ARLINGTON, Texas — There was nothing surprising about Sam Hubbard’s decision to declare for the NFL draft.
Ohio State has been operating under the assumption that it would lose the versatile defensive lineman after the season all along and planning for his departure.
And, in some respects, the Buckeyes were fortunate they even got him back for one more season because he had the option to leave a year ago.
Will all of that help ease the burden of not having Hubbard around next year? Maybe. But after one more incredible outing in the Cotton Bowl Classic that showcased his athleticism, motor and game-wrecking ability, it’s clear that simply moving on isn’t going to be easy for the Buckeyes.
“The blueprint has been set,” Hubbard said after the game. “[Defensive line coach Larry] Johnson has been dreaming of having a unit like this with so many guys with so much brotherhood, and they have to take it and run with it. It can’t just be that once the older guys leave you go backward.
“When you play so many guys, everyone has to know their part and play their role. I think that’s what they have to buy into.”
The depth of elite guys buying into that coaching looks like it will be a bit thinner with Hubbard heading to the next level along with seniors Tyquan Lewis and Jalyn Holmes on the edge. That doesn’t necessarily mean, though, that the Rushmen legacy is in much peril heading into next season.
The Buckeyes still will have the services of Nick Bosa, which is about as sizable of a head start as any team in the country could have as it reloads at a position. Plus, Jonathon Cooper and Chase Young appear more than ready to step into more prominent roles next season as the unit tries to keep rotating pass-rushing weapons to keep the whole group fresh.
Ohio State also is pursuing 4-star recruits Tyreke Smith and Jayson Oweh heading into the homestretch on the recruiting trail, and now it knows for sure that it will have Hubbard’s scholarship available for a newcomer.
Of course, the Buckeyes would have been surprised if that wasn’t the case given Hubbard’s potential at the next level, all he’s already given the program and the fact that he’s got a degree in hand. And with his stock only going up with 3 1/2 tackles for loss and 2 1/2 sacks in the dominant win over USC, that became even more of a certainty on Friday night.
“This experience at Ohio State meant everything to me,” Hubbard told Land of 10. “With coach [Urban] Meyer giving me this opportunity, it was everything I dreamed of — and it has been 10 times better than I hoped.”
The Buckeyes also got everything they could have asked for during Hubbard’s career.
And even if they won’t be caught off guard by his departure, that doesn’t make replacing him any easier.