Following another stellar season that culminated in a 12-1 record and a Fiesta Bowl win, Ohio State will see more turnover in 2016 than just about any program in the nation. After sending 12 players to the first four rounds of the NFL draft, the Buckeyes return just 24 percent of their 2015 production on offense and defense. That’s lower than all but one team in the country (UMass), according to SB Nation.
And so it’s time for new faces to step up – as they often do at Ohio State, the Midwest’s best program at recruiting talent and then turning it over to the NFL. All of the starters and role players will have their importance, but some will carry far more than others.
Each day at noon (ET) through Thursday, we’ll count down another one of the 10 most important players to Ohio State in 2016. Because it’s still early, we’ll be making some role projections. With only 10 spots, we’ll leave off some crucial players, too. That’s part of the game.
Here’s our list so far, with links to the stories about there importance:
Here’s our No. 3:
No. 3: Pat Elflein, redshirt senior center
When Ohio State’s mass exodus to the NFL took place following last year’s Fiesta Bowl victory, one top prospect stayed behind. Pat Elflein was projected in many places as a first- or second-round pick after helping pave the way for Ezekiel Elliott’s back-to-back 1,800-yard seasons. Even though eight other starters and a part-time quarterback from his offense were bolting, he decided to come back.
It’s a testament to what he hopes to still accomplish at Ohio State, a school built on running the football that has taken that identity to new heights behind the elevation of the offensive line. Elflein was in his first year as a starter back in 2014 when the Buckeyes ran wild over Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon en route to a national championship, and he was a returning starter last year when it remained lethal but not quite the consistent machine nor the break-the-distance threat it’d been the year before.
His third and final year as a starter in 2016 will feature a new role. After finishing last season as a second-team All-American guard, the 6-foot-3, 300-pound senior will transition over to center to replace Jacoby Boren. Boren was one of the linemen who stagnated last season and now Elflein will look to restore the central push that will allow J.T. Barrett and newcomer running back Mike Weber to operate the option and stretch-zone running game that is Ohio State’s core.
Elflein is at center out of necessity, mainly. Co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Ed Warinner would rather try a freshman like Matthew Burrell or Michael Jordan at guard than to welcome such new blood in at center, where a fluid rapport with a Heisman Trophy contender at quarterback is going to be everything.
Elflein’s intelligence is going to help him pick up a new position, handle the checks at the line and snap under a silent count, and the Buckeyes will hope he can simultaneously teach his former position to whichever young player takes it over.
The plan, at least, is that Elflein’s strength and toughness will set the tone in the middle for how the new blood on the line is to operate this season.