Two programs that have had tremendous success in recent years will meet in the season opener in Ohio Stadium in Columbus on Saturday. Both the Ohio State Buckeyes and Bowling Green Falcons had heavy losses due to graduation and defections to the NFL after last season.
Ohio State had 12 players selected in the 2016 NFL Draft this past spring, including six in the first round. The Buckeyes return only 6 starters, 3 on each side of the ball. That's the fewest of all 128 FBS schools according to ESPN.
But when you're a program like Ohio State, you just move forward and plug in another blue-chip recruit at each position. It says something about you're program when you suffer those kinds of losses and still are expected to win the Big Ten, get ranked #5 in the preseason, and are part of the National Championship discussion.
J.T. Barrett returns at quarterback and that gives the Buckeyes hope on offense. He'll be working with an inexperienced offense line, as well as many young running backs and receivers. Those young players have all the talent in the world but we don't know how long their growing pains will take. If they are a quick learning group, the sky is the limit for the Buckeyes offense this year.
Same goes for the Buckeye defense. Linebacker Raekwon McMillan is back and will be the heart and soul for the Ohio State defense. But again, he'll be surrounded by young and talented players who are getting their first chance as starters.
Bowling Green goes about coming off a period of success a little different than Ohio State. You hope your recruiting has gone well enough to have quality players to plug in and fill holes, but it's not a given. The Falcons return four starters on offense, all along the offensive line, and six starters on defense. However, the Falcons lost two of those returning starters during fall camp.
The Falcons seniors will be playing for their third head coach in their careers. Mike Jinks takes over in his first stint as a college head coach. Jinks was never been a coordinator at the college level either. He was the associate head coach at Texas Tech last year and was part architect of the Red Raiders high powered offense. It's that experience that really got him the job at Bowling Green.
Jinks will run a similar, up-tempo offense that his predecessor (Dino Babers) did with much success the last two years. Quarterback James Knapke has some experience leading this offense and will do so behind an experienced group up front. Knapke should have enough weapons around him on offense to make the Falcons dangerous.
The Falcons defense are a spirted group, though undersized by Ohio State standards. The linebackers are the heart and soul of the defense, as all three starters return. Pressure on the quarterback and pass coverage will be keys to how good this defense can be this year. The defense will need to tackle well against the Buckeyes to have any chance of winning.
Quick Game Info
Game Time, Date: This game is on Saturday, September 3, 2016; kickoff is scheduled for 12:00 pm (EST).
Location: The two will meet up at Ohio Stadium (104,944) in Columbus, Ohio.
TV: This game will be available on the Big Ten Network. (Kevin Kugler, Matt Millen and Lisa Byington)
Radio: Available on the Falcon Radio Network. Click HERE to listen online at BGSUFalcons.com.
Online Streaming: Streaming on BTN2Go.com.
Players to Watch
James Knapke (QB, BGSU) - He served as a back-up last season, after starting the final 13 games in 2014 when the starter got hurt. Knapke is the guy this year and that experience in 2014 should serve him well. He has the talent and command of the offense to be effective, but will his offense line give him the time to operate? His running game will also need to help out.
Ronnie Moore (WR, BGSU) - Probably the best Falcon player on offense equipped to compete with Ohio State's speed and athleticism. He can be a playmaker in space, but can BG get him the ball where he can be effective? Moore has always been a complement piece on a deep and talented BG receiving core. Will be interesting to see how he reacts to being the focal point.
Austin Valdez (LB, BGSU) - Former high school quarterback recruit has blossomed well in his new role as an inside linebacker. Valdez was First Team All -MAC last year and in the preseason this year. He's also on the watch lists at Butkus and Bednarik Awards. There are rumblings of pro potential for him and this game will give scouts a big indicator on those aspirations.
J.T. Barrett (QB, Ohio State) - His name is circulating in most Heisman Trophy candidate discussions. Barrett had a breakout year in 2014, but took a step backwards last year. Urban Meyer took the blame for play calling last year after QB guru and OC Tom Herman moved on to Houston. If Barrett returns to 2014 form, he can be as good as any QB in the country.
Mike Weber (RB, Ohio State) - Former blue-chip recruit ready to take the reins from Zeke Elliott after red-shirting last season. Buckeyes won an intense recruiting battle with Michigan for this kid from Cass Tech H.S. in Detroit. Ohio State's fortunes and National Championship aspirations this year could hinge on how Weber plays.
Raekwon McMillian (LB, Ohio State) - A finalist for the Butkus Award last season, and was named Second Team All-American by Walter Camp. Just one of three starters returning for the Buckeyes on defense, and has been named a co-captain by Urban Meyer. At 6'2" and 243 pounds, McMillan is a disruptive force in the middle of the Buckeye defense.