Friday Open Thread: Navy

This has been the craziest couple of weeks leading up to a season since… well, I guess since Urban Meyer took the helm. Or, maybe that time there was a little scuffle at a night club. Ok, so maybe it’s par for the course that Ohio State deals with some kind of stuff before actual football is played. So this year decided it wasn’t going to be any different, and here we are — starting-quarterback-less, an away game and a season of unknowns. Some have already said participation in the first college football playoff has sailed off into the sunset (or more appropriately, up north, to the newly christened favorite Michigan State). Others have said this wasn’t going to be the year anyway, so let’s see what we have in these young guys. And then you’ve got a group of seniors that have seen some serious highs and some abysmal lows. They don’t want to go out like that.

So we start Week One against a pluck Navy team. We’ve had some good content this week leading up, so a quick recap:

  • Chip wondered what the offense will look like (Guiton-ish?) and which freshmen will see the field (a lot).
  • Ronnie gave us his usual Cliff’s Notes on who to be watching when these two teams collide, including Curtis Grant, who is on a mission of reaching potential and possible meeting expectations:

    Not only will Grant need to lead by example, but his vocal leadership will be valuable on the field Saturday. Grant must be the commanding voice for the Buckeyes defense and keep them disciplined and calm.

  • Finally, Nate gets you set with all the knowledge you need to be prepared for the start of the 2014 season.

So here’s an open thread to discuss your thoughts, hopes and dreams about the start of the college football season. (The REAL start is on Saturday. This Thursday stuff is for the scrubs).

How about some predictions? What do you think will be the final score? Which running back will carry the ball the most? How many times to they let J.T. throw the ball?

My predictions:
Ohio State 45
Navy 17

Most carries: Ezekiel Elliot

J.T. passes: 18

Q&A with an Opponents Blogger: Navy

Back by popular demand Buckeye Nation the award winning Q&A with the opponents blogger!!

This week I sit down with Michael James (@navybirddog) a blogger for Thebirddog a Navy blog site and a great one to check out.

MotSaG: Who on the Buckeyes are Navy fans looking forward to seeing the most?

NavyBirdDog: The punter.

MotSaG: The Buckeye plan on rotating 9-10 defensive linemen, do you feel that will be an issue for Navy having to deal with fresh guys up front all game?

NavyBirdDog: Not necessarily. I know that when people see long drives from option offenses, they talk about “wearing the defense down,” but that’s not exactly how it works. Navy’s offensive line relies more on technique than physicality, so the question is more about how fundamentally sound Ohio State feels they are 9-10 deep rather than how rested they are. Frankly, if OSU’s coaches want to sub Michael Bennett out of the game, I’m all for it.

MotSaG: How did Navy convince Ohio State to leave the Horseshoe to play in Maryland for this game?

NavyBirdDog: Playing in a 70,000-seat stadium probably makes for a nice guarantee, and DC-Baltimore isn’t the worst place to recruit. Besides, Maryland is Big Ten territory now, right?

MotSaG: Do you expect to see a sea of Scarlet in the stands or will the Midshipmen fans overrun the Buckeye fans?

NavyBirdDog: Considering that there are probably more people currently enrolled at Ohio State than there are living alumni of the Naval Academy, it’s probably safe to assume that there will be a healthy Ohio State contingent at the game. I don’t think it’ll be overwhelming, though. Navy plays Notre Dame in Baltimore all the time and has good fan support. At least it sounds like it; it’s hard to tell when everyone’s wearing blue and gold.

MotSaG: Which Navy players should Buckeye fans keep an eye on besides QB Keenan Reynolds?

NavyBirdDog: It’s always hard to tell who will have a big game in Navy’s offense because it’s so dependent on what the defense does. Navy doesn’t exactly force their will on teams; they take what the defense gives them. That said, the quarterback’s first option is the fullback, and Navy has a pretty good one in Noah Copeland. On defense, safety Parrish Gaines will be in on almost every play, and if Navy is going to have a chance to be in this game late, they’ll need a big day from defensive end Paul Quessenberry.

MotSaG: Is there a disadvantage for Navy not having any film on J.T. Barrett to prepare for?

NavyBirdDog: I don’t think so. Nobody knows how much of the playbook the coaches are comfortable using with Barrett at quarterback, but it’s obviously not going to be more than with Miller. Whatever disadvantage there might be is heavily outweighed by not having to face a Heisman contender.

MotSaG: Do you think the National perception is finally changing when people think of Navy football?

NavyBirdDog: Not really. Maybe a little after the run of success against Notre Dame, but there’s always going to be that element of, “these guys aren’t good but gee they play all four quarters and they’re going to serve our country,” etc. I’m sure the players hate it, but it sort of comes with the territory.

