Due to a mass exodus the likes of which coach Urban Meyer has never seen, no team in college football will look more different from years prior than the Ohio State Buckeyes.
Yet, no team is better equipped to handle such overwhelming roster turnover. With now-redshirt junior quarterback J.T. Barrett and junior linebacker Raekwon McMillan returning for the 2016 season, Buckeye faithfuls can rest assured that their youthful team is in good hands.
Barrett and McMillan form an efficient one-two punch, letting their play do the talking for them on the field. And boy did it tell quite the story last season.
McMillan enjoyed a breakout sophomore campaign, tallying 119 tackles, while finishing as a finalist for the Butkus Award, given annually to the nation’s most outstanding linebacker, in the process. Barrett began the season on the sidelines but eventually overtook struggling starter Cardale Jones for the leading job. After enduring a bit of an adjustment period, Barrett finished strong. In The Game against Michigan, and versus Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl, Barrett racked up 559 yards of offense yards, including five touchdowns.
In any case, the Buckeyes are still losing a plethora of talent to the NFL. So much, in fact, that many analysts are projecting as many as 15 draft picks out of OSU alone, which would break the former record of 14 set by the Scarlet and Gray back in 2004. Shortly after the Buckeyes had dispatched Notre Dame 44-28 in their bowl game, Barrett appeared more than ready for the challenges that the 2016 season will hold, regardless of his new role as the face of the team.
“That doesn’t really change anything, because I’m not going to relax or get comfortable,” Barrett said on Jan. 5, per Austin Ward of ESPN. “That’s when you stop getting better, and I want to be better. There are things I know I can work on. But I’ll carry the weight on my shoulders to make plays, which I’m comfortable with. I have confidence in myself to do that.”
Barrett will certainly enter next season as a favorite to win the Heisman Trophy, awarded to the most outstanding player in college football. On the opposite side of the field, McMillan will look to continue his high level of play. He’s proven to be a man amongst boys on the gridiron, and it seems as though he’s destined for greatness, as Meyer has already named him, as well as Barrett, team captains for 2016.
“(McMillan) was ready when he walked in the door, to be honest with you,” defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Luke Fickell said via Tim Shoemaker of Eleven Warriors. “Everyone has different definitions of leadership, and I try to make mine really simple: not to change up from what the head coach’s is, but those who can make others around him better.”
The common denominator between Barrett and McMillan is how they carry themselves on and off the field. You’ll rarely see a boisterous or emotional celebration after a big play from either, as the two simply never get too high or too low in any given moment. They’re quiet leaders who truly do improve those around them.
A multitude of playmakers and future NFL draft picks might have departed from OSU, but the Buckeyes couldn’t ask for a better pair to lead the young team into the upcoming season.