COLUMBUS, Ohio — As the summer months of the calendar approach, anticipation for this fall’s college football season continues to build. For Ohio State, just more than two months remain until the start of fall camp.
If you’re a Buckeyes fan, you will recognize some familiar faces on both lists. Not only are there plenty of Ohio State players to be found, but so are the opponents who dot the Buckeyes’ 2017 schedule.
Whether it’s talented quarterbacks, dynamic running backs or emerging defenders, Ohio State will face no shortage of elite talent in the coming year. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the best players the Buckeyes will face in 2017.
5. L.J. Scott
At this point, Ohio State fans should be familiar with L.J. Scott in more ways than one. Not only did the Buckeyes recruit the Hubbard, Ohio, native, but the former 4-star prospect-turned Michigan State running back rushed for 160 yards and a touchdown in Ohio State’s 17-16 victory over the Spartans last fall.
On Nov. 11, Scott will get another shot to beat the Buckeyes, this time in his home state. And after his success a season ago, stopping the 6-foot-1, 231-pound running back likely will be atop Ohio State’s objectives come the late-season showdown.
4. Trace McSorley
While his teammate in the backfield garners most of the headlines, Trace McSorley enjoyed a breakout season in his own right in 2016. Leading Penn State to a surprise 11-3 record, the junior quarterback totaled 3,614 passing yards and 29 touchdowns while completing 57.9 percent of his passes.
McSorley also showed some mobility in his first season as a starter, adding 365 yards and 7 touchdowns on the ground. Although he struggled in the Nittany Lions’ win over the Buckeyes, completing just 8 of his 23 pass attempts, the Ashburn, Va., native ended his season on a hot streak, passing for at least 250 yards and 4 touchdowns in the final three games of his sophomore season.
In what will be one of college football’s most highly anticipated games, McSorley will attempt to become the first Penn State signal caller to beat Ohio State in Columbus since Matt McGloin in 2011. And should the Nittany Lions once again upset the Buckeyes, more big games for McSorley to add to his resume will follow.
3. Rashan Gary
Albeit admittedly based somewhat on potential, it’s hard to imagine Michigan’s Rashan Gary not being one of the nation’s best players by the end of the season. The top-ranked player nationally in the 2016 class, the New Jersey native showed flashes in his freshman season, recording 24 tackles, 5 of which came for a loss, and 1 sack.
Now the 6-foot-5, 287-pound defensive lineman will move from a feature role to a starring one, as the Wolverines replace Taco Charlton and Chris Wormley. With the ability to play any position on the defensive line, Gary provides plenty of versatility for Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown to work with.
In a rivalry often defined by its stars, Gary appears to be the next man up for the Wolverines. And don’t be surprised if, for the third straight season, Ohio State and Michigan square off with a share of the Big Ten East title on the line.
2. Baker Mayfield
The good news for Ohio State is that in its first matchup with Baker Mayfield, the Buckeyes kept the Heisman Trophy finalist in check. Beating Oklahoma 45-24, Ohio State limited Mayfield to 17 of 32 passing for 226 yards, 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions.
The bad news for the Buckeyes, however, is they now have to face him again.
One of college football’s most dynamic quarterbacks, Mayfield has found plenty of success in his two seasons as a starter in Norman. In each of the past two years, the Texas Tech transfer has passed for at least 3,700 yards and 36 touchdowns.
Although Ohio State found success against the Sooners last season, limiting Mayfield for a second straight season likely will be easier said than done.
1. Saquon Barkley
When the Buckeyes faced Penn State a season ago, Ohio State found itself preparing to take on one of the nation’s best running backs in Saquon Barkley. A year earlier, Barkley had thrashed the Ohio State defense for 194 yards. For an encore, he rushed for 99 yards in the Nittany Lions’ 24-21 season-defining win.
“A first-rounder,” Meyer described Barkley before last year’s matchup. “That’s No. 1 on the hit parade as far as Penn State, to stop them.”
Meyer then corrected himself.
“You won’t stop him.”
Now the Buckeyes will get what likely will be one last shot to at least contain Barkley, who most project as the top running back in the 2018 NFL Draft. Given the success he’s found, however, that will be a tall task.
Ohio State hosts Penn State on Oct. 28.