1) The long offseason is finally over! We’ve had a lot of consternation this offseason, so let’s start with this question- What do we know today that would have surprised you the most back in April during spring football?
Dave Biddle- There are a few that come to mind, but I will go with Lathan Ransom being completely healthy. It spoke volumes to me when Jim Knowles mentioned that he’s definitely going to have a role in the defense, even though Ransom is a backup and Knowles doesn’t like to rotate much in the back seven. Who would have thought Ransom would even be cleared to play in the season opener when he suffered a broken leg in the Rose Bowl? The talent and depth at safety for the Buckeyes is one of the absolute strengths of this team that probably does not get enough discussion. Kourt Williams is another backup who is going to have an important role on this defense.
Dan Rubin- USC and UCLA are joining the B1G.
Steve Helwagen- Oh, I guess how well the defensive installation has gone. I can recall Jim Knowles pulling his hair out – well, being upset – in the spring when his defense was giving up some plays. It sounds like the defense kept offensive big plays to a minimum during preseason camp … and that can only be considered a good thing.
Pat Murphy- That the Buckeyes have a defensive line that can be dominant. After last year when Ohio State was outside the top 30 in the country in sacks and outside the top 40 in tackles for a loss (not all on the defensive line, but certainly a good chunk is), I thought the defensive line certainly had room for improvement but I wasn’t sure how much the group would improve. We have since heard about and seen (in small doses in practices) this defensive line being dominant. While this could just be talk, there have been quite a few players/coaches who brought up the defensive line unprompted, which leads me to believe they are seeing good things. This includes Jim Knowles, who mentioned the defensive line ahead of his own linebacker room when talking about what stood out from one of the Buckeyes’ scrimmages. The proof will come on Saturday against Notre Dame, but I didn’t think we’d be thinking about the defensive line being this good a few months back.
Jonah Booker- What I know now is that Coach Mick previously went away from what he has shown works when it comes to the Strength and Conditioning program. It has me excited to know that he took it personal during the offseason when people have questioned this teams toughness as well as raise several questions about his program.
Matt Baxendell- I’m shocked at the level of confidence there is in the defense at Ohio State. We S-T-U-N-K stunk last year, so I never thought I’d come into the season thinking this highly of the Buckeye D, but here we are. I’m even more shocked at this widespread expression of faith in the D than I am that USC and UCLA joined the conference. It’s amazing.
2) Everyone is picking Ohio State to be one of the elite teams again in the country. That’s no surprise with all the talent on hand. But what is a bold prediction about this year’s Buckeyes that maybe people aren’t thinking about right now?
Biddle- My bold prediction is Miyan Williams will have double-digit touchdowns (he had three last season for comparison’s sake). I think the Buckeyes will be a much better short-yardage running team this year, and Williams is unquestionably the short-yardage/goal line back. TreVeyon Henderson is going to have a huge year as the starter, but Williams is the best backup RB in the Big Ten in my estimation — or at least right there with Michigan’s Donovan Edwards — and I think he reaches 10 TDs this season. Master Teague got a decent amount of touches last year and now all the second-team reps at RB will go to Williams. And with Evan Pryor out for the season, the Buckeyes will only play a total of two RBs (Henderson and WIlliams) against good teams when the game is on the line. Add it all up and Williams will have a bigger role and better statistics than most are anticipating.
Rubin- Ohio State covers the spread in EVERY game this season.
Helwagen- That if this defense truly is for real that nobody may even give them that close a game. It could be a year like 2006, where they boat race most everybody until the bullets start really flying in December (and January).
Murphy- My bold prediction is Julian Fleming leads this team in receiving yards in 2022. I was going to go with Marvin Harrison Jr. to have a breakout sophomore season like Jaxon Smith-Njigba did a year ago, but didn’t think that was bold enough. I think people forget how talented Fleming was coming out of high school. Yes, he didn’t play in an offense at all similar to what he is at Ohio State, but that’s only more reason to think, after two seasons in the program, he can break out this year and live up to his billing as the top-ranked wideout in the 2020 class. If he’s healthy, he can be the Garrett Wilson to Chris Olave (or vice versa) like the Buckeyes had a year ago on the outside.
J-Book- I believe this will be a top 20 rushing offense. I know everyone likes to talk about CJ Stroud and the depth at the WR position. However with the addition of Justin Frye and the Offensive Line sounding like they are taking it personal that they want to be able to get back to power run game, I believe this will be a top 20 rushing offense.
