Why Ohio State's opt-out situation is different from the rest of college football
I cringe with each and every bowl opt-out, even if I understand why. Hey, I’m selfish as a fan. I want to watch the best players square off.
So I’m bummed to not see Big Ten stars like Kenneth Walker III, Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson, Tyler Goodson, Jahan Dotson and many others (like half of Penn State’s starting defense) over the next few days. While these results apparently don’t matter (since the SEC is 0-4), it’s still a great opportunity to showcase the Big Ten.
But even if B1G rosters are a little watered down, the one situation that can serve as an exception is Ohio State losing 4 starters for the Rose Bowl. Olave, Wilson, left tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere and defensive tackle Haskell Garrett won’t play against Utah on Saturday, but Ohio State will arguably be even more interesting than if all those guys were playing. Ohio State will still have a very good chance to win thanks to the way it has accumulated talent behind those starters. In fact, I’m sure that Ohio State still expects to win without those guys. So does Vegas, which only lowered the spread from 6.5 to 4.5 without them. If the Buckeyes can get it done against a Utes team playing its best ball, it really bodes well for next year.
Like most, I’m genuinely intrigued by what Ohio State’s offense will look like next year without Olave and Wilson. I don’t think it’s a hot take at all to say that the Buckeyes won’t have much drop-off from the country’s No. 1 offense even after losing 2 of the best receivers in program history. That’s because there’s been a logjam all season at wide receiver and on the offensive line, 2 positions where Ohio State annually stockpiles talent.
It all started when Olave, a projected first-round NFL Draft pick last year, decided to return for another season. That made an already loaded position group even more stacked, so much so that Jameson Williams transferred and became Alabama’s top wide receiver. Gee Scott Jr., the No. 10 wideout in the 2020 class, already switched positions to tight end. Mookie Cooper, the No. 16 WR in the 2020 class, already transferred to Missouri.
Even with Olave and Wilson officially off to the NFL, Ohio State’s wide receiver room is loaded. Jaxon Smith-Njigba, who broke out this season to become an All-American, is locked in as the alpha for next year. Behind him, though, the competition looks to be fierce with former top-100 recruits looking to increase their role:
- Julian Fleming: The No. 1 wideout in the 2020 class (and No. 2 overall recruit) has played 129 snaps this season, catching 7 passes for 51 yards.
- Emeka Egbuka: The No. 1 WR in the 2021 class (and No. 19 overall recruit) has played 104 snaps this season, catching 6 passes for 145 yards.
- Marvin Harrison Jr.: The No. 14 WR in the 2021 class and son of Hall of Famer Marvin Harrison has played 192 snaps this season, catching 5 passes for 58 yards.
The same thing goes on the offensive line, where Ohio State has essentially started 4 tackles after Thayer Munford returned (only to move inside to guard) and former 3-star recruit Dawand Jones emerged. Without Petit-Frere, maybe we get to see more of Paris Johnson, the No. 1 tackle in the 2020 class, outside instead of at guard. Maybe we get to see more of true freshman Donovan Jackson, the No. 1 interior lineman in the 2021 class.
Defensively, it would be great to see more of linemen Jack Sawyer and JT Tuimoloau, who were 2 of the top 5 players in the 2021 class, against a very physical Utah squad.
These bowl games aren’t meaningless, but even the most diehard fan would admit that the excitement declines a bit without star players.
But that’s not the case with Ohio State, which is arguably even more intriguing now that the stars of tomorrow will take center stage.