MotSaG: Which rivalry is better Michigan/Ohio State or Army/ Navy?

NavyBirdDog: Army-Navy

MotSaG: Will Navy win the Commander in Chief trophy this year?

NavyBirdDog: Yes

MotSaG: Does Navy make it lucky number 13 against Army this season?

NavyBirdDog: Yes. Jeff Monken was a good hire for Army, but they’ve got a lot of work ahead of them.

I want to thank Michael James for taking the time to join us here this week at MotSaG by joining our podcast and also helping me with this seasons first Q&A.

For my prediction of the game I have to remain nuetral for this is the only team that the Buckeyes play that I can’t root against. Being a former Navy Seabee I can’t root against the Navy although I do feel the Buckeyes will walk out of Maryland with the win.

Have any questions for next week hit us up at AskMotSaG@gmail.com

Ohio State at Navy: A Second Look

osuHelmetI had this written out, for the most part, right around Monday evening. Then came the Braxton injury, and my delete button got quite the workout. After exploring all the doomsday situations without Braxton, and watching the rest of Buckeye Nation go through the five stages of grief, I realized this team is still going to be very, very good, and it all starts with the Navy game.

As I said in my guest post, the Navy game is a possible “trip up” game for this team, and my point stands that it will be a huge test for the new Buckeye defense. Navy returns their quarterback, who was their leading rusher with over 1300 yards last season, to a team that was second in rushing yards per game in the country last year. Even with Butkus Award Winner (no, I’m not still bitter…) Ryan Shazier anchoring the linebackers last year, poor tackling was a major problem for this team. With Navy’s Triple Option attack, the defensive line and linbackers will be tested big time. The line will be solid, and it will be up to them to prevent the ball carrier, whoever it may be, from getting to the defensive secondary. Navy will run the ball, and they will run the ball well against Ohio State. There’s no way to sugar coat it; that’s just the way Navy is. They don’t throw often – their starting QB, Keenan Reynolds, only had 128 attempts for the entire season last year, with only 8 touchdown passes. Navy will only throw the ball in necessary positions, i.e. 3rd and 5 or more. Winning first down will be huge for the Buckeye defense. Keep Navy from getting 4 yards on first down, putting them in second and long, and the Navy offense will start to get in tough positions for their scheme to handle. We won’t see Chris Ash’s new secondary tested against Navy from a pass defense perspective. We will likely see them have to make open field tackles, something this team struggled with last year.

The Buckeye offense will be interesting, mainly because of who will be at quarterback. As of writing this, JT Barrett will be the starting quarterback over Cardale “I Ain’t Come Here to Play School” Jones. Given that fact, I will write this as if JT will be starting on Day 1. It’s been said that Barrett was a better pure passer coming out of high school than Braxton was, and now Barrett has had a year and a half to develop and learn the Tom Herman/Urban Meyer system. We saw what Braxton could do after one full year under the system, so I don’t expect Barrett to struggle with the offense. However, JT hasn’t seen real game action since halfway through his senior year of high school, prior to tearing his ACL that season, and redshirting last season. He has been getting reps all offseason, since Braxton sat out to avoid what happened Monday, but the first drive or two might be a tad overwhelming for the young signal caller. I don’t doubt his abilities, but don’t look for the offense to take a lot of big shots early on. Tom Herman will likely look to establish rhythm and to get Barrett to relax. Ezekial Elliot will most likely be Barrett’s partner in the backfield at the running back position, with Dontre Wilson playing the “Harvin” role. Expect these two to get the ball early and often against Navy. I expect we will see screens to Dontre to get him the ball quickly and allow him to make one move and get upfield. The biggest safety valve for a young quarterback is always the tight end position. Jeff Heuerman, one of Braxton’s favorite targets from 2013, is a senior in the position, and will likely see many passes thrown his way. Navy lost both of its leading tacklers in the inside linbacking core, but return their outside linebackers. This will potentially leave the middle of the field open for Heuerman and the TEs for short routes, and when (not if) Elliot, Wilson, Barrett, or other runners get to the second level, they will be able to make moves and get more yardage. Once Barrett is relaxed and into the flow of the game, expect the offense will open up more.

 

Navy Players To Know

QB Keenan Reynolds

FB Chris Swain

WR DeBrandon Sanders

OLB Chris Johnson

 

Prediction:

This might be a clencher early on for Buckeye fans to open the season. I fully expect Navy to score, but even with a new QB, I expect Ohio State to score more. I’ll take the Buckeyes.

