As the number one team in the country, Ohio State is currently the “it” team of college football. However, while being the number one team is nice and dandy, their ranking is the reason that every single team they play this year will be gunning to knock them off their pedestal. For each team, there are always a few key players that can turn the tide and make the game very interesting. Let’s take a look at some of those players.
Virginia Tech: Dadi Nicholas and Ken Ekanem
This game is interesting enough already because, in case you lived under a rock last year, you know Virginia Tech was Ohio State’s bump in the road to the National Championship. A big reason for their upset last year was their defensive front and putting pressure on the quarterback, and there is no reason to think that will change this year. Led by defensive ends Dadi Nicholas and Ken Ekanem, the VT defensive front is just as good, if not better than last year. Nicholas and Ekanem are both All-ACC selections last year and very high draft prospects. If they can get some pressure on the Barrett/Jones and help stuff up the run game, it would make the game intriguing due to the recent injuries and suspensions at the receiver position and may force some young guys to step up and make Braxton Miller adjust to his new position much faster.
Hawaii: Marcus Kemp
Kemp is the best returning receiver for Hawaii. In all honesty, unless Colt Brennan makes a triumphant return to play for Hawaii, there is no player on this team who can truly impact the game enough to slow down Ohio State, but Kemp is interesting because he is returning after a great year last year, with 56 receptions and 797 yards. If he can get open a couple times early and maybe get in the end zone, it could at least put a seed of doubt in fans minds.
Northern Illinois: Drew Hare
Drew Hare the leader of the offense for the huskies: the Quarterback. After throwing for 18 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions with over 2,300 yards, Hare is ready to start his season and help the Huskies stay at the top of the MAC. The best person to lead an upset over a highly ranked team is a quarterback who can pick apart the defense and make some big plays happen. The MAC is notoriously known for giving big teams good fights so this is certainly a game to watch.
Western Michigan: Corey Davis
Corey Davis is one the best players in the MAC. Most people feel like he will forgo his senior season and enter the NFL draft next season. This year however, he is supposed to light it up, and he will have some early chances at the national spotlight with non conference games against Michigan State and obviously Ohio State. He is a workhorse who is a challenge to cover for any corner in College Football, so if there is any one who can make a difference in this one, it is Davis.
Indiana- Tegray Scales
Scales is not only one of the best linebackers in the conference, he is a young guy who can turn some heads nationally this year. In high school he was co-defensive player pf the year in Ohio, and he hasn’t slowed up since he hit college, if he can try and stop up the middle and play like the force he is, it could make for an intriguing match up. Especially since last year Indiana played OSU very tough. They are gonna be out to finish the job this year.
Maryland: Will Likely
Will Likely is one of the best corners in College Football. He is on almost every single national watch list defensively, and, according to Cleveland.com, he is number 19 on their list of ranking the Big Ten Players. The big thing for him in this game will be shutting down Micheal Thomas and making either a young guy step up, or putting a huge emphasis on the run game. A great way to beat a team better than you is to make them one dimensional, and even though Likely can not do that single handedly, if he can at least shut down Thomas it could make for a good battle.
Penn State: Offensive Line
A lot of people think Christian Hackenburg is one of the best Quarterbacks in College Football and even has the potential to be a number one draft pick this year. The problem is, he never gets the chance to do anything due to his offensive line being abysmal. The offensive line has been terrible the past couple years, but there is a hope that this year they have grown and gotten better. If they have, and they give Hackenburg time in the pocket to pick apart the defense like he is capable of doing, it could make for a repeat of last year with the game coming down to the final plays
Rutgers: Kieth Lumpkin
Again, I want to say that there is not one certain player for Rutgers that can have an impact to a point that it affects the score of the game, but Lumpkin is a captain of the team and a guy that came back for his senior year to try and expand on Rutger’s bowl game victory last year. He will more than likely be tasked with stopping Joey Bosa so it could be fun to watch that match up unfold.
Minnesota: Briean Boddy-Calhoun and Eric Murray
These 2 guys for Minnesota are arguably the vest pair of corners in the big ten. Boody-Calhoun snagged an impressive 5 interceptions last year and Murray finished a very respectable fourth on the team with 69 tackles. This could make a huge impact because these two have the ability to make the passing game extremely difficult and put an even bigger load on Zeke to have a great game. Also with Minnesota being a big ten contender, this could be a game Ohio State needs to bring their A game too.
Illinois- Jihad Ward
Jihad Ward may be the best player on this Illinois defense. Although he may miss the first couple of games due to injury, he is still poised to have a great year and to make some heads turn in the Big Ten. With the recent firing of Tim Beckham, Illinois is in for an interesting year, but a great game against Ohio State could be a repeat of 2007 when Illinois was unranked and upset an undefeated Ohio State, and I can bet that Ward would have a big part of it.
Michigan State: Conner Cook
This one is probably the most obvious choices on here because of how good Cook really is. He is one, if not the, best returning quarterbacks in College Football and his ceiling is only raising. Also, Cook will be out to get revenge. Ohio State came into his stadium last year and took away their very realistic playoff hopes. There will be fire in his eyes, and this is no doubt the game that is circled on his schedule. Expect a huge game from Cook and an even greater battle from the Spartans
That Team Up North: Jim Harbaugh
Yes, I am fully aware that this is not 1986 and Harbaugh does not play for TTUN, but I can promise you that if there is anybody on that team who can not wait to play OSU, it is Harbaugh. How incredible would he look if he came in and knocked OSU off a possible number one pedestal his first year? The players will be hungry and there are some players who I can see making a difference in this one, but no one will be more ready and fired up than Jim Harbaugh. You can count on that.
I do believe Ohio State will go undefeated and repeat as National Champions, but I would be naive to say that they will not hit a few bumps in the road and a couple of teams may give them pause. I think these players (or coaches) could have a big part in doing that.