What is Ohio State Getting in Transfer RB Trey Sermon?

J.K. Dobbins' departure, Master Teague's injury create opening in backfield
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Trey Sermon won't be the highest-impact transfer on the Ohio State football team this fall.

If he is, the Buckeyes are likely to be in a lot of trouble.

That's not a reflection on Sermon, the graduate transfer from Oklahoma who Sunday announced that he'll play his final season for the Buckeyes.

It's a reminder that quarterback Justin Fields, although adopted as a Buckeye and taken into the state's collective football family as a full member, is and likely will remain the best demonstration of a transformative transfer.

Where would OSU have been last season if Fields hadn't left the University of Georgia after his freshman year and received an immediate waiver to play in the fall?

No one knows, but it's hard to envision that a 13-1 record, third straight outright Big Ten championship and berth in the College Football Playoff would have resulted with Fields standing on the sidelines, watching and waiting to become eligible.

If that hadn't happened:

  • Would head coach Ryan Day be as popular a successor to Urban Meyer?
  • Would Day be armed with a three-year contract extension that takes him north of $7 million per-year?
  • Would former defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley have received the same run from his work on a team that lost, say, two or three games, that he did from a once-beaten team that landed him the head coaching job at Boston College?
  • Would the purse strings have been loosed to bid $1.4 million to bring Kerry Coombs back from the NFL to succeed Hafley or pay three other assistant coaches north of $1 million for the 2020 season?

That's how big an impact a transfer can make.

Sermon, if he starts for OSU in the wake of Master Teague's spring practice injury, will have a school-record 2,003-yard hole to fill with J.K. Dobbins' departure for the NFL.

To probe deeper into what sort of back Sermon is, we asked John Hoover of Sports Illustrated's Oklahoma site, All Sooners, to answer a series of questions:

Question: Ohio State fans saw Sermon play well in OU's win at Columbus in 2017 as a true freshman. He led the Sooners rushing and scored on a 10-yard catch and run. When and why did he fall out of favor, or become dissatisfied with his role to the point of transferring?

John Hoover: "Trey has essentially been a co-starter since that night in Columbus. He nearly ran for 1,000 yards in 2018. He began the 2019 season sharing carries with Kennedy Brooks, but in last year's Texas game, he got zero touches. He played. He picked up a blitzer on a big pass play in the second half. He just never got the football. Lincoln Riley said that's just the way the touches fell, but nobody bought it. Trey carried it just nine times over the next three games, with his final carry of the season coming on his first touch against Iowa State. That was a 14-yard run, and he went down with a knee injury. That was his last touch as a Sooner.

"Why he fell out of favor, no one has been able to figure out. There are, of course, rumors that Trey and his running backs coach had a disagreement. Then again, there are other rumors that they were very close, and when Jay Boulware took a lateral move to his alma mater and went to Texas, Trey decided it was just time to leave. So only Trey can answer that. When Riley is pressed on it, he indicates that there's really nothing to it."

Question: How would you describe Sermon's skill set as a running back? Is he a speed guy, a power guy, more of a pass-catching threat than a go-the-distance back?

John Hoover: "The game I'll remember most from Trey was at Baylor his freshman year. He ran through Baylor for 148 yards -- in the fourth quarter alone. People started calling him, "The Closer." after that because he has the body type and running style to wear defenses down and finish games. He's a pounder, a thudder, a guy who always finishes a run moving forward. And yet, he's really good at making guys miss. He's also really adept in the passing game. He's definitely more power than speed, but he's a lot more nimble than you'd think."

Question: It's curious why Sermon would leave OU -- a playoff contender every year, like Ohio State -- to transfer to Columbus. It's almost like he's a too-good-to-be-true used car. Where are the engine problems or the gas mileage issues, or is there nothing for the buyer to be wary of?

John Hoover: "He tore his ACL last year. Start there. He also missed some other games along the way. He just runs so physical and takes a lot of hits. But this kid is unnaturally tough. I've seen him take hits that should have ended his season, and yet he's back on the field soon after. One hit that comes to mind was in the spring game after his freshman year, he got dragged down on a sweep and fell awkwardly on his right knee. It was horrible. Hyperextended backward, he grabs it and starts rolling around. The athletic trainers are out there for five minutes, but then he gets up and walks off and it ended up being just a scary hyper-extension. No damage."

Question: If Master Teague can't return from his spring practice injury at Ohio State, and if Marcus Crowley and the other backs behind Teague aren't ready for prime time, do you see Trey Sermon as the kind of back who could carry the primary load for Ohio State all the way through a physical Big Ten season and deep into the Playoff?

John Hoover: "Coming off the knee injury, it'll be tough. But I absolutely could see Trey -- if his knee is healthy and he's back near full strength -- being the top back for Ohio State this year. The Buckeyes wanted him out of high school for a reason: he's really good. I think this could be a good opportunity for him." 

Question: What threshold of production from Sermon would surprise you in terms of rushing yards and touchdowns?

John Hoover: "If he were to go over 1,500 yards with 18 touchdowns or something like that, I might be surprised. If he comes up short of those but still is the primary back and hits 1,000 yards and 12 TDs, that wouldn't surprise me at all."