Ohio State 31

Navy 17

COUNTDOWN: One Day

tatum_1

- Wayne Woodrow “Woody” Hayes

MOTSAG TV Guide

Change is the theme for the 2014 college football season, so with that in mind, I’m changing up the TV Guide structure, packaging games in groups to help you enjoy the best of the national landscape, follow all our fellow Ohio schools and conference foes, and/or scout our remaining schedule.

BUCKEYES

Ohio State @ Navy. Noon, CBS Sports Network.

This is the moment of truth. It might have been less stressful to open the season in the Shoe against an Ohio MAC or FCS opponent with Braxton’s injury casting a shadow of doubt over the season, but a road test against a tricky opponent will tell us more about our young QBs heading into a pivotal battle against Virginia Tech next week.

Note that the game is on CBS Sports Network, not regular CBS. This should be DirecTV 221, Dish 158, Time Warner 1322, U-Verse 1643 & Verizon FiOS 594. Check to make sure you get this channel now! (If anyone knows of corrections or additions to this list, leave them in the comments!)

UPCOMING OPPONENTS

(8/28)

Eastern Illinois @ Minnesota. 7:00p, Big Ten Network.

Rutgers @ Washington State. 10:00p, Fox Sports 1.

(8/29)

Jacksonville State @ Michigan State. 7:30p, Big Ten Network.

(8/30)

Penn State vs. UCF in Ireland. 8:30a, ESPN2.

Appalachian State @ Michigan. Noon, ESPN2.

It’s unlikely that we’ll see a repeat of the 2007 game, but we can dream, can’t we? Despite being a far worse team now than back then, App State does have one thing going for them: motivation. You think these kids don’t want to do the same thing their predecessors did? You think they haven’t been hearing all about how they won’t be able to? And let’s not forget: Michigan isn’t the team they were back then either.

Indiana State @ Indiana. Noon, ESPN News.

Youngstown State @ Illinois. Noon, Big Ten Network.

James Madison @ Maryland. 3:30p, Big Ten Network.

William & Mary @ Virginia Tech. 4:00p, ESPN News.

Ohio @ Kent State. 6:00p, ESPN3 (online).

Cincinnati: no game.

OTHER BIG TEN TEAMS

(8/30)
Northern Iowa @ Iowa. Noon, Big Ten Network.

Western Michigan @ Purdue. Noon, ESPNU.

California @ Northwestern. 3:30p, ABC/ESPN2.

Florida Atlantic @ Nebraska. 3:30p, Big Ten Network.

LSU vs. Wisconsin in Houston. 9:00p, ESPN.

This is the first chance for the Big Ten to make a big statement in 2014. Both teams had solid seasons last year, with only one blowout loss (LSU’s 21-point loss to Alabama) between them. Rumor is that the Badgers will give the athletic Tanner McEvoy the nod at QB over the more experienced (and more predictable) Joel Stave. You may remember McEvoy as a safety, the position he played most of last year after switching from wide receiver due to a wrist injury. Did I mention he’s athletic?

OTHER OHIO TEAMS

(8/28)

Howard @ Akron. 7:00p, ESPN3 (online).

(8/29)

Bowling Green @ Western Kentucky. 7:30p, CBS Sports Network.

(8/30)

Marshall @ Miami (Ohio). 3:30p, ESPN3 (online).

New Hampshire @ Toledo. 7:00p, ESPN3 (online).

OTHER TOP NATIONAL GAMES

(8/28)

Texas A&M @ South Carolina. 6:00p, SEC Network.

(8/30)

Alabama vs. West Virginia in Atlanta. 3:30p, ABC/ESPN2.

Clemson @ Georgia. 5:30p, ESPN.

Despite the departures of Tahj Boyd and Aaron Murray, this should still be an entertaining and competitive game. Georgia is probably the better team this year, but that’s what most people thought last year too.

Florida State vs. Oklahoma State in Arlington. 8:00p, ABC.

(9/1)

Miami (Florida) @ Louisville. 8:00p, ESPN.

Scouting the Midshipmen and a Look around the country

osuHelmetIt’s Back!!!! College Football is finally upon us and we here in the Buckeye State (and, really, all of America) are ecstatic to get the 2014 season underway. It’s going to be a wild ride. Ohio State comes into this season ranked 5th in the nation and preseason favorites to win the Big Ten and advance to the inaugural College Football Playoff. Those are lofty expectations for a team that lost its leading rusher, 4 offensive linemen, and return most of a secondary that struggled last year. (And now, it’s potential Heisman quarterback, too.) But with new additions and schemes, they are poised to accept the challenge. First on the docket are the Navy Midshipmen. If you remember right, Navy gave us everything we could handle in 2009. It took a Brian Rolle interception on a 2-point conversion with two minutes left to seal the win. Here’s to hoping this year is a much smoother affair.