Bax- This is the year of the tight end! Nah, I’m kidding that would be TOO Bold. I think the run game is going to get the nasty back after a year where we were more than a little weak getting the hard yards. The passing game is all the shiny objects, but the big guys slapping meat in the trenches with a Meatball rolling down hill behind them is going to be an element that is going to win a lot of football games.
3) In that vein, give your boldest prediction about this season’s Big Ten race.
Biddle- That Scott Frost will continue to lose one-score games at an alarming rate. Wait, that’s already happened this season, so that doesn’t count. So I will go with … Minnesota wins the Big Ten West. Avoiding Ohio State on their schedule — while West favorite Wisconsin has to come to Columbus, as does Iowa — is a big reason. A bigger reason is all the starters the Golden Gophers return, including quarterback Tanner Morgan and RB Mohamed Ibrahim. They’ll probably beat Nebraska by one score.
Rubin- Maryland upsets host Michigan on Sept. 24. It will make me laugh.
Helwagen- I liked Nebraska (as Kirk Herbstreit did as well) to at least contend in the West. So much for that. I don’t like Iowa, for some reason. Maybe it’s that whole can’t-score-any-points thing. In the East, maybe Maryland jumps up and shocks somebody. But I guess we are looking at another Ohio State-Wisconsin once in Columbus and then once again in Indy.
Murphy- Northwestern makes it to Indy to play for a Big Ten title. According to Caesars Sportsbook, the Wildcats have the worst odds in the conference (tied with Illinois). But there’s a recent trend of Pat Fitzgerald finding a way to get to the conference championship game every two years (2018, 2020) and who am I to go against that trend?
J-Book- I believe Ohio State comes out on top of the East but I have Purdue putting the pieces together and coming out the West. When we get to November I believe you are going to have a matchup where it’s #2 Ohio State vs #3 Michigan. If you look at Michigan’s schedule this year it’s a joke, they will be a top 5 team headed to Columbus.
Bax- I’ve already picked Minnesota in the Big Ten West, so that’s not news. My bold prediction is that a non-Ohio State receiver leads the Big Ten in receiving yards. Rakim Jarrett, I’m looking at you. I think OSU might have three 1,000 yard receivers again and that is going to get one of these other guys in the 1,300 range that wins the Big Ten race in receiving yards.
4) We’ve talked endlessly about the defense last season being an utter trainwreck. Do you think that this year’s unit is going to vault back into the top 25 and why?
Biddle- Yes, I think top 25 is a very reasonable goal and that is my expectation. I like Ryan Day saying the expectation is a top-10 defense. And I really like Jim Knowles saying the expectation is top-5. But if the Buckeyes are top-25 nationally with this difficult schedule — and with the best offense in college football — they might have the tools to win it all. And if they *do* have a top-10 defense, they will win it all is my prediction.
Rubin- Yes. Because the talent is there and we have seen it happen before – recently – when Jeff Hafley buzzed through town.
Helwagen- Yes, because somebody who knows what they’re doing is calling the plays. He allegedly tailors the game plan each week to stop the opponent, so personnel groupings for one team may not apply to the next one and so on. You also have to like the idea the guys who are back got big experience last year that can only help them. Top 10 defense? No, maybe not. But I think top 25 is a real possibility. Need the big names to play big.
Murphy- I’m not ready to say top 25. The benchmark I keep using is top 30. Get there and I think the Buckeyes are in a very good spot, as I wrote about this offseason. But that could be by the end of the year, as I do think it might take time to get that good. While things have seemingly gone well for the defense in practice (and that’s certainly a good thing), it would not surprise me if there are some missteps along the way. The key will be learning from those and getting better with each game. I also think the fact that Jim Knowles is proven as a coach who can make in-game adjustments will be huge for Ohio State. Think about the Oregon game last year and how the Buckeyes couldn’t stop more or less the same few plays coming at them. That won’t be the case with Knowles, which automatically makes this defense better.
J-Book- Yes I believe without a doubt this will be a top 25 defense. I believe Jim Knowles is a General. He will bring a calmness and a identity that has been missing from that side of the ball for years. When Ryan Day said the defense has been playing violent in practice, that is an eye opening statement.
