When: Saturday, Sept. 3; noon ET
Where: Columbus, OH; Ohio Stadium (104,944)
All-Time Series: Ohio State leads 4-0
Last Meeting: Ohio State won 35-7 (2006)
Line: Ohio State -27
Ohio State opened last season as an overwhelming favorite to repeat as national champions. The season didn’t end that way, as Urban Meyer failed to figure out a two-quarterback conundrum and the offense sputtered throughout the season as a result.
Fast forward a season and Meyer’s Buckeyes face a different set of questions thanks to one of the greatest exodus’ to the NFL in college football history. With so many parts to replace and so much youth on this team overall, Ohio State comes in to 2016 with a lot of unanswered questions.
Meyer has never been one to shy away from playing young players whom he believes are ready for the spotlight. That spotlight gets turned on for the first time for real on Saturday as the Bowling Green Falcons, where Meyer got his start as a head coach, come to Columbus, Ohio.
1 BURNING QUESTION: Can Youth Step Up at Skill Positions
Ohio State has proven it can churn out 1,000-yard backs like butter since Urban Meyer came to town. That theory will be tested in a major way with two freshman running backs — Mike Weber and Antonio Williams — but they aren’t the only raw skill position players who will see the field in a major way this season.
The Buckeyes come in to the game against Bowling Green with a wide receiver group that is listed on the depth chart having caught all of six passes last season. Five of which came from Corey Smith, who is part of a group of returning players from injury alongside sophomore Noah Brown. Those two are penciled in as starters, but both of them have experience prior to last season.
Beyond those two, Ohio State has a lot of players with potential and no real production on the field. Names like Parris Campbell Johnnie Dixon and Terry McLaurin are all going to have to prove they can be weapons or this offense could be in some serious trouble.
Simply put, J.T. Barrett can’t carry this offense on his back and have this team survive an expectedly brutal Big Ten East division.
2 KEY STATS
–123: That is the number of receiving yards returning to the Buckeyes from the 2015 team: Just to further illustrate the problem this Buckeyes team faces in the 2016 season, there are three total players returning with receiving yards on the two-deep this team. That number would be even scarier if it weren’t for the returning Marcus Baugh at tight end. Of course, if you add in the numbers from Noah Brown’s freshman season in 2014, that climbs to a whopping 132 total yards because he racked up one reception for nine yards that season. To be clear, we aren’t suggesting this group won’t be good…it’s just a major wild card heading in to the season.
—32-1: That is Ohio State’s record all-time against MAC opponents: In case you were curious as to how unlikely an upset is going to be in this game, this should put a lot in to perspective. Yes, Bowling Green may come in as one of the better MAC opponents to play at Ohio State in many-a-year, but Ohio State is recruiting talent on another planet from the rest of the CFB world, let alone the MAC level. Oh, and did we mention Urban Meyer is a perfect 14-0 in home openers during his career?
3 KEY PLAYERS
Mike Weber, Ohio State RB: There were few players as dominant as Ezekiel Elliott in college football last season. Even with teams knowing what was coming, few could stop it. Those are the shoes that redshirt freshman Mike Weber, the No. 9-ranked RB in the 2015 class, will face. He is a complete unknown to most of the CFB world in terms of what he will actually be capable of on the field. Given BGSU’s inability to stop the run last season (gave up 182.8 yards per game), it could be a nice way to build up some confidence for the young and talented running back.
Fred Coppet, Bowling Green RB: Most people think of BGSU as a pass-happy bunch and they aren’t totally wrong. But, that also means opponents can sometimes sleep on the run game, and that is where the experienced Coppet could come in to the mix. Coppet was the second back last season for the Falcons, yet still managed to gain 845 yards and average 5.7 yards per carry. We’ll see if those numbers hold up against a scary OSU front seven, but if the Falcons want a chance to pull a massive upset it will likely come from the legs of Coppet.
Gaeron Conley, Ohio State CB: There is no Matt Johnson for Bowling Green, and that means a new quarterback going up against basically a new secondary. One of the most intriguing matchups of the game will come with Conley squaring up against the leading returning receiver for the Falcons, Ronnie Moore (third on the team with 72 receptions in 2015). Conley has a massive height advantage and his duel with Moore and quarterback James Knapke is going to be fascinating to watch.
4 BOLD PROGNOSTICATIONS
— J.T. Barrett won’t reach the 300-yard mark in total offense: Here’s the deal, Barrett is good…really good. However, he’ll do some damage early on in this game and with the team up 24 or so at the half I fully expect the Buckeyes to try to get some experience for Joe Burrow in the second half. That means Barrett will come up just shy of 300 yards of total offense, but look like he’s in mid-season form against a really bad BGSU defense.
— James Knapke will throw for 300 yards, but also get picked off twice: Chances are that Bowling Green is going to be playing from behind a lot in this game. That means it will be forced to abandon any hope of the run game and turn on the pass attack more than usual. Don’t be surprised to see Ohio State backing off from time to time and allowing them to control the game in front of them instead of attacking all the time. If my score prediction holds correct, Knapke will likely get plenty of chances to dink-and-dunk his way to 300 yards. He’ll also throw an errant pass or two and keep his team from gaining the needed momentum.
— Two OSU running backs go for 100 yards: It will be a successful debut for Mike Weber as the Buckeyes starting running back — and it should be given his talent, Ohio State’s offensive line and Bowling Green’s horrific rush defense. However, he won’t be the only one to go over the 100-yard mark on opening day. Don’t be surprised to see Meyer giving a lot of carries to Curtis Samuel, who will surprise a few people with his abilities as not only the H-back, but as a pure running back in this contest.
—Ohio State will get 6 sacks: Say that one ten-times fast, right? But, here’s the reality, Bowling Green’s offensive line was offensive last season in terms of pass protection. The Falcons gave up 36 sacks to rank dead last in the MAC and 105th nationally. Even with a nice improvement for the offensive line heading in to this season, the Buckeyes possess some of the best pass rushers in the country. It could be a field day because of that combination and because of the fact that BGSU is going to be playing from behind a lot. It might be a very sore Sunday for Knapke if this prognostication holds true.
5 STAFF PREDICTIONS
Andy: Ohio State 48-17
Dave: Ohio State 41-16
Phil H.: Ohio State 42-17
Phil P.: Ohio State 42-20
Zach: Ohio State 45-17