Tulsa Will Probably Be No Tussle For The Buckeyes

Before I progress into my early predictions for the 2016 Ohio State football season, I want to take a few moments to congratulate the twelve young men who were selected in the 2016 NFL Draft, as well as the three young men who signed with NFL teams as undrafted free agents. Joey Bosa, Ezekiel Elliott, Eli Apple, Taylor Decker, Darron Lee, Michael Thomas, Vonn Bell, Adolphus Washington, Braxton Miller, Nick Vannett, Joshua Perry, Cardale Jones, Tyvis Powell, Jalin Marshall, and Chase Farris – thank you for all of your contributions to Ohio State football, from 2012-2015. Best of luck to you all in what I hope will be lengthy and successful NFL careers…#GoBucks

Here’s a tweet that I am not sure if Ohio State fans have truly contemplated…The first time since 2008 that NO member of the Boren family will be on the roster.

Below are some other impressive tweets that detailed the impressive 2016 NFL Draft for Ohio State…

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“ Hell, there are no rules here – we’re trying to accomplish something…” ~ Thomas Edison

Leave it to Thomas Edison, an Ohioan and considered “The Father Of Invention”, to appropriately summarize the goals for the 2016 Ohio State football team. No rules – just accomplish something.

“Something” is a pretty vague and open concept. Considering how much talent Ohio State lost to graduation and the NFL Draft, considering how I have written throughout spring practice about how 44 players on Ohio State’s roster are either redshirt freshmen or true freshmen…Damn right, Mr. Edison. There are no rules. Ohio State fans are just looking to see what this team can accomplish against a much tougher schedule in 2016 than 2015, with tremendously talented, yet inexperienced, players.

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Tulsa Golden Hurricane (Game 2)

2016 OSU Opponent Ranking: 12 out of 12

Players Recruited By Ohio State: N/A. To the best of my knowledge, there are no players on Tulsa’s roster that Ohio State actively recruited or offered a scholarship.

Game Date: September 10, 2016

Kickoff Time: TBD

Location: Ohio Stadium

Rationale For The Ranking: Offensively, Tulsa is led by senior quarterback Dane Evans. Evans had a solid 2015 season, throwing 25 touchdowns and 4332 yards. Defensively, Tulsa surrendered points quite easily in 2015, averaging 40 points a game to the opponent in 2015. For a young team such as Ohio State, this game certainly will be an opportunity to work on every aspect offensively, before the big test down in Norman, Oklahoma, on September 17th.

Prediction: Tulsa’s head coach Phillip Montgomery did a solid job with the Golden Hurricane in 2015, leading them to a 6-7 record. Montgomery is a former Baylor offensive coordinator under Art Briles, meaning the Buckeyes can expect to see Tulsa throwing it all day long in Ohio Stadium on September 10th. With Ohio State having a young but talented defensive line, and inexperienced secondary, there may be some anxious moments, but look for Ohio State’s superior talent to be able to pull away in the second half. There is an old coaching axiom that a team makes its biggest improvement from game one to game two. Guess when these two teams meet? Game two, on September 10th.

2016 Ohio State Spring Football Preview: Youth Will Be Served, Early And Often – RB Preview

“Almost everything that is great has been done by youth…” ~ Benjamin Disraeli

Ohio State will begin spring football practice on March 8th. Heading into the 2016 college football season, Ohio State will have 44 players on its roster designated as either a redshirt freshman (21 of the 25 players signed in February 2015), or a true freshman. For a roster that can have only 85 scholarship players, Ohio State will have around 52% of its roster with no playing time experience. As former Ohio State Head Coach John Cooper used to say, “If a dog is going to bite you, it will bite you as a pup.”.

For the next several weeks, I will be writing position group previews, leading up to the Ohio State Spring Football Game in Ohio Stadium on April 16th, 2016. These position groups will be ranked, from least to most concern, as I perceive them. It is entirely possible that my concerns, as well as the coaching staff’s concerns, will be reevaluated after the spring game.

(Honorable Mention – Placekicker) ~ In 2015, Ohio State had issues with both Jack Willoughby and Sean Nuernberger at placekicker. Late in the season, Nuernberger was awarded the placekicker position, and was successful in the 2016 Battlefrog Fiesta Bowl, hitting on all three of his field goals attempts. Considering how young Ohio State will be in 2016 across the board, Nuernberger may be counted upon more from a points option than Ohio State Head Coach Urban Meyer would prefer.