Bax- Yes, definitely. The Buckeyes are going to be a handful if they’re giving this offense some serious pause in practice. Their last two recruiting classes on defense have been elite and it sounds like they’ve put some teeth into an upperclass group that needed the push. I think this Ohio State defense will challenge to be the top defense in the conference and the only reason they won’t get there is because they’re going to be on the field far more often than other defenses because this offense is a buzzsaw.
5) CJ Stroud. Jaxon Smith-Njigba. Trey’veon Henderson. Marvin Harrison Jr. Paris Johnson. We could keep going, but you get the hint. When this season is over, will we look back at this offense and say that it is the best in the history of Ohio State football?
Biddle- If we don’t, something went terribly wrong. Last year’s offense was the No. 1 total and scoring offense in the country, and we all expect this year’s unit to be even better. There have been some great offenses at Ohio State (such as in 1995 when they defeated Notre Dame 45-26 in Ohio Stadium), but I do think we will look back on the 2022 group as the best. We certainly will if they lead the Buckeyes to the national title while breaking school records.
Helwagen- No, because that was last year. But I do expect it to be one of the best, probably top 10 in yards and scoring nationally, and that will be more than enough. You have inexperience at receiver and a revamped offensive line that, while promising, must show it can consistently run block and pass protect against the best teams.
Murphy- It certainly feels that way, right? The collection of talent is as good as I can remember. The one thing that could hold this group back, in my mind, is if the offensive line isn’t as good as it needs to be. I like that there are two traditional guards back in the starting five. I’m a bit concerned with what we’ve seen (small sample size) with Paris Johnson Jr. moving back to left tackle. But if that is sorted out (and I do really like Justin Frye) then yes, this offense could certainly be the best in program history.
J-Book- I think this offense has the potential to be one of the best offenses in school history. There aren’t many times when you have a returning Heisman finalist at QB with two other All-Americans at other skill positions. So I will lean towards this being an historical year.
Bax- This will be the highest scoring offense in school history. This could be such a dominant offense that we could have a Troy Smith Heisman kind of year where many of the games don’t feel particularly challenging because OSU is just pumping points on dudes.
6) Prediction time- Ohio State hosts Notre Dame for the first time in nearly 30 years. What’s the score and how does the game go?
Biddle- Notre Dame is good in the trenches and they will be a tough team to beat. I think they will keep it close for a while, but the Buckeyes have too much firepower on offense for them, and a much-improved defense. Ohio State will begin to pull away either sometime late in the first half or early in the second half. Final score– Ohio State 45, Notre Dame 26.
Rubin- Notre Dame’s offense is suspect to me. I’m sure they’ve schemed some points given the long prep time but this won’t be close. Ohio State 49, Notre Dame 20.
Helwagen- Notre Dame has a handful of very good players who would play for anybody in the country. The issue is they don’t have anywhere near as many of them as Ohio State has. I think Ohio State’s depth will come into play on what figures to be a warm and steamy evening inside the venerable Horseshoe, which is 100 years old and never looked so good. I just don’t see any scenario where Notre Dame, with a new quarterback known more as a runner, scores enough points to keep up with Ohio State. I’m going Ohio State 44, Notre Dame 20.
Murphy- I’ve hesitated to give a score prediction for this game all offseason, despite being asked countless times. I guess I have to give in now. I have a feeling this game is close. in the first half and then Ohio State begins to pull away in the second. I could see a mistake by Notre Dame quarterback Tyler Buchner, or something similar, being the difference that really swings momentum the Buckeyes’ way. I just don’t think this Fighting Irish team has the talent or experience to keep up with the Scarlet and Gray, especially at home. I’ll go ahead and go with- Ohio State 35, Notre Dame 20.
J-Book- I think this will be a game where Notre Dame knows they cannot win in a track meet with Ohio State. With a first year QB, and a WR unit that is lacking in firepower their best opportunity to win this game is to play Tressel ball. Run the football, control the clock, and play sound defense. With that being said I look at Ohio State being able to get up on Notre Dame which force them out of their comfort zone. Ohio State 35, Notre Dame 21.
Bax- Notre Dame is just going to try to run the ball and I don’t think that’s going to work against a much improved D-Line. Meanwhile, I don’t think Notre Dame has an answer for this offense. I don’t care how much they’ve recruited, I don’t care how much talent they have, Ohio State has more. I’m going to show the most faith of all of us in the defense and say Ohio State 45, Notre Dame 13.
** BUCKNUTS STAFF CONSENSUS PICK- OHIO STATE 42, NOTRE DAME 17 **