The Ohio State football program has been going at 100 miles per hour this past month. Between recruiting, the transfer portal, and game planning for the Cotton Bowl, I'd be hardly surprised if Ryan Day and his coaching staff have not slept a wink.
But as we inch closer to the Cotton Bowl showdown with Missouri, it's time we start to look at who will be on the field for the Ohio State football program. And more than that, who we need to know will have a big impact on the outcome of the game. Today we give you three surprise players to keep an eye on during the Cotton Bowl.
No.1) Xavier Johnson, WR/RB
Xavier Johnson is primed to put up a monster stat line against Missouri. The Swiss Army knife of this Buckeye offense, Johnson will be asked to do a lot in this game due to recent transfers and opt-outs for the game. Johnson is primarily a wide receiver, but I would expect him to get north of ten carries as a running back in this game, due to the running back room being decimated to transfers, and a potential TreVeyon Henderson opt-out.
But with Marvin Harrison Jr. likely potentially opting out, and the status of Emeka Egbuka up in the air, I would also expect to see a lot of Xavier Johnson in the slot as well. And being that this will be Johnson's last game as a Buckeye, and how much he has meant to the program over the course of his career, I fully expect Ryan Day to get Johnson the ball in many different ways.
Look for a stat line of 10 rushes for 50 yards and five receptions for 50 yards and a touchdown on his way to a big day for this Buckeyes offense.
No. 2) Kenyatta Jackson, DE
This is a player that we've heard about all season as a breakout candidate, but it might be this game that will finally be his coming-out party. Kenyatta Jackson, a former four-star recruit in the 2022 recruiting cycle has all the physical tools that you look for in a defensive end. Standing at 6-5, 260 pounds, Jackson already looks like an NFL player.
But he did not have the opportunity this season as J.T. Tuimoloau and Jack Sawyer took most of the reps at defensive end. But in limited action, Jackson did record 1.5 sacks, including one against Penn State.
Jackson is primed to be a starter on the defensive line next season, so it is imperative that defensive line coach Larry Johnson uses this game as a launching pad for Jackson. I hope that they get him at least 40 defensive reps in this game so he can get used to what it takes to become a major college football defensive end. And if he does, I will look for production to follow as I can see Jackson being in the backfield a ton in this game, disrupting not only the passing game but the rushing game of the Tigers as well.
No. 3) C.J. Hicks, linebacker
It's officially time to see what we have in this former five-star linebacker. C.J. Hicks needs to be a major part of the game plan for the Cotton Bowl with an eye on Hicks being a starter for next season. While both Tommy Eichenberg and Steele Chambers may play in this game, Ohio State has to do what's right for its program.
And the right thing to do is to get Hicks on the field early and often in this game and let him play free and loose. He's a special athlete, and much like Sonny Styles, he needs to be able to roam and make plays. He has all the making of a great weakside linebacker in this Jim Knowles lead defense. We need to be able to see it during the Cotton Bowl.
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