We ran an article in our September issue last year (“Adopt a Buckeye”) that pointed to five unheralded players we thought could become household names by season’s end—Cardale Jones, Corey Smith, Darron Lee, Eli Apple, Jacoby Boren. This is where we spike the ball in the end zone and do a little dance. Because we’re clearly clairvoyant, not at all lucky or throwing excrement at walls, we’re doubling down with some more Buckeyes who are poised to play their way into roles as clutch performers.
HOMETOWN: Buckner, Kentucky
Special teams has been the glaring weakness on Meyer’s Ohio State squads—much to his constant chagrin—and Nuernberger was no exception. Tabbed as the starter in his freshman season, he made only 65 percent of his attempts. He came in highly recruited, though; he has power and plenty of confidence. The Buckeyes will need him to hit at least one big kick at some point this season, and he seems plenty capable. Winning a championship is difficult, repeating even more so, and the title defense could hinge on his leg.
HOMETOWN: Detroit, Michigan
Damon Webb is the type of player who coaches find ways to get in the game. He played in eight contests as a true freshman last year and recorded three tackles, a pass breakup, and a forced fumble. This season he’s fighting for the starting cornerback spot opposite Eli Apple, but in the same fashion as Apple last year, he’ll provide depth even if he doesn’t win the job outright. He’ll likely spend significant time at nickel if he isn’t a first-string cornerback, and he could fill in at any position in the defensive backfield in case of injuries.
POSITION: Wide Receiver
HOMETOWN: Flanders, New Jersey
Last year Noah Brown (pictured) had two touches for a total of five yards, not exactly the stat line of an imminent breakout star. However, with Devin Smith and Evan Spencer leaving and the preseason suspensions of Dontre Wilson, Corey Smith, and Jalin Marshall, Brown could find himself slotted as high as number two on the wide receiver depth chart for opening day. Unlike the others competing for time, Brown played in 13 games as a true freshman last year and logged reps at wideout, slot, and H-back, giving him plenty of opportunities to deliver star-making plays as a versatile athlete.
POSITION: Defensive End
YEAR: Redshirt Freshman
As a football player, Sam Hubbard doesn’t really make any sense—he shouldn’t exist. He was an all-state safety in high school, but he originally signed to play lacrosse at Notre Dame. After rescinding his decision and agreeing to play for the Buckeyes, he came on as a linebacker, then switched to tight end, then returned to linebacker before finally landing as a defensive end. At 6 feet 5 inches and 265 pounds, he has literally grown into the role, and with Joey Bosa suspended for the season opener, he has an expanded chance to display his freakish ability if given more playing time in the defensive line rotation.
POSITION: Swiss Army Knife
YEAR: Fifth-year Senior
This may seem a bizarre choice because you already know Braxton Miller, and if anything his role appears to be reduced from this point in previous seasons. But as the most dangerous athlete on a loaded team who will likely contribute in every way (receiving, rushing, returning, occasional passing), he has the ability to become a dark horse Heisman contender. Name recognition? Check. Highlight reel potential? Check. Ability to put up gaudy stats? Check, and now in more categories. Miller will be working alongside Brown to establish himself as a multifaceted offensive force who could line up at five different positions and deliver jaw-dropping plays all over the field.