If you think back to Ohio State’s national championship in 2014, that roster featured a litany of second-year players.
Names like JT Barrett, Ezekiel Elliott, Jalin Marshall, Billy Price, Joey Bosa, Darron Lee, Eli Apple, and Vonn Bell were absolutely critical to the Buckeyes’ success that season, and all were second-year players.
This season, Ohio State may not need that same kind of contribution from the 2018 signing class, but it is time for them to make their respective marks on this Buckeye football program.
“The thing I said to them the other day, they’re not freshmen anymore,” Ohio State head coach Ryan Day said this spring. “You’re not freshmen. It’s time to go.”
Throughout the spring, and continuing into the fall, sophomores and redshirt freshmen will be competing for starting jobs at every level.
Quarterback Justin Fields may not have signed with OSU in 2018, but there is no denying the need for him to step up this season.
Two of Ohio State’s most explosive receivers this season could be second-year guys Chris Olave and Jaelen Gill. Sophomore tight end Jeremy Ruckert is loaded with possibilities. Right tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere was Ohio State’s top signee in 2018.
They all need to become primary players for the Buckeyes, and that’s just on offense.
Defensively, the front four is loaded with 2018 signees, and while none of them may start, the majority of them are expected to play.
“They have to play,” Day said of the 2018 signing class. “If we’re going to be good, those guys all have to step up and need to become starters or be in the two-deep. If they’re not, then there’s something not right.”
Cracking some spots on that two-deep is going to be difficult because of the veterans already there, but Day wants them to be able to be called upon if the need arises.
Some positions don’t lend themselves to contributing early, but on the whole, the 2018 class has to make an impact that leaves a lasting impression on this team.
“So not everybody develops at the same pace, but you need to start feeling that class,” Day said. “The 2018 class needs to be felt this spring and into the preseason.”
They can be felt in a number of ways, and it may not just be in the starting lineup.
It could be middle linebacker Teradja Mitchell pushing Tuf Borland and Baron Browning to be better than they were last year. It could be sophomore nose tackle Tommy Togiai pushing Davon Hamilton and Robert Landers, allowing defensive line coach Larry Johnson to get the absolute best out of his fifth-year seniors.
There is also simple mathematics involved. If players aren’t serious contributors by year two, then half of their career has essentially passed them by. Which also means the OSU football program hasn’t gotten what they expected in the timeframe they were expecting.
It’s okay to have late bloomers. Every program has them. But when the majority of a class is blooming late, this causes problems.
Day doesn’t expect those problems this season because Ohio State has recruited well. But the need for young contributors is even greater at places like OSU, where players keep leaving early for the NFL.
The reloading process is never ending, and by year two of a class, they need to start pulling their own weight.
“If we’re going to make a push at this thing, that class has to really step up,” Day said.
And he knows if they don’t, it’s going to be difficult for Ohio State to meet their own lofty expectations this year.