Oller: Ohio State football underrated players deserve more love, credit

2022-10-02 04:13:53 By : Ms. Angela Yang

Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud is putting together a sensational season in a career that will not soon be forgotten. 

Tommy Eichenberg is having a fantastic year, too. Entering Saturday's game against Rutgers, the senior linebacker is on pace for 60 regular-season solo tackles, the most since Joshua Perry had 64 in 2014. But will Eichenberg be appreciated 50 years from now?

That’s where this top-10 list is headed. Who are the most underrated players in Ohio State history?

A light bulb went off when former OSU tailback Antonio Pittman told The Dispatch last week he considers himself “the most underrated Buckeye in Buckeyes history.” Was he right? No, but the two-year starter (2005-2006) belongs in the team picture with dozens of others whose careers tend to get overlooked. 

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That’s not to suggest all these Buckeyes performed in the shadows during their careers, only that today they fall under the category of not receiving their due. I capped the beginning date at 1972, when the NCAA ruled freshmen eligible, and gave no consideration to NFL success.

This one remains a mystery. Marek still owns the school record with 572 career tackles, ahead of Tom Cousineau (569) and Chris Spielman (546), but he may be the best OSU linebacker no one younger than 40 has heard of. Marek had 171 tackles in 1982, when he was named an All-American, and 148 in 1981. Both totals still rank in the top 10. He also had 11 interceptions. 

Say what? How can I argue Dobbins is underrated? Hear me out. The usual suspects surface when listing the best running backs in OSU history. Hopalong Cassady. Archie Griffin. Keith Byars. Eddie George. Ezekiel Elliott. Rightfully so, but Dobbins’ numbers need not apologize to anyone. He led the Buckeyes in rushing three consecutive seasons, a feat matched only by Jim Otis and Bob Ferguson and surpassed by Griffin; and his 2,003 yards in 2019 are a school record. Dobbins’ 6.2-yard average trails only Elliott’s 6.7 among running backs with 2,000 career yards. 

Hoying was fortunate from a team standpoint and unlucky from an individual view to have George in the backfield and Terry Glenn at receiver. George won the Heisman Trophy and Glenn the Biletnikoff in 1995, which obscured Hoying setting what was then a single-season record with 3,269 passing yards and 29 touchdowns. An Ohio State quarterback would not break Hoying’s TD record until Troy Smith threw 30 in 2006. Hoying finished second to Art Schlichter with 7,232 career passing yards.

Get past “Holy Buckeye” and the fourth-and-14 catch in overtime that saved the Buckeyes’ bacon in the national championship win against Miami, and what do you know about Jenkins? He led OSU in catches three consecutive seasons; only Doug “White Lightning” Donley (1978-80) and Charles Bryant (1959-61) could say that. The Florida native still holds the career record with 2,898 yards, yet tends to get lost among such notables as Joey Galloway, David Boston and Cris Carter.

If Jenkins gets overlooked, Williams barely registers a blip, yet despite playing during an era when the passing game took a back seat to running the ball, he ranks sixth all-time in receiving yards (2,792), ahead of more famous names Santonio Holmes, Ted Ginn Jr. and Parris Campbell.

Individual accomplishment often gets sabotaged by poor team results, which is to say Tovar was a stud defensive player on teams that went 31-15-2, which is Rutgers-like by today’s standards. He led the Buckeyes in tackles three straight years and still ranks fourth in both solo and total tackles. He doesn’t have the name recognition of a Chris Spielman or Ryan Shazier but his numbers speak for themselves.

Before there was Mike Doss, there was Moore, who in 1996 became the first non-linebacker since 1970 to lead the Buckeyes in tackles (89). Moore, who also led the team in tackles in 1998, was a big hitter who backed down from no one. His 191 solo tackles rank ninth all-time.

Ah, yes, the tailback with the cool name. But Pearson had more than that. The guy could scoot. It’s never easy to follow a legend, but the year after George rushed for 1,927 yards on the way to winning the Heisman, Pearson followed with 1,484 yards in 1996, sixth best in history at the time. His 27 career touchdowns top eventual two-year starters Chris “Beanie” Wells (23), Pittman (21) and Michael Wiley (20) and his 3,076 career yards rank 10th.

I know what you’re thinking. Linsley is an NFL All-Pro and this list wasn’t supposed to take pro success into consideration. That’s exactly why I picked him. Linsley’s college career gets short shrift because he flew under the radar while at Ohio State, yet he was a huge reason the Buckeyes finished 12-0 in 2012. Coach Urban Meyer rightly called him the key to the offense, but Linsley received less acclaim from Buckeye Nation compared to centers who followed him: Jacoby Boren, Pat Elfein and Billy Price, the latter two having won the Rimington Award. 

See a pattern here? Miller, like Pearson and Hoying, played second (or third) banana to teammates who won national awards. Miller reminds me of Williams. Both players had glue hands but played behind more flamboyant receivers; Miller behind Boston and Williams behind Donley. Miller led the Buckeyes with 981 receiving yards in 1997, 11 more than Boston, yet did not even make third team All-Big Ten, while Boston made first team.