(As you can tell, this preview was being worked on before that fateful day… Braxton Miller is out for the season and according to the OSU press release he will return for the 2015 season. This obviously changes a few aspects to the Buckeye offense, but it will mostly be business as usual. )

Opponent: Navy Midshipmen (2013 record: 9-4)
Location: M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore, Maryland (home of the Ravens)
Kickoff: August 30, 2014. Noon on CBS Sports Network (Check here for your local channel)

Sizing up Navy:

The Navy offense lives and dies by the triple option which is expertly ran by do-it-all QB Keenan Reynolds. Some people have called him Navy’s best QB since Roger Staubach, which should tell you everything you need to know. The kid can play. He ran for 31 touchdowns last season, an FBS record for a QB. But he can also throw the ball; yes Navy does have a passing game. He threw for a little over 1,000 yards in 2013 to go along with 8 touchdowns. If Reynolds and the Midshipmen can go to the air more, they could be in for a great season because of a dangerous offense.

Defensively, they return seven players from last seasons’ team. Teams consistently moved the ball down the field on them but had trouble punching it in the endzone. They will be overmatched athletically in the majority of games they play. Look for Ohio State to exploit that.

Offensive GamePlan:

Braxton Miller’s injury is a huge blow to the Buckeye offense. He made so many things look easy. We’ll see how well Urban and Tom Herman have prepared the backups. So it’s next man up for the Buckeyes.

Enter J.T. Barrett, a four-star and one of the top dual threat quarterbacks in the class of 2013. If you watch his highlight tape, his offense in high school was very similar to Ohio State’s. He ran a lot of read options (reading the defensive end then either giving to the RB or pulling it and taking it himself) and was also very successful throwing the ball downfield. Make no mistake, the kid can play.

Our gameplan needs to be getting the ball into our playmakers hands. Expect Zeke Elliot and Rod Smith to get a lot of carries against Navy to take some pressure off Barrett. But he will be expected to air it out a little bit. Our main objective is to get the ball to our athletes on the perimeter. Guys like Dontre Wilson, Evan Spencer, Devin Smith, Michael Thomas and Curtis Samuel will all be targeted plenty. Herman needs to call a lot of quick read passing plays as well. The play will start with the read option, then Barrett will have the option of making a quick throw on the outside (hitch, bubble are main routes for this). And I can also guarantee we will see Jeff Heureman run the TE stick up the hash and be wide open. That could end up being Barrett’s first passing touchdown of his career.

The main focus of this game is number 1, win. Then number 2, Herman needs to get Barrett (and really the entire offense) confidence up so he’s ready to face Virginia Tech next week. It’s also a possibility that we’ll see Cardale Jones thrown into the mix just to get a different look. But Barrett is the guy and all he has to do is facilitate and distribute, which he is very good at.

Craig Krenzel was never a huge statistical Heisman watch player, but he won a national championship. That’s something former Buckeye QB’s Troy Smith, Terrelle Pryor, and even Braxton Miller have failed to bring to Columbus. It will definitely be a fun season to watch.

Defensive Gameplan:

The key to the Navy offensive scheme is to keep defenses off balance by constantly running misdirection plays and by throwing in a pass every once in a while to keep the defense honest. They’ve been running the triple option offense since the Revolutionary War so it’s safe to say they’re good at it.

Navy’s favorite formation is with 5 offensive linemen with a running back/wide receiver on both the right and left tackles hip (off the line). Reynolds will be under center with a fullback 5 yards behind him. Reynolds will take the snap, take a step back and read the defensive end. He will either give or keep the ball. He can also option to the receiver behind him who will sweep around as the pitch man. Many teams get caught with their eyes in the backfield reading the pitch man. But the RB was given the ball up the middle and is untouched heading to the endzone.

It’s key for our defensive line to blow up anything that comes up the middle (which I fully expect them to do). The linebacker corps also has to read their keys. Reynolds likes to take off whenever possible; either by keeping it on a read play or tucking and running instead of passing. It will be interesting to see how new Defensive Coordinator Chris Ash will handle the triple option but I don’t think he’ll disappoint. Look for the safeties to press most of the game along with a number of blitzes and coming up into the box to assist with the running game. Reynolds is a great talent but I have a lot of faith in our defense to keep him contained.

Prediction:

All of Buckeye Nation will tune in to see the future of Ohio State Football, in J.T. Barrett. His first possession could be shaky but once he gets the jitters out, he’ll have a huge game. The defense will be back to being the Silver Bullets by holding the Midshipmen to less than 100 yards rushing. After the game, everyone can take a deep breath and know they’re in good hands with Urban Meyer at the helm.

