Honor. Defend.

Confidence isn’t a feeling—it’s the repeated experience of doing something properly.
In college football, it usually happens that many (if not most) of the players who finish as champions each year move on, leaving the task of repeating to a less experienced roster.

Usually.

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This time around, as Ohio State returns 16 starters, confidence will be brimming.
It should be news to no one in Central Ohio that the Buckeyes are coming back strong
(11 preseason All-Americans). Furthermore, everyone around town ought to be fully
aware how critical a role depth played in OSU’s title run. So, in honor of the next man up, here’s a look at this year’s team… from right over the starters’ shoulder pads.

Quarterback

Projected starter(s): J.T. Barrett, Cardale Jones

Next man up: Braxton Miller

Obviously, this is the talk of the town. Hell, it’s the talk of the time zone. Who between Barrett (the record-setting regular season hero) and Jones (the toast of the tournament) takes control to begin the season is the hottest of topics. Fortunately, this little “conundrum”  facing Urban Meyer and his staff is facing is a bit like being forced to choose between seafood and steak. (Not saying which is which.) But with Braxton Miller making the shift to H-back, if the team needs to go to its no. 3 again, it could be 6-foot-4-inch dual threat redshirt freshman Stephen Collier. His time with the program and Elite 11 pedigree are legit.

Running Back

Projected starter(s): Ezekiel Elliott

Next man up: Curtis Samuel, Bri’onte Dunn

Elliott absolutely set the world on fire with his legs. And, if we’re being honest, with his bare abs, too. As unstoppable as the boulder from Raiders of the Lost Ark, Zeke steamrolled for 696 yards and eight scores in the team’s final three games. Right behind him, though, is Curtis Samuel. The freshman was electric in 58 carries, showing elite elusiveness on his way to 383 yards and six TDs in limited duty. Should he be called upon, he’ll be ready.

Hybrid Back

Projected starter(s): Jalin Marshall, Braxton Miller

Next man up: Dontre Wilson

Go figure: there’s been no college football video game for the last couple years, so now is the time a former Big Ten Quarterback of the Year moves to H-back just to make sure he can stay on the field. Marshall and Wilson are both absolute poison to opposing defenses, and even the aforementioned Samuel has taken snaps here and at receiver. But Miller’s famous penchant for the big play is extra sexy—just the mention of Number 1 taking a swing pass out of the backfield should have fans swooning.

Wide Receiver

Projected starter(s): Michael Thomas, Corey Smith

Next man up: Johnnie Dixon, Noah Brown

This might be the one place where OSU’s losses (namely Devin Smith and Evan Spencer) will have a visible impact. Then again, with the wealth of athleticism at H-back, who knows? In Thomas and Smith, you’re returning two of your top three at the position in terms of production, the former the team’s leader in receptions from a year ago (54). The speedy sophomore Dixon, now healthy, has a chance to break through and contribute, even in this crowded field.

Tight End

Projected starter(s): Nick Vannett

Next man up: Marcus Baugh

Last year’s next man up was Vannett, playing behind/beside Jeff Heuerman, who wound up a third-round draft pick. Interesting fact: Vannett caught more balls for more yards and more touchdowns than his predecessor last year. While it’s unlikely Baugh will upstage Vannett on the stat sheet, he’s still got tons of experience in the system and size for days (6-foot-5-inch, 255 pounds). He could be a sneaky target in end zone situations.

Offensive Line

Projected starter(s): Taylor Decker, Pat Elflein, Jacoby Boren, Chase Farris, Billy Price

Next man up: Jamarco Jones

The days of underachieving O-lines are clearly over, folks. Ed Warinner has this group humming—hopefully his promotion to offensive coordinator only strengthens his grip. Decker and Elflein are both first-team All-Everything talents, but if either one goes down, expect to see Jones step up. The 6-foot-5-inch, 310-pound sophomore played in 10 games in the championship season and has received high praise from the coaching staff.

Defensive End

Projected starter(s): Joey Bosa, Jalyn Holmes

Next man up: Sam Hubbard

Joey Bosa is considered by many to be the best defensive player in the Big Ten (if not the nation). Needless to say, he’ll be drawing more than his fair share of attention on the field. That may be just the opportunity a young guy like Sam Hubbard needs. Hubbard came in as a safety/outside linebacker after a stellar career at Archbishop Moeller in Cincinnati. That was 40 pounds ago. Now the redshirt freshman is programmed to disassemble opposing quarterbacks. Tons of upside here.

Defensive Tackle

Projected starter(s): Adolphus Washington, Tommy Schutt

Next man up: Michael Hill

Washington finally came into his own last year, recording 10.5 TFLs and 4.5 sacks. Schutt is finally getting out of the shadow of the likes of Michael Bennett and Johnathan Hankins (among others). Hill, on the other hand, is still daisy fresh with three years of eligibility remaining. He is just one of a number of hungry young pups looking to break through on this defensive front, but he’s the only one with a recorded sack.

Linebackers

Projected starter(s): Joshua Perry, Darron Lee, Raekwon McMillan

Next man up: Cam Williams

For a unit that looked downright porous a couple years ago, this has been quite the renaissance. Perry is an incredible leader. Lee blossomed as a playmaker out of the Will spot. McMillan, now a true sophomore, took the reins from the departed Curtis Grant and now seems to be in full command in the middle. The key man may be veteran Cam Williams; the heady senior should (along with Perry) act as a stabilizing force to the talented youth around him.

Cornerback

Projected starter(s): Eli Apple,
Gareon Conley

Next man up: Marshon Lattimore, Damon Webb

Apple has been as advertised. Conley’s entrance into the spotlight hasn’t been quite as graceful, but the talent there is undeniable and he’s still just a sophomore. Still, there is a scary amount of talent behind them, and Lattimore is one of those guys who could just play his way onto the field whether there’s an injury or not. Another in a long line of Cleveland Glenville products, Lattimore lost a promising freshman campaign to hamstring surgery just before the season. Expect to see number two out there this year, one way or another.

Safeties

Projected starter(s): Vonn Bell, Tyvis Powell

Next man up: Cam Burrows

Powell and Bell, like Apple, Washington, and Lee, are another couple of guys who really stepped up and made names for themselves with their play last year. If these two aren’t one of the most fearsome safety duos in the country, then someone else needs to be writing the list. Burrows, meanwhile, always seemingly in the mix for playing time, has been waiting his turn. When he gets on the field, he’s around the ball—like a good safety should be. He’s a fine reserve and will be ready to step up as a senior as well. 

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