The best thing about college football is the constant rejuvenation of talent and experience.
It’s a conveyor belt of new names and new faces making big plays all over the country, and it will be no different for the Buckeyes in Ohio Stadium tomorrow afternoon.
And I’m not even talking about Justin Fields (1).
Yes, it’s quite likely by this time tomorrow, you’ll see the Buckeyes’ new quarterback plastered on all of the highlights shows — albeit less plastered on ESPN’s family of networks.
But there will be other new names introducing themselves as well.
An injury to senior H-back CJ Saunders (80) means that redshirt freshman Jaelen Gill (26) will be getting more snaps on Saturday. He was always going to play in this game, but now he and KJ Hill (14) have to pick up Saunders’ reps.
Gill caught one pass last year and redshirted. He was the top all-purpose running back in the nation in the 2018 class. Now he gets to try and replace Parris Campbell.
He was impressive in the spring and is definitely one to watch tomorrow. He’s fast, he’s got moves, and he knows how to go and get the football.
And he’s not the only one.
True freshman receiver Garrett Wilson (5) was a 5-star signee this past year and is a natural. He’s still putting in the work, mind you, he just makes it look like it all comes easily. And he’ll be returning some punts as well.
Both Gill and Wilson are in the two-deep and could be in the game early and often. They are too good to stay quiet for too long.
And they are not the only ones.
Head coach Ryan Day mentioned his young linebackers running down on special teams this week. Cade Stover (16) and Craig Young (37) are true freshmen. Stover (6-4 225) is a big, physical linebacker who is a one-man domino effect.
Young, meanwhile, is also 6-foot-4 and somewhere in the neighborhood of 220 pounds, and with a 10.7 100m personal best on his high school resume.
Those two running down on kickoffs should give us all something to watch prior to the inevitable fair catch.
Stover and Young likely won’t become stars on Saturday, but there is also something very fun about watching future stars making their first marks as Buckeyes.
Remember that time a freshman running back named Ezekiel Elliott did this in 2013?
I’m also looking forward to seeing the linebackers play some defense.
I want to see the old guys and I want to see the young guys.
Watch Tuf Borland (32) and see what the coaches see. Watch Baron Browning (5) and see the physical tools. Turn your sound up, watch Teradja Mitchell (7), and just listen for the collisions.
But it won’t just be those guys. And it won’t just be individuals.
Groups can become stars as well.
When I’m thinking about tomorrow’s game, I’m also thinking about a brand new Ohio State offensive line.
Four new starters — but not all that new.
Thayer Munford (75) is the lone returning starter, but right tackle Branden Bowen (76) was a starter in 2017. Starting left guard Jonah Jackson (73) was a 2-year starter at Rutgers. Starting right guard Wyatt Davis (52) started both postseason games last season for the Buckeyes.
The only guy without any starting experience is center Josh Myers (71), who has not had any questionable words said of him this entire calendar year — and that goes back to the Rose Bowl when offensive line coach Greg Studrawa said Myers could have started last year if they needed him.
But it’s more than just their experience that intrigues me.
This is a group of offensive linemen that is appreciative of where they are and where they’ve come from.
Jonah Jackson has a chance to play in the postseason. He finally gets to play for a winner — Rutgers won 11 games in his four years there. He finally gets to experience the good life. Expect him to have some fun in a very good way for the Buckeyes on Saturday.
Josh Myers, meanwhile, spent his first year and a half as a Buckeye feeling pretty overwhelmed by everything. He learned quickly that he wasn’t going to be an offensive tackle, so he moved to guard. Eventually he moved to center, and that’s when the blossoming began. Now this is his offensive line and he gets to set the tone.
Thayer Munford has been out of action since the winter, so you know he’ll be pumped to be back out there on Saturday. How many snaps he gets is irrelevant. Just being back out there will push him forward.
But nobody will be more appreciative than Branden Bowen to be back out on the field. He’s missed more than a year with a broken leg, but stayed positive and stayed fighting. To put it in an offensive lineman’s language, he finished his block and is back in the starting lineup. He is now at a new position, but he also has a new outlook on life and football.
This is a driven group, which is exactly what you want from your offensive line.
There is a lot to watch on Saturday, and much of it is going to be brand new.
I’ve given you some names to watch, but I only scratched the surface. Go and discover your own names on Saturday.
I bet you won’t have to look that hard.