Ohio State captured last year's national title with a team dominated by underclassmen, and the bulk of that squad is returning this season to chase another championship.
The reality is that several of these underclassmen will have the opportunity to leave school early for the NFL draft following this season. Who are the candidates, and what is the likelihood of each player leaving Ohio State early?
Eli Apple. Redshirt sophomore. Cornerback. This will only be his second season of college football after sitting out his true freshman season. Apple improved by leaps and bounds last season, and should draw the opponent's top receiver on a weekly basis this season. PROJECTION: Will definitely take a close look at his draft status, and would leave if he thinks he's a first or second round choice.
J.T. Barrett. Redshirt sophomore. Quarterback. Had an amazing season cut short by a knee injury in the Michigan game. In the hunt for the starting job this season, but could conceivably be number-three on the depth chart. Needs to get stronger, but has a lot of things going for him as an NFL signal caller. PROJECTION: It's likely that Barrett will not be the starter this season, and will return in 2016 to take over the quarterback job.
Vonn Bell. Junior. Safety. Another player that took a huge leap forward last year, after playing sparingly as a true freshman. Has the coverage skills that will translate well to the pass happy NFL. Coming off a great spring, so another jump in his status could be in the making. PROJECTION: GONE.
Joey Bosa. Junior. Defensive end. Might have been the first player taken had he been eligible to come out last year, and should be a monster this season. Barring injury, he is going to be a very high draft pick next spring. PROJECTION: GONE.
Patrick Elflein. Redshirt junior. Guard. Has been listed in several preseason publications as a possible high pick in the 2016 draft should he choose to come out. Hard to see Elflein as a better prospect than Jim Cordle, Mike Brewster or Justin Boren, but if he's looked at as a potential high draftee, he will take a look. PROJECTION: Think he returns in 2016 as a senior captain.
Ezekiel Elliott. Junior. Runningback. Not sure where he ends up getting drafted with the de-emphasis of the running game in the NFL, but he could be the first back off the board. No reason to take hits for free. PROJECTION: GONE.
Cameron Johnston. Junior. Punter. Do punters ever go early? Of course not, but this is a bit different situation. Ohio State is bringing in a freshman punter next season, and you hate to have two of them on scholarship tying up spots. Johnson is also older than the typical college junior. PROJECTION: Watch and see.
Cardale Jones. Redshirt junior. Quarterback. Will he win the Heisman Trophy this season? OR be the third string quarterback? Either way, it's hard to see Jones returning in 2016 since he will have his degree and a daughter that's a year older. The NFL would have taken him high in the past draft off three game films. They know he can play. PROJECTION: GONE.
Darron Lee. Redshirt sophomore. Linebacker. I thought it would take Ohio State a few years to replace Ryan Shazier, but it only took a few months. Lee might be better. His speed/size/aggressiveness is perfect for the NFL, probably in the first round. PROJECTION: GONE.
Jalin Marshall. Redshirt sophomore. Wide receiver. The first thought is that while spectacular, Marshall needs two more seasons to fully develop into a complete wideout. It's mind boggling to think how good he could be this year in the Urban Meyer offense, so let's see how he progresses throughout the year. PROJECTION: Returns as a redshirt junior to terrorize college football defenses.
Tyvis Powell. Redshirt junior. Safety. Hard to see this one as an early entry guy at all, and the conventional wisdom is that returns as a senior captain and team leader. If Ohio State repeats, would Powell decide to take his shot at the NFL with all his friends that would be heading out the door? PROJECTION: Tough to see Powell walking away from all that he has built for himself within the Buckeye community. See him staying.
Billy Price. Redshirt sophomore. Guard. This one is probably less than 5%, but Price deserves to be in the conversation with his play down the stretch last season. Could be the equal of Elflein this season, but there's close to a zero chance he leaves early. PROJECTION: Returns not only next season, but two more seasons and leaves as a captain in 2017.
Mike Thomas. Redshirt junior. Wide receiver. Has done everything needed to put himself into the NFL discussion, and should be the go-to guy for the Buckeyes this season. Has the size and strength to play many years in the NFL as a possession receiver. PROJECTION: GONE.
Dontre Wilson. Junior. Wide receiver. Another one in the highly unlikely category, but he has the skill set that translates to the right offense in the NFL. If he gets major touches this season, Wilson could put up gigantic numbers in this offense. PROJECTION: Stays for his senior season, and takes on a more prominent role, especially if Marshall leaves early.