9th ~ Running Back

Players Lost – Ezekiel Elliott, Warren Ball. Ball has a fifth year of eligibility, but has decided to use it at Akron this coming season. Best of luck to Ball in all of his future endeavors, on and off the football field. Ezekiel Elliott? Yeah, you may have heard about him these past three years. Elliott was the focal part of the Ohio State offense, as Urban Meyer’s philosophy is to lean heavily upon the power running game. No matter if Ohio State has a dominant running back, or decides to use a committee approach, having a dependable running game is essential for Ohio State’s success on the field.

Returning Players/Incoming Players – Bri’onte Dunn (Redshirt Senior), Curtis Samuel (Junior), Mike Weber (Redshirt Freshman), Antonio Williams (Freshman).

A few things to keep in mind as it relates to this position group…

· Curtis Samuel has fluctuated between playing running back and the H-Back position in his first two seasons in Columbus. A very versatile player, Samuel has also been used on special teams for kickoff returns. Samuel underwent surgery in January, which means Samuel’s involvement in spring football is likely to be minimal. Could Samuel emerge as the leading candidate at running back? Certainly, but Samuel will likely need to make his move in fall camp, not spring football.

· Bri’onte Dunn is one of two redshirt seniors on the roster; the other is projected starting center Pat Elflein. Dunn was a highly-touted recruit in 2012, yet has not been able to consistently stake a claim for playing time as a running back; the vast majority of Dunn’s playing time has been as a well-respected special teams coverage member. Dunn has had occasional fumbling issues when given the chance to carry the ball. Can Dunn finally break through in his last opportunity to play as a running back for Ohio State this spring?

· Mike Weber redshirted in 2015, thanks to a surgery that took place during fall camp. Weber was earning rave reviews at the time of his surgery, and seemed likely to play at some point in 2015. Could Weber emerge this spring as the top candidate to replace Ezekiel Elliott in the Ohio State offense?

· Antonio Williams arrived on campus and began classes in January 2016. Originally committed to Wisconsin, Williams flipped his commitment to Ohio State in November 2015. Through the years, Ohio State has had several running backs enroll early, with names such as Maurice Clarett, Antonio Pittman, and Beanie Wells notably taking advantage of spring football to stake their respective claims for playing time. Will Antonio Williams be able to add his name to this illustrious list by the end of spring practice?

These questions, among others, will be on my mind once Ohio State spring practice begins March 8th.

Why The Jersey # 15 Will Always Be “Eze” To Remember

In years past, I have written about how certain Ohio State jersey numbers are always associated with specific players. For example, I can vividly recall back in 1996 the minor brouhaha that erupted when prized recruit Andy Katzenmoyer requested, and was granted, the jersey number 45 – anyone with even a small understanding of Ohio State lore knew that the jersey number 45 was, and would always remain, the great Archie Griffin.

Katzenmoyer played well for Ohio State from 1996-1998, and did not tarnish the legacy of Griffin with his on-field performance. Ohio State officially retired Archie Griffin’s jersey on October 30, 1999, ensuring no other player would ever don the treasured jersey number 45.

Throughout my Ohio State fandom until now, I have always associated the jersey number 15 with former Buckeye quarterback Mike Tomczak. Tomczak was the quarterback from Ohio State from 1982-1984, led Ohio State to a Big Ten championship in 1984 and The Rose Bowl in 1985, and had a lengthy NFL career from 1985-2000.

As I wrote up above, “until now”. Henceforth, and probably forever more, the Ohio State jersey number will always be associated with Ezekiel Elliott in my mind. Elliott’s contributions on the field, wearing jersey number 15 for Ohio State, will be difficult for someone to supplant in future seasons.

In 2013, as a true freshman, Elliott made his mark on the coaching staff, fans, and the opposition, with his willingness to participate on special teams coverage…

Who will ever forget this triumphant run that sealed Ohio State’s victory over Alabama in The 2015 Sugar Bowl?

Or how about Elliott’s performance against Oregon in The 2016 National Championship?

Elliott’s performance versus That Team Up North in 2015?

Or his Fiesta Bowl record-tying performance versus Notre Dame?