Ohio State 45
Navy 13

Look Around the Country

Notable Games Last Week: None

Big Matchups This Week:

Thursday, August 28: Texas A&M at South Carolina
Saturday, August 30: Clemson at Georgia, Florida State vs Oklahoma State (Cowboys Classic), Wisconsin vs LSU.

Michigan Update:

They play Appalachian State this week. I’m trying not to laugh. Oh, memories.

Heisman Watch Contenders:

Jameis Winston, FSU
Marcus Mariota, Oregon
Bryce Petty, Baylor
Brett Hundley, UCLA

Rising Star: J.T. Barrett perhaps?

Dropping Fast: Braxton Miller- out for the season (balling my eyes out)

My Playoff if the season ended today:
1. Florida State vs 4. Ohio State (Sugar)
2. Oregon vs 3. Auburn (Rose)
Just Missed the Cut:
5. Oklahoma
6. Alabama
7. Michigan State
8. UCLA
9. Baylor
10. South Carolina

The Spread, Week One: Into The Unknown

College football is back. Or rather, something that looks kind of like college football is here. 2014 brings us a new Big Ten–now with 14 teams, reshuffled and renamed divisions, and an air of unpredictability the conference hasn’t seen in a while, thanks in part to an abrupt change that has Buckeye fans on the edges of our seats: Braxton Miller’s season-ending injury and the as-yet-unseen impact it will have on the offense.

But things are just as uncertain on the national landscape. For the first time since 2006, the returning national champion does not hail from the SEC. The conference will have to console itself with its shiny new TV network, bolstered by ESPN’s Inception-level layers of conflict of interest.

The ACC welcomes Louisville to replace Maryland (now in the Big Ten) and hopes last year’s Seminole crystal football will be the start of a long streak of their own. Of course, there will be no more actual crystal footballs as the championship will now be decided by a four-team playoff with its own more understated trophy.

How to get into that playoff may be the biggest unknown of the upcoming season. Teams will be selected by a 13-member committee from diverse backgrounds applying vague guidelines. No one really knows what factors will end up being the most important, but suffice it to say that winning will always the best bet. And don’t think it will get any easier going forward. If we learned anything from the BCS, it’s that every season is a unique universe that produces its own unanswerable questions. What works this year might not work next year.

Buckeye fans are hoping the inverse is true: that what doesn’t work this year will work next year. Namely, Braxton Miller’s ailing shoulder. The dynamic QB has stated he’d like to return to the team in 2015–a decision that makes sense whether or not he’s able to make the jump to the NFL.

But first we have to see what this season brings. One-handed grabs, Hail Marys, crazy tip-drill interceptions–those are guaranteed. There’s sure to be a massive controversial officiating blunder or two, like the insulting end of last year’s Wisconsin/Arizona State game. Maybe we’ll get lucky and witness another did-you-see-that moment like Auburn’s “Kick Six” in the Iron Bowl.

One thing is for certain: you just never know.

5 Things I Think: CFB Week 1!

It’s finally here — college football season. The first season of the playoff system for which so many of have been waiting. Everyone knows that the 13-person selection committee will select the four teams that will compete for the championship, but what is less commonly known is that the committee will also select the teams that will compete in a total of six bowls: Peach, Cotton, Fiesta, Rose, Orange, and Sugar. Under the BCS model, every bowl matchup, except the championship game, was determined by the bowls themselves. There will also be three new bowls this season, bringing the total number of bowls to a whopping 38. The Bahamas Bowl (Nassau, Bahamas), the Boca Raton Bowl (Boca Raton, FL), and the Miami Bowl (Miami, FL) will each make their debuts this season. No team from the Power 5 will participate in any of those new bowls, however, as they are each designated to Group of Five teams and/or Independents.

I am not a fan of preseason polls, so I don’t care about where teams are ranked in the Coaches or AP poll right now (however, the AP rankings will be listed below for those who do care) and those rankings will have no bearing on who I pick, or the strength or weakness of a win (or loss) in the next few weeks. I hope, too, that the selection committee doesn’t allow preseason rankings to be too big of an impact on their team assessments.

Alright, let’s dive in!

