COLUMBUS, Ohio — The losses are still tricking in, but the verdict is already clear. With 10 days left for underclassmen to declare for the 2017 NFL Draft, Ohio State has already kept more talent than it could have expected.
What once seemed unthinkable — another mass departure of underclassmen after losing nine such players last year — became a possibility as the season wore on. A case could have been made for nearly a dozen such players: J.T. Barrett, Marcus Baugh, Gareon Conley, Jalyn Holmes, Malik Hooker, Sam Hubbard, Marshon Lattimore, Tyquan Lewis, Raekwon McMillan, Billy Price and Curtis Samuel.
The 31-0 loss to Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl further complicated matters. Moments like those historically have gone two ways. Sometimes they have a galvanizing effect. Other years, players jump ship. In the case of Ohio State, good signs began to pop up almost immediately after the College Football Playoff exit.
Price announced in the locker room after the game that he’d return for his senior season. Furthermore, he decided to follow in the steps of Pat Elflein and move to center.
“I’m coming back,” he said. “I’m going to play center and lead the team. Myself and (tackle) Jamarco (Jones), we’re going to do some work next year.”
Shortly after media availability, Hubbard announced he’d be back for his junior season.
#BuckeyeNation I'm not going anywhere. Time to get to work for next season .. Thank you seniors, it was a pleasure. Love you all
— Samwise (@Sam_Hubbard_) January 1, 2017
Less than an hour after the loss, the Buckeyes had returned two key pieces. Both players were among the more likely to stay, but that didn’t make their confirmations any less impactful. In the days that followed, even more big pieces followed. Barrett, who hinted after the game that he’d come back, announced his return. Lewis followed suit on Jan. 6 in a relatively big surprise.
With the retention of Barrett and Lewis, the Buckeyes kept the Big Ten Player of the Year and the Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year. Those announcements have helped offset the disappointment of losing Conley, Hooker and McMillan. That trio was expected to leave, but it won’t make replacing them any easier.
A few announcements remain, and there will likely be one or two more departures. However, Ohio State remains in great shape overall. The Buckeyes already had a small senior class, and they won’t lose too many underclassmen. They’ll return one of the most accomplished quarterbacks in program history. He’ll be joined by three tremendous defensive ends and an All-American offensive lineman.
Young talent is on the way with a historic recruiting class, but the Buckeyes helped themselves further by keeping some of their best players around for another season.
Ohio State underclassman decisions as of Friday
Who’s leaving — 2016 stats
Cornerback Gareon Conley — 26 tackles, 4 INTs
Safety Malik Hooker — 71 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 0.5 sacks, 7 INTs, 3 TDs
Linebacker Raekwon McMillan — 102 tackles, 7.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks, 2 forced fumbles
Who’s staying — 2016 stats
Quarterback J.T. Barrett — 24 passing TDs, 7 INTs, 61.5 completion percentage, 2,555 yards passing; 205 carries for 845 yards, 9 TDs
Defensive end Jalyn Holmes — 33 tackles, 8.5 TFL, 2.0 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 2 fumble recoveries
Defensive end Sam Hubbard — 46 tackles, 8.0 TFL, 3.5 sacks
Defensive end Tyquan Lewis — 29 tackles, 10.5 TFL, 8.0 sacks, 3 forced fumbles
Offensive lineman Billy Price — 2016 All-American at right guard
Who’s yet to announce — 2016 stats
Tight end Marcus Baugh — 24 catches for 269 yards, 2 TDs
Cornerback Marshon Lattimore — 41 tackles, 4 INTs, 1 TD
H-back Curtis Samuel — 97 rushes for 771 yards, 8 TDs; 74 catches for 865 yards, 8 TDs