Perhaps this final video montage will help you understand why the jersey number 15 will always be “Eze” for me, possibly forever….

Bidding Best Wishes To Buckeyes As They Leave For Possible NFL Bounty

For several members of the 2012 recruiting class, it began with a 56-10 victory over Miami University on September 1, 2012, in Ohio State Head Coach Urban Meyer’s first game as Ohio State’s head coach in Ohio Stadium. True freshmen such as Joshua Perry, Jacoby Boren, Michael Thomas, Tommy Schutt, Taylor Decker, and Adolphus Washington all participated, albeit as backups in mop-up time, for a team coming off a 6-7 season in 2011. Cam Williams, a highly-touted recruit, contributed later in the season against Alabama-Birmingham, as a special teams coverage player. These were recruited players who signed on for a team that was going to be denied a bowl berth at the end of the 2012 season, despite the fact that these players signed in 2012 had absolutely nothing to do with the transgressions that led to the penalty.

Some of the players who helped to contribute to Coach Meyer’s tremendous 2012 season were players who signed to play for former Ohio State Head Coach Jim Tressel, battled through the tumultuous 2011 season under interim Ohio State Head Coach Luke Fickell, and were strong enough to stay during the transition to Coach Meyer. The most dynamic of these players was Braxton Miller, but Miller was joined in the 2012 season by classmates such as Bryce Haynes, Nick Vannett, Chase Farris, and Joel Hale.

Even though 2012 was an undefeated season, Coach Meyer knew that reinforcements were desperately needed to effectively transform the Buckeyes into the type of team that would be capable of challenging for B1G Conference championships – national championships were still too far to contemplate. In February 2013, players such as Joey Bosa, Vonn Bell, and Ezekiel Elliott were among those who signed with the Buckeyes and played during the 2013 season; much to Coach Meyer’s chagrin, so many of the talented players were regrettably redshirted in 2013.

During the 2013 season, assistance came in the form of some of the 2012 redshirted players, such as Warren Ball on special teams. Remember that Ball verballed to Coach Tressel, stayed with his commitment during 2011 under Coach Fickell, and was willing to help the team, even in a reduced manner, under Coach Meyer. It could be argued that one of the biggest contributions from the 2012 class came when most needed and most unexpected, as Tyvis Powell, a safety who redshirted in 2012, came up with an interception to preserve a victory in Ann Arbor over That Team Up North in 2013. Powell was the first player to verbal to Ohio State and Coach Fickell after Coach Tressel resigned in May 2011.

In 2014, several of those talented but redshirted freshmen from the 2013 recruiting class were ready and eager to contribute on the field for the Buckeyes. Jalin Marshall, Eli Apple, and Darron Lee seemingly came out of nowhere to play prominently. A former Georgia Tech scholarship player, who chose to walk-on at Ohio State, by the name of Jeff Greene contributed on special teams. Perhaps the biggest contribution came from arguably the most unheralded player from either the 2012 or 2013 classes, a player Urban Meyer seemingly did not want, by the name of Cardale Jones.

In 2015, a player named Jack Willoughby decided to end his collegiate career as a Buckeye, after a successful four year career for Duke. Even though Willoughby had not taken nearly as long of a road as so many others within the program, Willoughby’s contributions were tremendously appreciated by the coaching staff, his new teammates, and the Buckeye faithful.

There are so many memories from this group of Buckeyes, from the 2012 season until the 2015 season. Fifty wins over a four year span, equaling a record held by Boise State. I feel at a loss for words, so I will simply write…

Thank You.

The 2016 Fiesta Bowl May Be A Festive & Fitting End For The 2015 Buckeyes

Happy New Year! Hopefully this article comes to you in good spirits, with no lingering after effects from your previous night’s exploits and adventures…

Many thanks to Shannon Sommers for a terrific year of managing our Men of the Scarlet and Gray Podcast. Our latest podcast featured Tony Gerdeman of theozone.net, discussing Tony’s latest book “The Thrillogy“, which details Ohio State’s three game victory march to the 2015 national championship over Wisconsin, Alabama, and Oregon. If you are not following Tony Gerdeman already on Twitter, do yourselves a favor and start following him @GerdOZone. In addition to discussing Tony’s book, Shannon, Tony, and I all gave our thoughts as they relate to The 2016 Battlefrog Fiesta Bowl. By the way, in case any of you were wondering what or who Battlefrog is, here is a link to help educate you before kickoff. You are all welcome.

