Given all the hype and excitement around Ohio State football, the man at the center of the picture is often overlooked.

It’s all about offense at OSU, right? CJ Stroud will throw for a ton of yards, and could win the Heisman. And TreVeyon Henderson and Miyan Williams are all-everything backs. Jaxon Smith-Njigba was a star a year ago and Marvin Harrison Jr. has emerged this season.

And even on defense, there are showy players. Take JT Tuimoloau, who had his breakout game at a great time against Penn State. Or Denzel Burke, who has been a blanket in coverage at times. Or Ronnie Hickman, who led the Buckeyes in tackles a year ago.

Tommy Eichenberg, nearly a Boston College Eagle, might not always jump out. Until the games start.

And yes, Eichenberg almost wound up in Chestnut Hill before decommitting in late 2018. As the 8th-ranked recruit in Ohio that season (per 247sports.com), Eichenberg figured to put in his time in Columbus to climb the depth chart. Indeed, he redshirted in 2019, and then had 2 tackles in 2020.

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A year ago, Eichenberg was part of a revolving door at linebacker. Rarely allowed to play instinctually, he was part of an Ohio State defense that was sometimes dominant but other times just plain defeated. He did show a burst in the Rose Bowl, making 17 tackles and earning defensive MVP honors, but even then, it was for a unit that was gashed for 41 points.

But in 2022 …

Tommy Eichenberg is a finalist for the Bednarik Award, is third in the Big Ten in tackles, and has been the acknowledged center of the vastly improved Ohio State defense.

A few weeks ago, Hickman weighed in on Eichenberg, calling him “one of the best defensive players in the country right now.” After Ohio State’s win over Rutgers, Zach Harrison agreed, noting that Eichenberg “is kind of like a quarterback out there for the defense.”

Opponents’ reactions have largely been relegated to grunts and groans.

In 5 games of conference play, Eichenberg has 53 tackles, 4 tackles for loss and 3 pass breakups. He also had a pick-6 against Iowa. With 72 stops on the season, Eichenberg is well on pace to be the first Buckeye to rack up 100 tackles since Raekwon McMillan in 2016. While Tom Cousineau’s 211 tackles in 1978 is probably still safe, Eichenberg has done a great job imposing his identity on the modern history of Ohio State football.

A year ago, Ohio State allowed about a touchdown a game more in scoring and just over 100 yards more per game. Fine tuning out the bad plays has made the difference between a 1-loss Buckeye team a year ago and what is so far the CFP No. 2 Buckeyes of 2022.

Eichenberg’s improvement and significance are not lost on OSU coach Ryan Day. A week ago, Day praised his senior linebacker in a fairly effusive manner.

“He’s just so consistent and solid,” Day said of Eichenberg, before praising his quiet brand of leadership. “When he says something, people listen,” Day said. “He’s not one who’s going to be out front barking at everybody, but you know when he’s in the room and when he’s on the field because he has a strong presence.”

With OSU solidly within the CFP field pending the rest of the Big Ten run, Eichenberg figures to continue being the strong presence of the defense. Let the flashier guys get the publicity. Eichenberg will continues to lead, to rack up tackles and wins. And if it ends in a national title, Eichenberg will probably be at the center of that, too.