Coach Ryan Day’s team had seven senior starters, but only two of them (safety Josh Proctor and right guard Matt Jones) are out of eligibility.
Because of the lasting effects of the NCAA granting an extra year of eligibility to anyone who was on a college roster in 2020, others could come back for a fifth or even sixth year.
Linebackers Tommy Eichenberg, Steele Chambers (and reserve Cody Simon), tight end Cade Stover and safety Lathan Ransom can return, but all went through Senior Day, so that might be unlikely.
Another senior starter, receiver Julian Fleming, announced he will enter the transfer portal with the intent to use his extra season at another school, while part-time regular running back Miyan Williams is going to the NFL after four years in Columbus.
Starting quarterback Kyle McCord, a junior, entered the transfer portal after a third-team All-Big Ten showing, leaving Ohio State with 14 returning starters, but that might be only the beginning.
“Well, certainly there’s going to be conversations with a bunch of the guys,” Day said. “That’s just kind of the way it is right now in college football, but we’re gonna try to do everything we can to have the best roster year in and year out.”
An average of four Ohio State players have entered the NFL Draft with eligibility remaining (not counting the extra year from COVID) each year since 2014, but that number could be much higher for 2024.
Another 12 starters are three years removed from high school and thus draft eligible, including the entire defensive line of J.T. Tuimolau, Jack Sawyer, Mike Hall Jr. and Tyleik Williams.
Cornerback Denzel Burke and nickel back Jordan Hancock could bolt, too.
That would leave sophomore defensive backs Sonny Styles and Davison Igbinosun as the only returning starters next season, though it might be unlikely every junior takes the NFL option this year.
On offense, running back TreVeyon Henderson and receivers Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka are all true juniors and potential day one or two draft picks.
Redshirt freshman center Carson Hinzman is the only starter on offense who is not eligible for the draft, but if tackles Josh Simmons and Josh Fryar and left guard Donovan Jackson all return for another season the unit could become a building block.
As for the portal, McCord is one of a dozen players to already announce or be reported as going that route, but that group figures to grow before the start of winter semester and again after spring practice.
“For some guys, there may be better options out there for them,” Day said. “Other situations, you’re trying to I guess, quote/unquote, recruit your own roster, and that’s part of it to make sure they understand what their vision is, and what our vision is for them in the next calendar year. So that’s all part of the process right now.”
Aside from McCord and Fleming, none of the outgoing transfers had big roles this season, though the majority of them are first- or second-year players who had a high recruiting pedigree and at least theoretically still had the potential to grow into major players.
Losing depth means having to replace depth, and Day indicated Ohio State’s philosophy toward the transfer portal has evolved since it debuted in 2018.
The Buckeyes will be looking for ways to enhance their roster with transfers, as they did when they brought in Igbinosun from Mississippi and eventual starting left tackle Josh Simmons (San Diego State) among others last year.
“Yeah, it’s inevitable. I think early on it was use it when you need to, but the way things are now, I just think year in and year out, the majority of teams are going to see turnover,” Day said. “We’ll have guys enter the portal. There’ll be a lot of guys in the portal starting tomorrow, so you have to construct your roster on a yearly basis. And that’s what we’re gonna do.
“So it’s no longer one of those things, are you going to use the portal or not? That’s part of college football, but we are going to make sure that we’re doing a great job of identifying the right people that fit the program because there’s a lot of pride in that locker room.”
Friday, Dec. 29
Ohio State vs. Missouri, 8 p.m., ESPN, 1410