1. #21 Texas A&M at #9 South Carolina (8/28/14, 6pm EST, SEC Network): Both of these teams were charged with the task of replacing a dynamic player at quarterback as both Johnny Manziel and Connor Shaw have moved on to the NFL (and both to the Cleveland Browns). The Aggies are turning to sophomore Kenny Hill for now. I’m convinced freshman Kyle Allen will take over this job soon, but Hill has the job at the moment. He only has 22 pass attempts (16 completions) under his belt. However, behind him are a stable of running backs that not many teams can rival (perhaps Alabama, Oregon, and Georgia). He also has two receivers in redshirt freshman Ricky Seals-Jones and true freshman Speedy Noil and a tight end (Cam Clear) that are all big and fast on whom he can lean. Their defense, that started up to 7 freshmen at a time last season, is the biggest question. Surely a whole season and offseason will lead to improvement, but we’ll just have to see how much of an improvement that will be. The Ol’ Ball Coach will start senior Dylan Thompson. Thompson already has some game experience (Connor Shaw was injury prone) and even threw a game-winning touchdown in a bowl game. That particular bowl game is typically remembered more for a certain JaDeveon Clowney hit though. Clowney, fellow defensive lineman Kelcy Quarles, and leading receiver Bruce Ellington have left for the NFL (Texans, Giants, and 49ers respectively). However, an early Heisman candidate is in the backfield to carry the load in running back Mike Davis. Most spreads I’ve seen for this game have the Gamecocks favored by 10.5 points. It’s hard to predict games this early in the season because we don’t have on-the-field data to which we can refer, but I just don’t see South Carolina covering that spread. I think TAMU has a chance in this game but South Carolina will pull a win out. After all, the Gamecocks haven’t lost at home since 2011.

2. #5 Ohio State at Navy (8/30/14, 12pm EST, CBS Sports Network): Starting at quarterback for The Ohio State University, out of Wichita Falls, Texas, and wearing number 16: scarletshirt freshman J.T. Barrett! Many pundits flushed any chance of the Buckeyes being one of the last four teams standing down the toilet when Braxton Miller went down for the season. Let’s see what Barrett can do before we push down on the handle, shall we? There have been a few second-year freshmen over the past few years who have done pretty well for themselves and their teams. The Buckeyes do only return 1 starter on the offensive line (however, senior Chad Lindsey transferred over from Alabama), but Meyer has seemed optimistic even after Miller’s injury. He wants to play even faster now and has labeled Barrett a “distributor” early on; get the ball in the hands of all the speed the offense can put on the field and let them run. Navy is no pushover, however. Quarterback Keenan Reynolds tied for the most rushing touchdowns last season with an unbelievable 31 of them (six players had more carries than him). Navy runs a triple option and as we all know, that is a bit difficult to prepare for because it’s hard to duplicate in practice. The Midshipmen do pass it a little more than in years past (they actually had 6 games in which they had double digit pass attempts in 2013), and Reynolds has a pretty good arm. The last time these two teams played (2009), it was also to open the season and the Buckeyes were saved by intercepted (and returned) two-point conversion to hold on to a 31-27 win. I’ve seen spreads for this game favoring the Buckeyes by 16 or 17 points. However, given Navy’s time possession dominating style of play, I don’t know if there will be enough scoring opportunities in a 60-minute period to win by that many points. My Buckeyes win, but I think it’ll be closer to a 10 or 13-point margin.

3. West Virginia vs. #2 Alabama in the Georgia Dome (8/30/14, 3:30pm EST ESPN): I wasn’t going to choose this game in Week 1, but there’s something about it that intrigues me. It’s not because we’ll see two former Florida State quarterbacks (both of whom left because they weren’t going to beat out Jameis Winston) in Clint Trickett and Jacob Coker. It isn’t because Clint Trickett announced that Nick Saban’s daughter was his first kiss (via al.com); that wasn’t that big of a deal given the kiss happened as six-year-olds and both his dad and his brother have been on Saban’s staff — but it was funny that he mentioned it. This game shouldn’t interest me at all given Alabama is favored by 26 in most of the spreads I’ve seen. Vegas seems to think it doesn’t matter who plays quarterback for the Crimson Tide or that the defensive backfield is young and relatively inexperienced (except Landon Collins who is a beast). However, quarterback, for both teams, is actually one of three main reasons this game catches my attention. Like many, I want to know who stands out between Coker and Sims on the Alabama side, because whoever does will dictate the direction the passing game will go this season. Sims is not a great passer and it would be a shame to waste receiving threats Amari Cooper, Chris Black, Robert Foster, and O.J. Howard, but then it would mean there’d be more reason for T.J. Yeldon, Derrick Henry, and Kenyon Drake to get touches. Coker, it seems, would be able to use more of these weapons. I want to know how Clint Trickett will do in his second year in Dana Holgorsen’s up tempo, no huddle, offense and of course I want to see how Nick Saban will defend it given his seeming disdain for that style of offense. That dynamic is very intriguing to me after the offseason debate about these fast-paced offenses. Lastly, I want to see how Lane Kiffin will use the collection of four and five-star recruits at his disposal — yet within Saban’s naturally conservative scheme. I realize they won’t show a whole lot in the first game, particularly if the game goes the way Vegas thinks it will, but if Trickett and WVU can possibly put up some points, we may get a better show than even the “city that never sleeps” is ready for. Alabama wins, but doesn’t cover the 26.

