8:00 PM EST, ESPN – Line: Ohio State -20.5, Over/Under: 56.5
After a small sample last Saturday, the 2017 College Football Season gets off to it’s formal start tonight, as the Second-Ranked Ohio State Buckeyes strap up for an early conference clash with the Indiana Hoosiers from Memorial Stadium, in Bloomington, Indiana. When last we saw Ohio State, Urban Meyer’s charges were absolutely embarrassed in the College Football Playoff, as eventual National Champion Clemson pummeled them in a 31-0 shutout in the Semifinal Round. Needless to say, it was an inglorious end to yet another stellar campaign for the Buckeyes, who at 11-2 earned their fifth consecutive double-digit win season since Meyer arrived in Columbus back in 2012, along with their second appearance in the CFP in the last three years. So what will this season have in store for the Scarlet and Gray, you ask? Well, for starters the Preseason Poll favors them quite a bit, placing them at Second just behind perennially top-ranked Alabama. A lot of that has to do with the presence of returning Quarterback JT Barrett, who enters his final campaign with eyes on an elusive National Title. Granted, Barrett was apart of the team that hoisted the inaugural CFP Championship back in 2014, but an injury prevented him from ever taking the field in the Playoff. As versatile as they come under Center, the fifth-year Senior has proven adept at breaking down defenses with both his arm and his legs, throwing for 6,381 yards and sixty-nine touchdowns, while rushing for another 2,465 yards and thirty-one scores in thirty-six starts. Last season (particularly over the final third of the campaign) the major criticism was that the Buckeyes’ offense became to grounded, with Barrett not stretching the field as much as Meyer and Co. would have preferred. Expect that to change when they take the field tonight, for new Offensive Coordinator Kevin Wilson has designs on truly opening things up for the veteran Quarterback, and by extension the unit he in charge of curating. Wilson had spent the previous six years as Indiana’s Head Coach, where he was responsible for an unsuccessful spell (26-47), failing to win more than six games in any season. With that said, the Hoosiers did field some potent offenses, particularly through the air, where they ranked second in the Big 10 in Passing Offense (273.8 Y/G), well ahead of the Buckeyes at Sixth. Wilson has exhibited plenty of ingenuity and has proven effective despite oftentimes being at a significant disadvantage in the talent department, and should nonetheless author some fireworks with Meyer’s war chest of weapons. Of course, Ohio State will also have to deal with replacing quite a bit of playmakers, particularly on the defensive side of the ball, where they Secondary was hit in a major way with three Defensive Backs all being selected in the First Round of the NFL Draft. Starting Cornerbacks Marcus Lattimore and Gareon Conley, along with Safety Malik Hooker were among the best at their respective positions in their conference, if not the country, and despite the program’s uncanny ability to reload with stellar Recruiting Classes could nevertheless find difficulty in breaking in their successors. Keep an eye on how they are tested tonight, for when these teams met a year ago, Indiana posted over 400 Yards of Total Offense in Columbus, and that was with all those aforementioned Draft Picks in Defense.
Meanwhile, while their opponent has their eyes fixated on grander prizes, Indiana simply looks to continue the gradual improvement that it enjoyed under the watch of the aforementioned Wilson. Upon resigning from his post, Wilson oversaw a program that improved incrementally with each passing year; the Hoosiers went a dreadful 1-11 in 2011, but won six games in each of the past two seasons, securing a Bowl Game in each instance, the first time that they could say that since 2007. In fact, Indiana had only competed in two Bowls in twenty-three years before Wilson worked his magic, leaving many to wonder if in fact that the left the program set up for greater things. And it’s with that said that there is tepid reason for optimism in Bloomington these days, as Defensive Coordinator Tom Allen has ascended to Head Coach after one lone season guiding the Defense. This is Allen’s first Head Coaching gig on the Collegiate Level, after spending years serving as an assistant everywhere from South Florida to Arkansas State. The New Castle, Indiana native was promoted to little fanfare, but based on the impression he left on the Defense it leaves one to wonder what he can do with hands on the team as a whole. When he arrived a season ago, the Hoosiers’ Defense was absolutely abysmal, ranking 120th in Total Defense (509.5 Y/G) and 106th in Points Allowed (37.6 P/G), only to make a huge jump in 2016 in which they finished 35th in Total Defense (380.1 Y/G) and 53rd in Points Allowed (27.2 P/G). Take a long look at those numbers again, and you’ll see quite a leap, folks. Playmaking Linebacker Tegray Scales was a huge component of their improvement, with the Senior returning to Bloomington after amassing 125 Tackles, twenty-four for loss, seven Sacks, and an Interception which he returned for a Touchdown. However, Allen can’t lose sight of the offensive side of the ball, which is where Indiana had made such strides under his predecessor; in 2016, the Hoosiers averaged 25.8 Points on 426.0 Total Yards, including 273.8 Yards through the air, and another 152.2 Yards on the ground. Considerable improvement will be expected out Senior Quarterback Richard Lagow, who will be entering his second season as the Starter under Center. The Texas native certainly experienced his share of ups and downs a year ago, but will be counted up to calmly steer and Offense that has plenty of explosive qualities. In 2016, Lagow completed 57.8% of his attempts for 3,362 Yards (7.7 Y/A), but struggled with his decision-making, tossing nineteen touchdowns in comparison to seventeen interceptions. Not a threat to break down defenses with his feet, he must find a way to cut down the Interceptions (he logged five Multi-Interception Games), particularly given the loss of a number of productive weapons, including Tailback Devine Redding (1,122 YDS, 7 TD) and Receivers Ricky Jones (848 YDS, 3 TD) and Mitchell Paige (646 YDS, 4 TD), not to mention All-Conference Guard Dan Feeney. When Lagow faced the Buckeyes last October, the Redshirt Senior completed 14-of-28 attempts for just 182 Yards, with two scores and a pick.