Tony predicted an Ohio State victory, as did Shannon, and myself. Below are three critical areas I will be watching as The 2016 Battlefrog Fiesta Bowl unfolds at 1pm EST on ESPN…

1. What Will The Ohio State Offense Look Like Against Notre Dame? ~ As I have stated repeatedly heading into this bowl game, Ohio State has only truly looked dynamic on offense at Virginia Tech, portions of the Penn State game, at Rutgers, and most recently, at That Team Up North. Will J.T. Barrett get the keys to the car, entrusted to involve everyone within the offense, but not force the ball to certain people?

2. How Will Ohio State’s Secondary Handle Notre Dame’s Will Fuller? ~ Will Fuller comes into this bowl game with 56 receptions for 1145 yards, averaging 20.4 yards per reception, and 13 touchdowns. How will Ohio State’s secondary handle a gifted deep threat like Fuller? Keep an eye on if Eli Apple or Gareon Conley are matched up with Fuller, as well as how the safeties play.

3. Savor The Last Game Of Braxton Miller In An Ohio State Uniform ~ This kind of ties into the point I made up above in point 1 about the Ohio State offense “not force the ball to certain people“. Many times this season, the Ohio State coaching staff repeatedly tried to involve Braxton Miller, and sometimes it resulted in a detriment to the team. Will the coaching staff, led by Ohio State Head Coach Urban Meyer, make some of the same mistakes? From a selfish perspective, I am hoping to see one last moment of Braxton Miller’s magic in an Ohio State uniform, no matter if it is forced or not.

Notre Dame has a sneaky good type of offense, and Brian Kelly is certainly one of the better coaches in college football. Ohio State’s offensive line, featuring seniors Taylor Decker, Jacoby Boren, and Chase Farris, should be able to control the line of scrimmage against a decent, but not overwhelming, Notre Dame defensive line. If Ohio State can establish a strong running game with Ezekiel Elliott and Barrett, the play-action passing game should be able to thrive against a weakened Notre Dame secondary. I have it Ohio State 42, Notre Dame 31, with Ohio State running out the clock late in the second half, to send off the 2015 squad on a victorious note.

Minnich’s Airing Of 2015 Grievances

Before I go too in-depth here…Best wishes to you and your loved ones for a safe and happy holiday season. I realize that Hanukkah has already come and gone. I am posting this on Christmas Day, and December 26th-January 1st are the dates associated with Kwanzaa. Happy Holidays, and thank you for reading what I contribute to Men of the Scarlet and Gray.

I am writing this on December 23rd, which is the date to celebrate Festivus. Believe it or not, my family actually celebrates Festivus as well. For those uninformed about Festivus, please be sure to watch the video clip I am including in this article…

Now that we are all up to speed about Festivus, let me get right to my Airing Of Grievances…

1. Ezekiel Elliott was not invited to the 2015 Heisman Trophy Presentation ~ Please understand that I am not upset that Elliott did not win the Heisman; in my estimation, Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey was probably the best all-around player in college football this season. How Elliott did not warrant a trip to the Heisman Trophy Presentation baffles me. You want to tell me how Navy’s Keenan Reynolds did not make the trip?

2. Joey Bosa was not a consensus All-American ~ Yes, I understand that Bosa’s statistics were not up to last season’s performance. But how could Bosa not be a consensus All-American, after being double and sometimes triple-teamed throughout the 2015 season?

3. Ohio State fans complaining about The 2016 Fiesta Bowl ~ Yes, I understand the disappointment about missing out on the College Football Playoffs. As I wrote before, can anyone truly argue that Ohio State was very deserving of a playoff berth, after not even winning The B1G East? And then people turn their noses up at The 2016 Fiesta Bowl, against a Notre Dame team that was arguably as close to Ohio State as being a playoff team?

Let’s finish up this Festivus-oriented post with a truly remarkable Feat Of Strength…

How Much Do I Love Beating TTUN In Ann Arbor? Let Me List Them For You

Congratulations to the 2015 Ohio State Buckeyes for a thorough and dominating performance against That Team Up North. Heading into this game against their rival, with so many doubts about the team’s collective psyche, it would be fair to say that the Buckeyes were facing their moment of truth in Michigan Stadium. Ohio State Head Coach Urban Meyer, the coaching staff, and the players all truly rose to the occasion in the 42-13 victory.

