The Bowling Green Falcons will open the 2016 season in Ohio Stadium on Saturday afternoon against the Ohio State Buckeyes. This is the fifth time the two schools have met, with the Buckeyes winning all four previous games played in Columbus.
The Buckeyes have not lost to an in-state opponent since 1921, when they lost to the mighty Yeomen of Oberlin, 7-6. Can the Falcons do something that hasn't been done in 95 years?
We spoke with Buckeye beat reporter Alex Gleitman (@alexgleitman) of 247 Sports recently to get an update on the Buckeyes heading into Saturday's game.
HB: Lot of people are not sure what to make of the Buckeyes this year. Lot of young talent with obvious potential, but unproven. What do you see this team achieving this year and will the Oklahoma game be the real season barometer?
AG: As you said, it is a young and inexperienced group, but a talented one. There are 44 scholarship players on the roster who have never played a game in Division 1 football, which is over half the 85-man scholarship roster. But at the same time, these guys are all highly regarded recruits.
With all that in mind, Ohio State is still a good bet to have a strong season, even against a tough schedule. I keep going back and forth between 11-1 and 10-2 in the regular season, but I think with either of those, assuming a loss at Oklahoma early is one of the losses; the Bucks can still win the Big Ten title and have a shot at the College Football Playoff.
The Oklahoma game won't be the season barometer because it's so early in the season. A young team going to Norman at night isn't going to be an easy task. You hope OSU keeps things close if they lose and has the confidence moving forward after that game that if they continue to develop they can play with anyone. I think no matter the outcome of that game they will and they are going to be one of the best teams in college football at the end of the year, with the Michigan game probably determining where the season goes.
HB: J.T. Barrett seemed to take a step backwards last year. Urban has taken the blame for the play calling last season and everyone involved seemed to miss Tom Herman. Do you think that will be straighten out this year and the old J.T. will emerge?
AG: I think you kind of have to throw 2015 out the window. It was the perfect storm for OSU in the sense that they couldn't decide on a QB, the play calling logistics were in all sort of a mess, the team was walking on egg shells throughout the season, Barrett dealt with coming back from his injury early on and then had the DUI in the middle of the season when he finally got the job back, and a few other things.
I think, as long as he is healthy, he returns to form in 2016. He showed that in the Michigan and Notre Dame games last year where OSU finally figured things out. It took moving Ed Warinner, the OL coach and offensive coordinator, up to the box from the field, which they were hesitant to do earlier, due to it being difficult to coach the o-line from the box. This year, they moved Warinner to TE coach and hired Greg Studrawa as OL coach, so that Warinner can be in the box full time and ultimately concentrate on calling the plays. If things go as smoothly as they did against the Wolverines and Fighting Irish, Barrett is going to reap the benefits.
HB: Tell me about the Buckeyes running back position with Zeke now in Dallas and Bri'onte Dunn gone also. Will we see Urban "try out" some different players at this position against Bowling Green? Will he be tempted to take a redshirt off a true freshman to help fill the void here at some point this season?
AG: The Buckeyes have basically named Michael Weber as their starting tailback, also stating that Curtis Samuel will split time between the running back and H/slot positions for the Buckeyes. It looks like it's kind of going to be a "Thunder & Lightning" approach in that manner, with both players bringing a different dynamic to the offense. Look for Weber to be featured on more inside and power runs, while Samuel will be a guy featured in more stretch and zone plays.
Outside of that, Ohio State could also use their H/slot guys to carry the ball, with Samuel and Dontre Wilson being featured in motion on jet sweeps and "pop passes".
Freshmen Demario McCall and Antonio Williams could be in the mix a bit too, but the three aforementioned players will do most of the ball carrying.
HB: Urban's first head coaching job was at Bowling Green. He still comes back to BG occasionally for team reunions. Do you think this game has any special meaning for him and will he maybe take his foot off the gas if this game gets out of hand?
I definitely think this game is special to Urban Meyer and will be a bit emotional for him. BG took a gamble on him, hiring a wide receivers coach from Notre Dame to be their head coach and it really jump started his career.
But at the same time, as BG fans know, Urban is the ultimate competitor. Could he ease up on BG if things get ugly? Probably as far as calling the game plan very aggressively with deep balls and things of that nature. But he won't stop scoring if BG can't stop the offense running basic plays. He needs his young team to get reps the first two games before Oklahoma, so it would be more about that rather than anything to do with Bowling Green.
HB: Buckeyes lost a ton of talent on the defensive side of the ball from last year's team. What do you make of this unit this year and do you just plug in the next Bosa?
AG: I think the offense is going to be the stronger of the two sides of the ball, as the defense has talent, but a lot of it is unknown. The defensive line should be the strength of the defense, as Sam Hubbard and Jalyn Holmes are emerging stars to step into Bosa's shoes, and the team returns Tyquan Lewis, the leading sack man from last year, at the other end. Inside could be a problem, but both Michael Hill and Tracy Sprinkle played well at the end of last season, specifically in the Fiesta Bowl when OSU was down their two starting DTs.
At linebacker, the Buckeyes return maybe the best Mike backer in the game in Raekwon McMIllan but break in former 5-star recruit Dante Booker at weak-side linebacker and former Cleveland Glenville star Chris Worley at strong-side linebacker. We don't know how those guys will perform, but the scary thing is the depth at linebacker is thin after them, other than Jerome Baker, so they can't afford poor play or injuries.
At defensive back they return just CB Gareon Conley, who will be an All-American candidate. Outside of him, Marshon Lattimore and Denzel Ward are fighting for the open cornerback spot, and it looks like Damon Webb has a leg up on Erick Smith for the free safety job. At strong safety, Malik Hooker has been the talk of the off-season and pre-season as the "next Darron Lee" as far as being a breakout star goes.
All in all, lots of young talent to be excited about but lots of questions that can't be answered until these guys take the field.
HB: 13 out of the last 15 years, Ohio State has played an in-state school. These games seem to make a lot of sense, keeping a lot of revenue in the state of Ohio. Rumor has it the Buckeyes future schedules are going away from playing in-state schools. Is that true and is it a reaction to how much emphasis is now put on strength of schedule in the college playoff system?
AG: That rumor has been buzzing around, and while OSU has no Ohio schools on the schedule in 2017 or 2018, they do play Cincinnati in 2019, which is pretty much as far as their full slates of games are scheduled out to.
I think you hit nail on head in the sense that the College Football Playoff system absolutely has a factor in how often the Buckeyes will play Ohio schools. I think any rumor that they won't be playing them at all is false, but I think the Buckeyes are also going to play the best schedule for them to be in a position to make the CFP at the end of each year.
The formula seems to be play one marquee game (like Oklahoma this year), one game against a middle level team (like a Cincinnati or Oregon State who they have in the future), and then one game against a quality opponent from a mid-major or lower level (like a BGSU this year). If Ohio schools fit into that framework I think they will try to get them on the schedule as much as they can.