Denzel Burke Ohio State Buckeyes Cornerback

Buckeyes’ 2024 Secondary Could Be One For The Ages

The letters ‘BIA‘ certainly flow easier. They stand for ‘Best In America,’ which is a moniker that the Ohio State secondary has worn since the 2017 season.

But how about ‘BIOSH?’ As in, ‘Best In Ohio State History.’

The BIA label was created to differentiate Ohio State from several other schools that claimed the name ‘DBU.’ The Buckeyes didn’t even believe there was an argument, so they chose to raise themselves above it.

The Ohio State secondary played like the best secondary in America this past season. They led the nation in fewest yards passing per game (145.9), fewest yards per attempt (5.0), and were second in the nation in pass efficiency defense (99.22), and third in completion percentage allowed (52.7).

Now with what the Buckeyes have returning — and coming aboard — this secondary has the potential to be the best in Ohio State football history. And if you know anything about the history of Ohio State’s defensive backs, you know that that’s quite a statement.

Is it a premature statement? Of course, but is it out of the realm of possibility?

A History Lesson

In modern Ohio State football (1980s to present), there are a couple of secondaries that are upheld as the standard — and several more that have an argument.

The 1996 secondary had All-American Shawn Springs at one corner and Ty Howard at the other. The safeties were Damon Moore and Rob Kelly. Future first-round cornerback Antoine Winfield was the nickel. It was a different time, of course, but that defense held quarterbacks to a 45.3% completion percentage and just 145.6 yards passing per game.

The 1996 secondary had three first-round cornerbacks — Springs, Winfield, and backup Ahmed Plummer. All told, seven players in that secondary were selected in the top four rounds of the NFL Draft.

The 2016 defense is another standard bearer. They held opponents to 48.9% completion percentage, were third nationally in pass efficiency defense (94.37), first in yards per attempt (5.6), and were fourth with 21 interceptions. And of those 21 interceptions, 18 came from the secondary.

The 2016 defense rotated a starting three at cornerback of Gareon Conley, Marshon Lattimore, and Denzel Ward. All three were eventually first-round draft picks, as was Damon Arnette, who was a redshirt freshman on that squad. The safeties were Malik Hooker and Damon Webb, with freshman Jordan Fuller in the two-deep. Hooker went on to be a first-round draft pick after having arguably the greatest individual season in Ohio State history in 2016 with 74 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, seven interceptions, and three pick sixes.

Other people will have other arguments — like 1998, or 2002, or 2019 — but this is the kind of competition that the 2024 Ohio State secondary is competing against.

When you look at what the Buckeyes will be fielding, however, you can see the argument begin to present itself.

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Back To Present Day

With the return of junior cornerback Denzel Burke, junior nickel back Jordan Hancock, and senior safety Lathan Ransom to the Ohio State defense, the Buckeyes will field three defensive backs who chose to put the NFL on hold for a year.

Burke was a First-Team All-Big Ten and Second-Team All-American honoree this past season. It was his third year as a starter for the Buckeyes, which means he’s setting up to be one of the ultra-rare four-year starters in Ohio State history. You will see his name on Preseason All-American lists this summer and in the first round of most mock drafts come this time next year.

Ransom was an Honorable Mention All-Big Ten selection in 2023. He has 20 career starts to his credit, with four coming in 2021 as a sophomore, eight in 2022, and all eight games he played this past year before a season-ending injury. The Ohio State defense missed him in the loss at Michigan. Ransom brings experience, solid tackling in run support, and a keen understanding of what OSU defensive coordinator Jim Knowles is trying to accomplish.

Hancock, meanwhile, didn’t merit any honorable mention, but arguably nobody in the secondary was more important for the Buckeyes in 2023. He was outstanding as the nickel defender, battling with slot receivers, tight ends, and helping out against the run in OSU’s base defense when Ransom went down with his injury.

In addition to those returning starters, cornerback Davison Igbinosun is also back for the Buckeyes. He was a Freshman All-American at Ole Miss in 2022 and an Honorable Mention All-Big Ten selection as a sophomore at Ohio State. Igbinosun is long, tall, and physical. He is also going to see his name in mock drafts over the next 16 months.

There is also Sonny Styles, who started 12 games for the Buckeyes this past season as a sophomore. He started out at nickel and then moved to strong safety when Ransom went down, finishing fifth on the team with 53 tackles. The interchangeability of Hancock and Styles last season is something they can build on in 2024, if necessary.

That necessity, however, may have vanished with the transfer portal addition of Alabama Freshman All-American safety Caleb Downs over the weekend. Downs led the Crimson Tide with 107 tackles in 2023 — which were 40 more than any other Alabama player. His 70 solo tackles also led the Southeastern Conference. He was a First-Team All-SEC player this past season as a true freshman.

Downs should seamlessly fill in at free safety for Josh Proctor, who is the only member of OSU’s starting secondary in 2023 not returning in 2024. With Downs in the fold, Styles will be freed up to move to linebacker if that’s how Knowles wants to proceed.

All told, the Buckeye secondary could have five players with at least 12 career starts under their respective belts. And that doesn’t include Hancock’s eight starts. Nor does it include cornerback Jermaine Mathews, Jr. and safety Malik Hartford, who each started a game this past season as true freshmen.

This will be a talented secondary that has depth at corner and playmaking at safety. There are over 100 career starts spread throughout OSU’s defensive backs.

That experience is going to be key, but it’s the experiences that kept them from leaving for the NFL.

There is still unfinished business for BIA, and business sure looks like it’s picking up.

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