Also, congratulations to all of the players who were honored by inclusion on The B1G conference teams. Defensive lineman Joey Bosa, linebackers Raekwon McMillan and Joshua Perry, and safety Vonn Bell were named first team All-B1G defense, while defensive tackle Adolphus Washington, cornerback Eli Apple, linebacker Darron Lee, and punter Cameron Johnston were named to the second team. Running back Ezekiel Elliott, offensive tackle Taylor Decker, and guard Pat Elflein were named first-team All-B1G offense. Wide receiver Michael Thomas, center Jacoby Boren, and guard Billy Price were named to the third team. Congratulations to Taylor Decker for being named the B1G offensive lineman of the year, Joey Bosa for being named the B1G defensive lineman of the year, and to Ezekiel Elliott for being named both the B1G running back of the year, as well as the B1G offensive player of the year.

Above all, congratulations to the Buckeyes for winning their fourth straight pair of Gold Pants. Back to the main point, and that is savoring the dominant victory over That Team Up North. After Ohio State won over That Team Up North, it got me thinking ~ where does this victory rank, when I think of the wins over That Team Up North in Ann Arbor?

5. 2013 Ohio State 42, That Team Up North 41: Ohio State should have won this game in far easier fashion, but the defensive lapses that plagued the Buckeyes all season allowed the Wolverines to stay into this game until the final seconds. A win is a win, but this was far too close for my liking…

4. 1987 Ohio State 23, That Team Up North 20: Perhaps I am going too far back into the archives for some of the readers here, but the way the Buckeyes were able to win the final game for fired Ohio State Head Coach Earle Bruce is very memorable to me. Watch the clip below, and tell me Coach Bruce wasn’t fired up for this one. And who knew how dreadful the next thirteen years against That Team Up North were going to be?!?

3. 2015 Ohio State 42, That Team Up North 13: The most dominant performance by the Buckeyes over That Team Up North in Ann Arbor with the 29 point victory since Ohio State won 50-20 in 1961. Ohio State Head Coach Woody Hayes had an assistant on his staff that year – some fellow named Bo Schembechler.

2. 2005 Ohio State 25, That Team Up North 21: Yes, I am still mesmerized by Troy Smith’s poise and footwork with only seconds remaining. As former Ohio State Head Coach Jim Tressel said about Troy Smith, “There will be a lot of No. 10 jerseys and a lot of kids on Thanksgiving weekend trying to make those moves in a pile of leaves…”. Yes, I still get excited watching Anthony Gonzalez make a clutch catch to put Ohio State into scoring position. Yes, Antonio Pittman should get more credit for the winning touchdown run that sealed the win. Here is why I rank this game so high on my list ~ Ohio State was down 21-12 midway through the fourth quarter, and the Buckeyes rallied to victory in this thriller.

1. 2001 Ohio State 26, That Team Up North 20: “You will be proud of our young people in the classroom, in the community, and most especially, in 310 days in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on the football field…”. After so many disappointing losses in Ann Arbor from 1989-1999, I will forever savor this one. To top it off, Ohio State knocked That Team Up North from The Rose Bowl by virtue of this defeat, so it was like pouring salt into the wound.

There is an old saying about “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. When I behold this list, and think of the dominance Ohio State has had over That Team Up North these past several years, I truly believe I am looking at a thing of beauty.

2015 Buckeyes Playing For Pride In “THE GAME”

It is far too common and completely understandable to want to dwell on a painful event or moment. Asking yourself, “What happened?!?”, over and over, trying to make sense of something that does not make sense.

At some point, you have to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and proceed forward. If you do not let the past go, it will remain with you into the present.

It is at this juncture where we pick up the 2015 Ohio State Buckeyes, fresh off a disappointing loss to Michigan State. While there are shades of the 1998 loss in this latest setback to the Spartans, a couple prominent points need to be made ~ 1. The 1998 team lost to an unranked Michigan State team that wound up 6-6; this year’s team came into Ohio Stadium with only one loss, so this was a loss to a good team. And 2. The 1998 team had the good fortune to get to play at Iowa after the Michigan State, before having to face That Team Up North in Ohio Stadium, while this year’s team gets no opportunity to regroup, having to travel to Ann Arbor – hence, the points I made in the second paragraph, up above.

