It didn't take long for a few members of the Ohio State football team to make their mark last season.
In a season that saw the Buckeyes go 11-2 overall, players like quarterback C.J. Stroud and wide receivers Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka greatly impacted the team's offense. Linebackers Tommy Eichenberg and Steele Chambers led the team in tackles, while running back Miyan Williams led Ohio State in rushing yards with 825. Ohio State led the Big Ten in scoring with 44.5 points per game while holding offenses to 19.3 points per outing, according to BigTen.org.
After the Houston Texans selected Stroud with the No. 2 pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, all eyes will be on quarterback Kyle McCord to pick up where Stroud left off. McCord, a former 4-star recruit from Mt. Laurel, N.J., earned 190 yards and one touchdown for Ohio State last season. He threw for 115 yards and one touchdown as the Buckeyes defeated Toledo at Ohio Stadium, completing five of his seven pass attempts as Ohio State pulled away with a 77-21 victory.
With a new full-time quarterback under center, and plenty of high-level transfers entering the program next year, who are some potential breakout candidates for the Buckeyes next season?
The foundation of a successful team usually starts in the trenches.
From now-Washington Commanders defensive lineman Chase Young to now-Atlanta Falcons defensive end Zach Harrison, Ohio State's defense has had its fair share of defensive line talent over the last few years.
Sawyer, a former five-star recruit from Pickerington, Ohio, had a productive season for the Buckeyes last year. He earned a total of 24 tackles and tied for first on the squad with a total of 4.5 sacks. He ended Ohio State's win over Indiana with three tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks.
Ohio State Associate Head Coach and Defensive line coach Larry Johnson had high praise for Sawyer in February.
“I think he's got a lot left on the plate for him to develop and go for it. And I think what I'm seeing thus far, you can see that he's got the fire in his belly to really know where he's gotta go to get to be a great player,” Johnson said in February, via Eleven Warriors. “He's there. He's just now doing it all the time.
“And I like the fact that he's in that moment, he's in that thought process like, ‘OK, here's where I'm going, here's where I'm at.' And so that's pretty cool.”
Sawyer will have plenty of high-level options around him on the defensive line before the Buckeyes kick off against Indiana in early September. Defensive end JT Tuimoloau, defensive tackle Ty Hamilton and defensive tackle Michael Hall Jr. highlight the defensive lineman on Ohio State's 2023-24 roster. Defensive tackle Tywone Malone transferred to Ohio State in early May.
With a few years of college football under his belt, one can only hope Sawyer will have a breakout season alongside an experienced Ohio State defensive line.
How will Hicks perform during his second season with the Buckeyes?
The former five-star recruit took limited snaps for Ohio State last season, ending the year with six total tackles and four solo tackles. He earned two tackles in a win over the Iowa Hawkeyes in October.
Ohio State defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Jim Knowles had a bold prediction for Hicks last month.
“C.J. is a guy who I'm predicting sometime this season we're going to see really unleash,” Knowles said, via the Dayton Daily News. “The good thing is he's not pressed into service because of the veterans in front of him.
“I think that's helped him to be able to play more relaxed, but at some point this year, we will be able to see C.J.'s athletic ability. I think he's just on the cusp of breaking out.”
If he can work well with some of the more experienced options in front of him, Hicks could have a productive season for the Buckeyes sooner rather than later.