To play or not to play? Some Buckeye players share Rose Bowl plans

While some uncertainty remains about who will suit up for Ohio State in the Rose Bowl, a handful of Buckeyes have indicated they will.

Thayer Munford, Tyreke Smith, Zach Harrison, Dawand Jones and Cam Brown were among players to take part in Ohio State’s only pre-Rose Bowl media opportunity before heading to California and all said they will play Jan. 1 against Utah.

Munford is a fifth-year senior who played this season on his extra year granted by the NCAA to everyone in light of the impact of COVID-19 on last season.

Smith could do the same in 2022, but he has already accepted an invitation to the Senior Bowl after four years at OSU.

Brown is a fourth-year junior in eligibility while Harrison and Jones are true juniors. They all said Thursday afternoon they had not decided if they will enter the NFL Draft or return to Ohio State next season, but Brown later announced on social media he will be back in 2022.

No Ohio State player has opted out publicly, though that is a growing trend across college football for bowls that are not part of the playoffs.

Around the same time OSU interviews were wrapping up, Michigan State star running back Kenneth Walker III announced he will skip the Peach Bowl to start preparing for the draft, and he was far from the first to announce such a decision.

Juniors Garrett Wilson, Nicholas Petit-Frere and Master Teague III were not part of interviews, nor were seniors Sevyn Banks or Chris Olave, so their plans remain unknown.

Petit-Frere, Teague, Banks and Brown went through Senior Day activities last month, but Petit-Frere and Brown both subsequently said that did not mean they were ruling out a return next season.

Brown was a four-star recruit when he signed out of Missouri four years ago, but injuries have hindered him.

He missed most of last season after suffering a serious leg injury in the second game and was in and out of the lineup this year with unspecified other ailments.

When he was on the field, Brown was one of Ohio State’s best cover cornerbacks according to Pro Football Focus. His coverage grade of 69.3 was 22nd in the Big Ten at his position and No. 1 among Buckeyes.

“I’ve been through a lot over the past four years, but I am not done,” he wrote on social media. “There are many more memories to make and games to win with my brothers.”

Brown’s return is big for the Buckeyes, who also return standout freshman Denzel Burke but have major questions with the rest of the room.

Sophomore Lejond Cavazos has yet to make much of an impact, and true freshmen Jordan Hancock and Jakailin Johnson both redshirted this season after seeing minimal time. Class of 2022 signees Jyaire Brown and Ryan Turner will join the mix, but head coach Ryan Day said earlier this week the goal is to have eight players at that position every season.

Harrison, who was a five-star recruit in the class of 2019 and a captain this season, said he was leaning one way or another but would not say whether that was staying or going.

He also indicated he could see himself thriving in new defensive coordinator Jim Knowles’ scheme, which includes a hybrid defensive end/linebacker spot who will move around in the formation. At times, the “Leo” will drop into coverage, but moving him around also makes it easier to isolate him for favorable pass-rushing matchups.

“I feel like I could do that,” Harrison said. “Just being able to go would suit my skillset a lot.”

Overall, Harrison was Ohio State’s highest-graded defensive player at PFF.

He was credited with 18 quarterback hurries but had only four sacks and seven tackles for loss.

“I think I affected the game a lot more than I had the first two years, and that’s something I want to continue to do,” Harrison said. “I want to continue to grow as a player and get better and better.

“Consistency is probably my biggest thing. Always being the dominant player I know I can be is probably the biggest thing I can do every single game.”

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