The College Football Playoff is not dead, but is pretty ill. Ohio State needs to focus on what they can control, and that is defeating That Team Up North.

Three Things I Will Keep An Eye On During “THE GAME” ~

1. Ohio State’s Offensive Approach ~ To call Ohio State’s offensive output ‘disappointing’ sullies the word. Ohio State had five total first downs against Michigan State. That is not a mistyped word – five. Ohio State Head Coach Urban Meyer will be very hands on for this game, and it will bear watching how Ohio State attacks That Team Up North. Beyond Ezekiel Elliott, look for the various playmakers on the Ohio State to be involved far, far more than they were against Michigan State.

2. Line Play ~ Players on both teams will want to make sure their respective chinstraps are tightened up for this one. Somewhere, Woody and Bo will be smiling, as this game promises to be very physical along the lines of scrimmage. As Ohio State lost this battle last week against the Spartans, how will the Buckeyes respond to an equally physical Wolverines team?

3. Watch Out For This Unsung Player On That Team Up North ~ Ohio State fans are familiar with Jake Rudock, Jake Butt, De’Veon Smith. Here is a player you may not know now, but I am guessing you will be with by the end of the game – Sione Houma. A bruising fullback, the Wolverines use Houma as a receiving option, as well as an occasional ball carrier. If the Wolverines are near the goal line, do not be surprised if Houna gets the call or carry.

Throw out the record books. This is all about pride. The Buckeyes will battle a hostile crowd, and a very physical football team on both sides of the ball. Even with a refreshed offensive approach, this game should come down to the wire, as usual. I like Ohio State to eek it out in the end, with a score of Ohio State 20, That Team Up North 17.

Ohio State Must Vanquish The Spartans On The Path To ‘Contenders In November’

Remember when I wrote this, back in the summer? The anticipation has been building for months, and now it is practically upon us.

Remember how former Ohio State Head Coach Jim Tressel used to say, “October is for pretenders, and November is for contenders.”? Doesn’t it seem that Ohio State is truly facing the moment of truth as it relates to that statement? And directly standing in Ohio State’s path, the team that has been led for nearly the past decade by Coach Tressel’s top protege, Mark Dantonio.

Here’s something interesting that I discovered in my preparations for this week’s Men of the Scarlet and Gray podcast. Ohio State and Michigan State have played four times since Coach Tressel departed the sidelines for Ohio State. Michigan State has won twice (2011 in Ohio Stadium, 2013 in Indianapolis in The B1G Championship Game), Ohio State has won twice (2012 and 2014, both in Spartan Stadium). When I added up the final scores of the four games, the average score for both Ohio State and Michigan State was 24 points. This truly is a rivalry that defines well-coached and well-played. By the way ~ I know I repeatedly and shamelessly promote the podcast, but you will want to listen to this week’s edition. Major, major props to Shannon Sommers for getting Hondo Carpenter on the show as a guest to discuss Michigan State. It is well worth your time and listen, especially for Hondo’s perspectives on Michigan State. Please click on the link here to do so.

Senior Day in Ohio Stadium is always a special, emotional time. A big thank you to Adolphus Washington, Tommy Schutt, Joshua Perry, Taylor Decker, Nick Vannett, Jacoby Boren, Chase Farris, Bryce Haynes, Cam Williams, Jack Willoughby, Joel Hale, Jeff Greene, Braxton Miller, and all of the seniors for all of the tremendous contributions and memories all of those players helped to create in Ohio Stadium.

Here are three critical areas I will be watching throughout the contest ~

1. Ohio State’s Offensive Line vs Michigan State’s Defensive Line: Ohio State has struggled in pass protection this season. With Michigan State’s stellar defensive line, led by Shilique Calhoun, Malik McDowell, and Lawrence Thomas, will Ohio State be able to adequately protect J.T. Barrett? Will Ohio State roll Barrett out, in order to give Barrett more time?