4. #16 Clemson at #12 Georgia (8/30/14, 5:30pm EST ESPN): We have another matchup of two teams who lost their quarterbacks to the NFL. This one is a little different in that both Tajh Boyd (Jets) and Aaron Murray (Chiefs) were seniors and are now being replaced by seniors Cole Stoudt and Hutson Mason. The Tigers not only lost their star quarterback, but their top two rushers (one of which was Boyd) and their top two receivers from a year ago. On top of that, two offensive linemen who many thought would start (David Beasley and Isaiah Battle) are sitting out of this game due to the ever-popular “violation of team rules”. Defensively, I still can’t believe Vic Beasley forewent the NFL Draft and returned for his senior season as I think he’d have been a top ten pick. The defensive line is where Clemson will be strong this year and they’ll play hockey-style line changes much like Chip Kelly did at Oregon. Hutson Mason is a fifth-year senior who was able to get into five games last season due to Murray’s injuries. He started in the Bulldogs’ bowl game loss to Nebraska, but he played pretty well (21 for 39, 320 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT). That shows he can perform on a fairly big stage. Where Georgia is among the nation’s best this season is depth at the running back position. It starts with Heisman candidate Todd Gurley, who some think is the best back in the country. Keith Marshall (who teamed up with Gurley two seasons ago to make up one of the best tandems in the country) is back from injury. As if that weren’t enough, freshmen Sony Michel and Nick Chubb are good enough that Mark Richt will surely want to get them on the field somehow. I think Clemson is going to bring the house and make Mason prove he can beat them with a less-than-stellar group of receivers. Clemson will put up points (after all, it’s a Chad Morris offense), but I don’t know if they’ll be able to stop Georgia’s running attack. Clemson wins by a touchdown.

5. #14 Wisconsin vs. #13 LSU in NRG Stadium in Houston, TX (8/30/14, 9pm EST, ESPN): LSU may be playing the youngest roster in the country this year. Les Miles is playing two quarterbacks (sophomore Anthony Jennings and true freshman Brandon Harris) on Saturday, but I don’t expect that to be the situation for long as I expect Harris to win the job. If that is the case, we could soon see a true freshman at quarterback, a true freshman at running back (#1 overall recruit Leonard Fournette), and a true freshman at wide receiver (#1 wide receiver Malachi Dupre). Some people think Fournette could be the best freshman running back since Adrian Peterson burst onto the scene for Oklahoma in 2004. He appears to be a beast and he may well be the next big name and given the doors opened by Manziel and Winston, it’s quite possible he could make a run to be the first true freshman to win the Heisman (I think Peterson should have won it over Matt Leinart, but don’t get me started). Wisconsin is not starting the year as many people thought they would. Last week Coach Anderson named Tanner McEvoy the starting quarterback over Joel Stave (who started all 13 games last season). McEvoy played some safety for the Badgers last season. He was a third-string quarterback at South Carolina in 2011, transferred to a community college in Arizona, and ended up in Madison last year. He’s a better athlete that Stave and should add the mobility factor at quarterback Anderson was used to with Chuckie Keeton at Utah State. That may help keep defenses honest instead of stacking the box to stop running back Melvin Gordon (a Heisman candidate in his own right). The Badgers don’t have a corner who can match Dupre’s speed, but I’m sure they plan on putting as much pressure on Jennings/Harris as they can and make the Tigers beat them with their arm. The problem with that is the Badgers had to replace every starter on the defensive line and at linebacker from a year ago. This is a toss-up, which is why the lines seem to be settling around 5 in favor of Wisconsin. Vegas seems to be giving in to the idea that it’s a bit too early for LSU’s talent to overcome its youth. I tend to agree. Wisconsin wins a close one.

FCS over FBS pick: Bethune Cookman over Florida International. Bethune-Cookman won ten games (one of which was against FIU) last season and made the playoffs. FIU would have been winless last season if it hadn’t tipped a game-winning field goal attempt by Southern Miss at the line (and that gave Southern Miss THEIR 17th loss in a row).

COUNTDOWN: Two Days

spielman_2

- Woody Hayes

Players to Watch: Ohio State vs. Navy Week 1

osu-navy

It’s here, it’s finally here. No more questioning what this team is capable of without captain and former Heisman candidate Braxton Miller. No more questioning what the defense will look like with new co-coordinator Chris Ash at the helm. It’s time to put foot to ball and go play. First up, Navy and their incredibly annoying and efficient triple-option offense. Let’s take a look at the key players to watch in this Saturday’s match-up.

