Throughout the season, the debate has raged on as to who is the premier defensive-back factory in college football.
The mythical title of “Defensive Back University,” better known as “DBU,” has sparked passionate conversations from fans, analysts, and even former and current players who have made their claim.
Ohio State has as good a case as any other program in the country, given its recent track record of defensive backs being taken in the first round of the NFL Draft. Depending on how the Buckeye secondary performs tomorrow night against Clemson, OSU could further strengthen that case.
The self-proclaimed “Best In America” secondary group, Ohio State defensive backs have been stingy all season, allowing a per-game average of just 148 yards through the air, which ranks second in the nation. Their 10.58 yards per completion average ranks seventh in the country.
Jeff Okudah came into this season as a known talent, already topping nearly every big board for draft-eligible defensive backs. His performance this season hasn’t disappointed, and it has likely served only to further cement his position atop those draft boards, assuming he foregoes his senior season to head to the NFL.
But, while Okudah had already been pegged as the next great Ohio State defensive back to hear his name called on the first day of the NFL Draft, others such as Damon Arnette and Shaun Wade came into 2019 with plenty to prove.
Arnette first had to decide if he even wanted to return for his final year of eligibility. Following Ohio State’s Rose Bowl win in January, Arnette didn’t make the trip back to Columbus with his team. Instead, he headed to Dallas, Texas to begin training for the NFL.
However, after conversations with newly-hired co-defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley, Arnette decided to return to Ohio State for one last go. That decision has paid off well for Arnette, who has played the best football of his career this season despite playing with a cast on one of his hands for most of the fall.
Wade, a redshirt sophomore, was among the most intriguing players returning to the Ohio State defense this season. Last year, he flashed the talent that made him a prized recruit in the class of 2017, albeit in limited action.
Wade figured to take on a much larger role in 2019, which he has. With that elevated role, Wade’s play, too, has elevated this season. Already possessing prototypical size for an NFL defensive back, Wade has shown versatility in being able to play several different positions throughout the secondary, while also proving to be a willing tackler in addition to his cover skills.
All of those things bode well for him as he is evaluated by NFL scouts, and as a third-year player, Wade declaring for the draft certainly isn’t out of the question.
Indeed, the Ohio State secondary is full of highly-draftable talent that has helped it reach the College Football Playoff semifinals. But what awaits the Buckeyes tomorrow is a challenge different than anything they have faced, either this season or last.
As is the case with every challenge, however, there is also a great opportunity ahead of the Ohio State defensive backs heading into the Fiesta Bowl. If they want to validate their “BIA” or “DBU” moniker, while also driving up their own value at the next level, they will have a prime opportunity to do just that against perhaps the most talented passing attack in college football.
The Clemson offense — led by Trevor Lawrence and a host of receivers that, too, will find themselves in the NFL — is humming along entering Saturday’s Fiesta Bowl.
Lawrence struggled with turnover issues early in the season but lately has been playing more like the quarterback who burst onto the scene as a true freshman last season and went on to torch Alabama in the national championship.
While Lawrence’s talent is undeniable, it doesn’t hurt to have the group of receivers he has to work with, either. Junior Tee Higgins and sophomore Justyn Ross have combined for over 1,800 yards and 21 touchdowns this season. They are smooth and polished route runners, and with both standing at 6-foot, 4-inches tall, they will have a significant size advantage over the Ohio State corners.
Amari Rodgers returned in September after suffering a torn ACL in the spring and gives Lawrence and Clemson a quality slot receiver to work underneath Higgins and Ross.
With so much talent on the field at any given time, there will be a multitude of juicy matchups to watch when Ohio State and Clemson square off. And with the game serving as a national semifinal, all eyes will be on the two teams vying for a spot in the national championship, which presents a grand stage for a showcase of talent.
How the Buckeye corners hold up against the Clemson passing attack is just one of many matchups to keep an eye on, but it could wind up being the story of the game, for better or for worse. Can the talented Ohio State secondary hold up against a first-class passing game, something they haven’t seen at any point this season?
If they can, Ohio State will be in a great position to play for a national championship a couple of weeks from now, while the responsible individuals will have made themselves some money in the process and furthered the program’s claim to DBU.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.