If Ohio State tries to simply run the ball with Ezekiel Elliott on Michigan State, as the Buckeyes have done throughout the 2015 season, Michigan State will stack the box with nine men. Will Ohio State come out throwing on Michigan State, forcing them to adjust their defensive strategy? Can Michael Thomas, possibly playing his last game in Ohio Stadium, duplicate his performance of a year ago versus the Spartans?

2. The Health Of Michigan State’s Connor Cook: Cook suffered an arm injury in last week’s win over Maryland, leading to Cook leaving the game in favor of Tyler O’Connor. Like Cook, O’Connor is an Ohio player, and also like Cook, was not offered a scholarship by Ohio State – I am a firm believer that particular scholarship slight, fair or unfair, always seems to give an extra motivational boost for those players when they are facing the Buckeyes. Back to Cook – while everyone expects Cook to play, will the Michigan State offensive line, which has been wracked by injuries this season, be able to protect Cook against a strong Ohio State defensive line?

3. Mark Dantonio’s Reputation For Special Teams Trickery: Has anyone forgotten the infamous “Little Giants” play Michigan State ran on Notre Dame years ago? How about this epic moment from this season, against That Team Up North?

The point I am making? Expect the unexpected, especially when it comes to special teams in this game.

Prediction: Both teams know what is on the line, and both teams are going to leave everything on the field. I think it will be rough sledding for Ezekiel Elliott running the ball, especially in the first half, but I believe Elliott will get his 100 yards, although it will certainly not come easy, in what may be Elliott’s final game in Ohio Stadium. I look for Joey Bosa to have a signature play or two, in what may be Bosa’s final game in Ohio Stadium. Ohio State toughs it out, and wins it in the second half. I have it Ohio State 28, Michigan State 20.

Buckeyes ‘Gopher’ A Hot Start To November Stretch Run

Quite a relaxing bye week, huh, Buckeye fans? To be honest, I truly do not have the energy to go over everything related to J.T. Barrett’s suspension, after Shannon Sommers (@smsommers84) covered it so extensively on this week’s Men of the Scarlet and Gray podcast.

Loyal and long-time followers of Men of the Scarlet and Gray may recall how I wrote about Minnesota not necessarily being a pushover, back before the season started. It looks like Ohio State Head Coach Urban Meyer is of the same mindset, with the comments made after one of this week’s practices…

Say what you will about Minnesota lacking explosive speed at the skill positions. I will merely remind Ohio State fans that Minnesota is well-coached and fundamentally sound, despite the calamitous ending to the game against That Team Up North on October 31st.

Below are three critical areas I will be keeping an eye on as Ohio State and Minnesota kick off in Ohio Stadium at 8pm EST on ABC ~

1. How will Cardale Jones play as the unquestioned starter at quarterback – Last season, Cardale Jones was thrust into play, due to the season-ending injury to J.T. Barrett. With Barrett completely out of the picture, the team rallied around Jones…you know how that wonderful script ended. In a similar fashion, with Barrett suspended, will Jones go back to his carefree approach to playing quarterback that served him, and the Buckeyes, so well at the end of the 2014 season? And if Jones does play that way, will it be enough to earn Jones the starting quarterback job back from Barrett for the remainder of the 2015 season?

2. Braxton Miller as the backup/red zone quarterback – Ohio State fans became weary with Jones unable to lead the Buckeyes to touchdowns earlier this season. J.T. Barrett regained the starting quarterback position with his ability to fully execute the offense. With Barrett suspended, Coach Meyer has stated a willingness to use former quarterback and current wide receiver Braxton Miller as the backup, and possibly, the red zone quarterback. Will Miller be able to throw the ball, or is Miller’s shoulder still injured enough to preclude Miller from truly being more than just a wildcat quarterback?

3. Minnesota’s Confidence – Losing Jerry Kill to an unexpected retirement was bad enough. Losing a home game, in the manner and fashion that Minnesota did, truly defined the expression of “adding insult to injury”. How will the Golden Gophers respond after such a double dose of disappointment?

Prediction: Look for Cardale Jones to come out of the gate, playing with a confidence level that Ohio State fans have not seen this season. Even with Minnesota putting eight men in the box to stop Ezekiel Elliott, look for Jones to capitalize on some deep passes for big gains. Minnesota will put up a good fight, but I like Ohio State to pull away in the second half. I have it Ohio State 35, Minnesota 14.