Navy

Keenan Reynolds- Quarterback

Urban Meyer has stressed time and time again about the importance of the quarterback position in his spread read-option offense, the same can be said for the Navy triple-option offense. In fact, one could argue that the position that carries the most responsibility and level of difficulty in all of college football is the Navy starting quarterback. Keenan Reynolds has not only embraced the task of mastering this difficult offense, but has been very successful in doing so.

Now normally this is the part where I talk about how great his arm is, or how accurate he can be, or how he works through his progressions well and can potentially nickel and dime you down the field, but we’re talking about Navy and the triple-option, so for you traditional quarterback lovers this may be the time you abandon ship. Instead I’m going to talk about Reynolds impressive 4.3 yards per carry last year, and his astounding 32 rushing touchdowns, which included a ridiculous 7 touchdown performance vs. San Jose State.

Now I’m almost positive San Jose State did not field 4 defensive lineman that could all potentially be 1st or 2nd round picks in the NFL draft as Ohio State does, but none the less, a 7 touchdown performance and 32 total is nothing to downplay. The Buckeyes must be careful with Reynolds and his running ability. If the Buckeyes allow the quarterback to have an impact in the run game, lookout for the Midshipmen’s play-action game and for them to take shots against an inexperienced secondary.

Midshipmen Offensive Line

This collective unit could absolutely become a nightmare for the Buckeyes. While they are undersized and do not possess a remarkable amount of talent, their technique of cut blocking is one that frightens any coach and player that faces them. For those who are unfamiliar with the technique, cut blocking is when an offensive lineman, or blocker in general, dives at his opponents feet and ankles to block them instead of their numbers. This technique is very controversial and is often confused with chop blocking which is illegal in college and professional football. A chop block consists of a blocker diving at his opponents knees or thighs to bring him down. Both can be an absolute nightmare for those being blocked, and both have been known to weaken and injure players.

However, it is not just their technique that could cause the Buckeyes problems, it is the quickness of the offensive lineman that pose a threat as well. The Midshipmen’s biggest lineman will be their right guard Jake Zuzek who weighs an astounding 290 pounds. While yes that is small for a big ugly, the Midshipmen possess mobile big uglies that can cause defensive lineman, and linebackers alike, a major issue getting off the ball first and initiating contact. If the Buckeyes want to slow down this rush attack they will have to win at the point of attack and use their size advantage against the Midshipmen. If they fail to do so, the Midshipmen cut blocking techniques could be come very effective and harmful to the Buckeyes front seven.

Ohio State

J.T. Barrett

The moment has finally arrived for redshirt freshman John Thomas Barrett to take the field as the starting quarterback for The Ohio State Buckeyes. While that is a mouthful, Barrett will not be dealing with a dumpster fire situation Braxton Miller found himself in for his first start as a true freshman. Barrett will be surrounded by great talent and a very experienced coaching staff to guide him through his first start, which will be on the road.

However, in my opinion, it will be a blessing in disguise to have his first start on the road at a neutral site. While the game will be in “Navy country”, the largest contingent of Ohio State alumni resides in Northern Virginia and as usual, Buckeye nation is expected to show well. The balance of not dealing with a home crowd that is watching your every move and also not dealing with too hostile of a crowd should bode well for Barrett.

What could also play in Barrett’s favor is that he will not be facing the most daunting defense in the country. While the Midshipmen defense has been known to be stubborn in the red zone, the Buckeyes will find no issue moving the ball between the 20′s as the Midshipmen ranked 56th last season in total defense. The Buckeyes were also incredibly efficient last year in the red zone, and with the plethora of weapons Barrett has he should do well in his first start. Barrett will only be asked to be the distributor that the coaches know he can be, nothing more, nothing less. If he stays on that path the redshirt freshman should be successful and avoid any major bumps and bruises during his first start.

Curtis Grant

The senior linebacker has faced many questions the past two seasons. Will he live up to the five star hype? Can he play in coverage? Is it only a matter of time before McMillan passes him? In spite of all the doubt and questions, Grant has began to play his best football for the Buckeyes.

The young and inexperienced Buckeye defense will need Grant to continue his quality play this Saturday against a tricky defense. Grant does a good job of filling holes and attacking downhill, however the blocking scheme he will face this Saturday will be less traditional than what he is used to. While I do not think this will pose a huge problem for Grant, it will be important for him to play well and set the tempo and standard for the linebacking play in this game.

Not only will Grant need to lead by example, but his vocal leadership will be valuable on the field Saturday. Grant must be the commanding voice for the Buckeyes defense and keep them disciplined and calm. The option offense requires a great amount of communication and patience to defend against. If the Silver Bullets show well on Saturday, expect Grant to be a large contributing factor to a successful performance.

But What Do I Know???

Let me know in the comments section below which players you think will play the biggest role in Saturday’s game and any other predictions you may have.