The Ohio State football team didn’t make it to Indianapolis last December for the Big Ten championship game.
The Buckeyes’ loss to Michigan State denied them a trip to Lucas Oil Stadium.
But 14 players from Ohio State’s 2015 team will be there this week for the NFL combine. According to the NFL, the contingent of Buckeyes is tied for the second-most from a program. The Miami Hurricanes and Oklahoma Sooners sent 15 each in 1988, as did Ohio State in 2004.
The record for most players selected from a school in one draft is 14 set by the 2004 Buckeyes, which this group is likely to match. (The 15th member of the Buckeyes’ 2004 combine group that went undrafted that year was running back Maurice Clarett. Denver drafted him the next year after he made a return trip to the combine.)
The Buckeyes are also expected to challenge the record for firstround picks in a single draft. Miami had six in 2004.
Defensive end Joey Bosa is a contender to be the top overall pick and is a lock to go among the first handful. Running back Ezekiel Elliott is also regarded as a sure first-rounder, with offensive tackle Taylor Decker and cornerback Eli Apple also in most first-round mock drafts.
Linebacker Darron Lee probably has a better than 50-50 chance to go in the first round. Safety Vonn Bell, receiver Michael Thomas and possibly receiver Braxton Miller and defensive tackle Adolphus Washington will draw first-round consideration.
“You could probably put seven in the first round from Ohio State and not many people would have a big argument with that,” ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said in a recent conference call.
It goes beyond the likely first-round picks. Most of the 14 Buckeyes are projected to go early in the draft. The lower-rated ones — quarterback Cardale Jones, safety Tyvis Powell and receiver Jalin Marshall — have enough potential that a team might grab them in the first half of the draft.
“The quality of Ohio State players coming out this year is really going to grab your attention,” said Senior Bowl executive director Phil Savage, a former general manager of the Cleveland Browns. “Most of those players are going to go in the first four rounds.”
Nine of the Buckeyes in the draft are underclassmen, mostly from the 2013 recruiting class that provided the nucleus of the 2014 national championship team and 2015 team that went 12-1.
The Buckeyes headed to Indianapolis are aware of the history they’ve already made and could make in the draft.
“We had one of the best teams to come through Ohio State and one of the best classes ever in college football history,” Apple said from San Diego, where he and Marshall are training. “To break that record, we’ll always be recognized as one of the best to ever play.”
But Apple said the combine and the draft represents a beginning, not an end.
“It’s all about how we play when we get to the NFL,” he said. “We want to be remembered for how we play after college. We won a championship and now when guys left and ventured off onto their own individual paths, it’ll be cool to be remembered as that class that really did well in the NFL as well.”
Though the Buckeyes didn’t make it to Indianapolis in 2015, they do have fond memories of Lucas Oil Stadium. They wiped away the disappointment of the 2013 Big Ten championship game loss to Michigan State with the 59-0 demolition of Wisconsin in the 2014 conference title game. That victory propelled them into the College Football Playoff.
“You can never forget a Big Ten championship and way we did it by blowing out a really good team,” Apple said. “That memory is always going to be there.”
Now the Buckeyes are intent on starting new dreams in the same place.