It’s that time of year again – when Ohio State football takes the field, and millions of fans across the world tune in to watch the Buckeyes battle it out on the gridiron. This offseason we saw 12 Buckeyes drafted and a top-five recruiting class signed, but the spring and summer are behind us. Fall is coming, and with it brings Saturdays filled with hopes for undefeated glory ending in another national championship.
As a fan of the Buckeyes, this will be a fun team to watch. There will be some growing pains, sure, and undoubtedly some struggles, but there will also be a lot of excitement and talent on the field every Saturday. Buckle in and get ready to ride the roller coaster of emotion with me and Buckeye fans across the nation as we see what Urban Meyer and Co. have put together.
Both sides of the ball are going to look vastly different than last year.
J.T. Barrett – no quarterback drama this year, folks! – returns as a redshirt junior. The stalwart offensive line lost three starters after last season, so veterans Pat Elflein and Billy Price will have to shore up the foundation with a lot of new pieces. Now that Ezekiel Elliott is gone, the backfield will be a running back by committee made up of Mike Weber, Dontre Wilson, and Curtis Samuel. The wide receivers may be the most fresh-faced group of the bunch with only 15 catches last season among them. The Buckeyes will rely heavily on guys like Corey Smith and Noah Brown, and maybe even some freshmen like K.J. Hill and Austin Mack, to get the job done.
On the defensive side of the ball, there are some returning starters in Raekwon McMillan, Gareon Conley and Tyquan Lewis. The rest of the defense is another inexperienced bunch. Expect Michael Hill, Tracy Sprinkle, Dante Booker, Malik Hooker and a host of other young athletes to get a lot of playing time this year to prove their worth.
Let’s move on to Bowling Green, shall we? The first game of the season is like waking up on Christmas morning and knowing you have a nice, big gift to unwrap. Every year, Santa brings Saturdays where I spend three to four hours nervously sitting on my couch – or in the ‘Shoe, if I’m lucky – watching my alma mater play football. I don’t care who the opponent is, or care about pretty much anything else that’s going on, just Ohio State football. After the somewhat disappointing 2015 season (i.e. the Michigan State game), I’m excited to see what the 2016 version of the Buckeyes brings.
For this game, I expect there to be a lot of offense on both sides. Bowling Green can certainly move the ball up and down the field. The Falcons come in with head coach Mike Jinks, a former assistant under Kliff Kingsbury at Texas Tech – who we all know threw the ball around 50 times a game.
I think the Buckeyes will try to get the ground game going early so Weber can settle in; Samuel and Wilson will probably tote the rock as well. Look for Barrett to distribute the ball to his new wide receiver targets to get them comfortable as well. I expect the defense to have the biggest struggle, but with McMillan and Conley leading the charge, I don’t see the Buckeyes breaking too often.
It’s the first game of the season. Mistakes will be made. Things will look messy. Regardless, the Buckeyes have too much talent to let first-game misfires get in the way. Bowling Green will score, and the game might even be close for a while, but I expect the Buckeyes to pull away once they get their feet under them. I predict the Buckeyes start the 2016 season off with a 52-17 victory and move their focus on to Tulsa next week.
Many others have said this too, but the youth and inexperience of this team reminds me of the 2014 squad, and we all know how that season ended. Do I think we’ll get to another National Championship again this season? It’s certainly possible, but I don’t think it’s very likely. A tough season with an early game at Oklahoma, back-to-back road games against Wisconsin and Penn State at night, culminating in games against Michigan State and Michigan will be too much – in my opinion – for the young Buckeyes to overcome. I see at 10-2 regular season and a New Year’s Six bowl game for the Buckeyes, and I’ll consider that a good season. Meyer is bringing in some serious talent, so the next few years should be a pretty special time to be a Buckeye fan.
A Fan’s Preseason Playoff Predictions
- Clemson – With Heisman favorite Deshaun Watson and most of his offensive weapons back, there’s no reason to think the Tigers won’t win the ACC. They have a key game against Florida State, but the rest of their schedule should be winnable.
- Alabama – I hesitate to put Alabama in here because their QB situation is still up in the air, but results don’t lie. Nick Saban has done a remarkable job no matter who’s throwing the ball, and I expect them to win the SEC again and make their third consecutive playoff appearance
- Houston – Call me crazy, but I think the Cougars are going to surprise a lot of people this season. I say they take down Oklahoma early and then run the table the rest of the way to make it to the CFP. With Greg Ward returning at QB, I don’t see much drop-off from where they were last year.
- Stanford – Three big games early against USC, UCLA, and Washington will tell the tale on the Cardinal. I like David Shaw as a head coach, and I think he’ll have them ready to compete and win the Pac-12 in their first season without Kevin Hogan running the offense. Heisman-hopeful Christian McCaffrey will be the workhorse on this team again this season.
A Fan’s Preseason Heisman Ballot
- Watson – He had a claim to the award last year, but came in third behind Derrick Henry and Christian McCaffrey. Henry is off to the NFL, so Watson will resume his battle against McCaffrey for the trophy. I expect big numbers out of Watson again, but the defining game will be against FSU.
- Christian McCaffrey – Mr. Does-It-All is back for his junior season, and Stanford will rely heavily on him for the majority of their offense. Under the direction of a new quarterback, McCaffrey should get quite a few carries, as well as receptions. If Stanford ends up in the playoff, expect last year’s runner-up to lay claim to the trophy.
- Barrett – Two years ago he finished fifth after missing the second half of the last game of the season and the Big Ten Championship. This season, he leads an even younger team into battle with unproven weapons at running back and wide receiver. His calm demeanor and leadership prove he has what it takes to lead the Buckeyes, and I expect him to put up similar numbers to his 2014 campaign.
- Leonard Fournette – I don’t see LSU making the playoff this year, but that doesn’t mean Fournette can’t make a big splash with his eye-popping numbers over the course of the season. Early tests against Wisconsin and Auburn and the late-season showdown with Alabama will be key in how voters see Fournette. He’ll run over mediocre teams like he did last year, but his performance in those big games will count the most.