More than 100,000 fans will rise Saturday to celebrate 18 seniors for their leading roles in Ohio State’s football revival.
But these outgoing Buckeyes may not be the only ones slipping on their scarlet threads for the final time at Ohio Stadium.
A home finale against Indiana could also be Junior Day for a handful of third-ranked OSU’s stars.
Linebacker Ryan Shazier and cornerback Bradley Roby are projected as possible first-round picks in next spring’s NFL draft while there is a sense Braxton Miller — the electric but unpolished quarterback whom analysts believe would benefit from another year in college — may explore his options.
Underclassmen at least three years out of high school must enter the draft by Jan. 15.
“That’s real,” coach Urban Meyer said of potential early departures. “At some point after the season or between the bowl game and end of the season, we’ll [talk]. I’ve sat in a lot of those meetings. We’ll probably have a couple this year. But not yet.”
A year after a record 74 college players declared early — including OSU defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins — Miller is the Buckeyes’ most intriguing question mark.
The reigning Big Ten offensive player of the year has only improved as a junior. Though Miller’s three-game absence with an MCL injury doused his Heisman Trophy chances, he is back running like his old self, his completion percentage is up from 58.3 to 68.0, and his passer rating has shot from 140.5 to 165.3 — on course to surpass Bobby Hoying’s single-season school record of 163.4 in 1995.
At Ohio State next season, he would play behind four new starters on an offensive line that Meyer has called the best in the country.
Yet draft analysts question if Miller is ready for the leap. ESPN ranks him the 12th draft-eligible quarterback, behind likely high-end, first-round picks — players such as Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater and Oregon’s Marcus Mariota — and a roster of projected mid-round selections.
While the stakes are high for OSU — Miller’s exit and backup Kenny Guiton’s graduation would leave sparsely used redshirt freshman Cardale Jones as its top returning quarterback — most believe Miller, too, would be served best by another year in Columbus.
“For Braxton, another year would really help him,” ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper, Jr., said on a conference call. “He could improve as a passer, throw with a little bit more anticipation, be a little more precise with his ball placement, and be an early-round pick next year.”
Former OSU quarterback Craig Krenzel agreed.
“Where he’s at right now is a long cry from where he was even last season,” he said before a recent signing at Buckeye Store and More in Sylvania. “When you watch him this year, he is throwing the ball with confidence, he’s making good decisions in the pocket, and it’s been a blast to watch.
“The biggest thing that would benefit Braxton coming back would be 12 more games proving that this isn’t just, ‘Hey, the Big Ten is bad and I played well for the last five or six games.’ Scouts, [general managers], coaches, they would all have a chance to see a season and a half of Braxton’s work at the level he is at now.”
Shazier and Roby, meanwhile, appear more likely candidates to entertain the NFL.
Early mock drafts almost all peg the blistering Shazier in the mid to late first round. A 6-foot-2, 230-pound Fort Lauderdale, Fla., native, the outside linebacker has a team-high 88 tackles — safety C.J. Barnett is second with 56 — and leads the conference with 14½ tackles for a loss.
Kiper lauded Shazier’s versatility, from his coverage and blitzing instincts to his sure open-field tackling.
Roby is generally projected as a second-round pick, though Kiper thinks the fourth-year cornerback can slip into the first round. Despite a one-game suspension and inconsistent early play, teams could be captivated by his athleticism.
Roby’s times in the 40-yard dash have been clocked by OSU as low as 4.26 seconds.
“He’s got the ability to be a first-round pick,” Kiper said. “Has he played to that level in some games? No, but he’s a kid with a lot of physical ability who, at the [NFL] combine, will put up the numbers. He’ll be impressive.”
The Buckeyes are turning back the clock with all-white alternate uniforms for their Nov. 30 trip to Michigan.
The getup will feature chrome helmets, white pants, oversized scarlet numbers on the front of the jersey, and names in black across the back in what OSU originally called a tribute to the famed Snow Bowl in 1950. But after some wondered why the school was honoring the 63rd anniversary of a game the Buckeyes lost, a revised statement scratched any mention of the Snow Bowl.