redshirt freshman this season, however, he needs to be. Last November, it was redshirt freshman Dwayne Haskins leading the Buckeyes to a win over Michigan. This November, that may be Martell who is called upon, and he needs to be ready for it. From what little we have seen of fall camp, the good news for the Buckeyes is that he looks like he is stepping up into his new role fairly well.
Dante Booker, LB
Sometimes it takes a player until his fifth season before he finally contributes in a way he has been trying to over the previous four seasons. For Ohio State linebackers, that has happened recently with Etienne Sabino in 2012 and Curtis Grant in 2014. This season, that could also be the case for Dante Booker. Booker spent two seasons behind Joshua Perry and then won a starting job each of the last two seasons before injuries sidelined him. This could be the third year in a row that he wins a starting job, and if he does, the Buckeyes need him to step up and become a dominating player.
Blake Haubeil, PK
Life can be difficult for a placekicker who is asked to put kickoffs in a very specific spot and with a very specific amount of hang time, and Blake Haubeil experienced that last season as a true freshman. This year, he may be asked for even more precision based on the new kickoff rules that allow teams to fair catch a kick anywhere inside the 25-yard line and still get the ball out at the 25-yard line. We don’t know yet what Ohio State’s plan of attack will be, but if they are going to ask for more precision from Haubeil, then he is going to have to be ready.