If the second coming of Julio Jones can’t do it, maybe nobody can…
So from a culture standpoint, from an impact standpoint in the early years, there were a lot of guys that made a great impact, but Julio was one that probably led the way as much as anyone.
– Nick Saban, The Godfather of College Football
As I write this in the wake of the news that Coach Saban will be moving on from Alabama, I spent some time thinking about his legacy in College Football. I remember him talking very fondly about Julio Jones throughout the years while he was coaching Alabama, and I eventually found the above quote when googling. What I was hoping to find was the story where he told Julio that the Tide wanted him to commit to them but that they were going to win with or without him. If only my attention span allowed for further exploration, I might have uncovered the elusive tale. Alas, a growling stomach serves as a persistent reminder, urging me to bring this reflection to a close.
My next thought was that this cycle’s number one player— Jeremiah Smith, out of Miami, FL, is probably the closest thing to Julio since Julio came out. Smith looks like an alien on the field, and by all accounts he’s one of the greatest WR prospects ever. So naturally, I began wondering about what the possibility was for his year one production at OSU. To begin answering the question, I wondered: who was the last OSU WR to cross 500 yards as a true freshman? The answer that I seemed to find was that — in fact — no one had done it before. Some sources had Chris Carter at 648 yards in his true freshman season in 1984; others had his stats from that season lower than 500.
If you’re wondering why I’ve chosen 500 yards as a marker, there is no particular reason. I would use 1000 yards as a marker for a good season, but that’s not really a reasonable yardstick for true freshmen (no pun intended). 500 just seemed like the next reasonable, solid number to land on. So the question I have is: will Jeremiah Smith be the first Buckeye ever to have a breakout season in his true freshman year in Columbus?
There Is A Small Opportunity For Smith
Even with Emeka Egbuka announcing his return, when we look at the depth chart for OSU, there is a path that we can imagine for Smith to chart forward in year one.
Egbuka played a lot of slot receiver in the last two seasons, I would assume he’ll be continuing to do so going forward. Former IMG stud Carnell Tate (6’2″, 190) will presumably man one of the boundary roles. American Hertigage’s former star Brandon Innis, who is listed at 6’0″, 200 pounds, could swing either way and honestly seems like a better fit for the slot role. I can imagine a future where Innis plays the slot, and Egbuka (6’2″) kicks out wide. That would certainly be problematic for Smith’s chances of clearing 500 yards in year one.
However, if Egbuka stays in the slot and Tate takes one of the boundary roles, I’d be more optimistic about Smith’s chances of taking over the other boundary role than Innis, just based on build alone. Smith is a classic big-body boundary receiver, and Innis is more of a tweener.
As a Campus2Canton colleague, Nate Marchese, pointed out to me in a group chat, OSU is a place where there are a lot of year two breakouts, but almost no year ones. On further inspection, it seems there are actually ZERO year-one breakouts, as defined by clearing 500 yards receiving, in OSU’s long history.
That being said, the pass-happy iteration of OSU is a fairly young one. It wasn’t that long ago that the Buckeyes were known as a ground-and-pound type of program, where the tailbacks typically stole the show on offense. So I am not suggesting that because it hasn’t happened, that it can’t happen. But from a pragmatic standpoint, I like to lean on patterns I’ve seen when formulating expectations. With that in mind, my stance is that it is less likely that Smith clears 500 yards than not.
At the end of the day, the crucial part of this equation is whether Smith wins one of the top three starting WR roles. I’m going to assume Tate and Egbuka are fairly locked in as starters. That leaves one spot open. I don’t think OSU is going to be passing enough next year for the fourth or lower receiver on the depth chart to clear 500 yards. So it sort of comes down to Innis vs. Smith if Egbuka continues to play the slot.
Off Field Considerations
One thing I think we should consider in the new era of CFB is that with the transfer portal and NIL, players like Smith are flight risks if they’re not happy. He’d have no shortage of suitors should he choose to enter the portal this time next year. By that logic, one might assume OSU would go out of its way to get Smith more involved than he otherwise might earn on his own.
The B1G schedule next year for the Buckeyes actually isn’t that bad. They play U of M, of course, along with Oregon and PSU, but outside of that, it’s pretty cream puff heavy. The out-of-conference schedule, in particular, is quite leisurely. So it’s possible that Smith will do most of his damage early in the year vs. Marshall, Akron, and Western Michigan. Still, unless he’s going to actually be on the field as one of the main three guys, I don’t see how he’s going to have enough targets to make a meaningful impact in year one.
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