3 Areas Of Focus For Cincinnati @ Ohio State

Every Ohio State fan can vividly recall how close the University of Cincinnati came to upsetting the Buckeyes in Paul Brown Stadium in 2002. I am willing to guess that many Buckeye fans have either forgotten, or have decided to ignore, that Cincinnati gave Ohio State a good game in 1999 in Ohio Stadium as well (Ohio State 34-20). Of course, Ohio State had easier games in Ohio Stadium versus Cincinnati in 2004 (27-6), and in 2006 (37-7), both times with current Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio facing former Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel.

With a 6pm EST kickoff on The Big Ten Network, Tommy Tuberville will lead his undefeated Cincinnati team into Ohio Stadium to face the Buckeyes, led by Tuberville’s former SEC nemesis, Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer. Before presuming Ohio State should be able to easily dispatch Cincinnati, Buckeye fans would be wise to remember that Meyer’s Florida teams lost to Tuberville’s Auburn teams in both 2006 (Auburn 27, Florida 17) and 2007 (Auburn 20, Florida 17).

My points are no matter who the coaches are for Cincinnati or Ohio State, and no matter if the game is in Cincinnati or Columbus, this game should prove to be a battle. This is as close to an in-state rivalry that Ohio State can, or will, develop. Of all the Ohio colleges that Ohio State schedules, Cincinnati will traditionally have the most talent, and the best chance, of defeating Ohio State. Below are three critical areas I will be focusing upon when Cincinnati @ Ohio State kicks off at 6pm on the Big Ten Network:

1. Has Ohio State Settled Its Offensive Line? – A major reason why Ohio State was defeated at home by Virginia Tech was because Ohio State’s inexperienced offensive line had difficulties with the Bear front the Hokies repeatedly used. While LT Taylor Decker and RT Darryl Baldwin seem to be set at their respective positions, the interior positions are still in flux. Considering Coach Tuberville’s experience as a defensive coordinator (Arkansas State, Miami (FL), Texas A&M), look for Cincinnati to do what they can to stymie and stump Ohio State’s offensive line throughout this contest. Cincinnati may not be able to play a Bear front, but Coach Tuberville probably has some ideas on how to confuse and challenge Ohio State’s offensive line Saturday evening.

2. Can Ohio State Establish Its Running Game? – I have stated this before, and will state again that Ohio State truly misses the power running game of Carlos Hyde. Ohio State has been trying to establish its running game with Ezekiel Elliott and Curtis Samuel, but it has not been easy or smooth. Considering Cincinnati has a high-powered passing game, an effective strategy Ohio State could use would rely upon its running game to keep the Buckeye defense on the sidelines, and control the clock. Will Ohio State be able to run the ball when it wants to, or needs to, versus Cincinnati on Saturday evening?

3. Will Ohio State’s Defensive Line Emerge? – [Warning! Shameless Self-Promotion Rapidly Approaching!] On the most recent podcast, I mentioned how Ohio State’s defensive line has not been nearly as dominant as I expected this season. While Joey Bosa has played well, and Noah Spence is suspended indefinitely, can Ohio State develop a pass rush to harass Cincinnati quarterback Gunner Kiel on Saturday evening?

Those three areas are going to be on my mind when the Cincinnati @ Ohio State commences Saturday evening. If Ohio State is to maintain its winning streak versus Cincinnati, Buckeye fans can hope the answers will develop in Ohio State’s favor.

Ranking The 2014 Ohio State Football Schedule (Part Two)

Part one reviewed the 2014 Ohio State football schedule, ranking games from easiest to more challenging, as I perceive them to be. Part two will pick up from where we left off, reviewing the games I consider to be within the “Trap Games” category for Ohio State.

7. @ Minnesota (11/15/2014 – kickoff and telecast TBD): This game at Minnesota will be Ohio State’s first game versus the Golden Gophers since the 2010 season, a now-vacated 52-10 victory. Why am I concerned about this game? As in life, timing is everything. Ohio State will be coming off a visit to East Lansing, MI, on 11/08. Even if Ohio State wins versus Michigan State, will Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer be able to have the Buckeyes “up” for a game on the road, against an opponent that plays a physical style of offense, in what could be less than ideal weather conditions? Perhaps I am giving Minnesota too much credit, but I believe this game could be closer than most Ohio State fans realize.

8. @ Navy (08/30/2014 – 12pm EST kickoff, CBS Sports Network telecast): In 2009, Navy came into Ohio Stadium, and nearly pulled off an upset, but were thwarted by former Buckeye linebacker Brian Rolle. While Ohio State has far superior speed and athleticism than the Naval Academy, Navy’s triple option offense will keep Ohio State’s newly-revamped defense off balance all game. For an Ohio State defense that has struggled the past two seasons, it is truly a baptism by fire for new Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash. Throw in the fact that the triple option offense is difficult for a scout team to adequately simulate, and you may understand why I am ranking this game so highly in terms of difficulty for Ohio State in the season opener.

9. Cincinnati (09/27/2014 – 6pm EST kickoff, BTN telecast): Ohio State has defeated Cincinnati in its previous visits to Ohio Stadium over the years (1999, 2004, 2006). With Cincinnati head coach Tommy Tuberville at the helm, Cincinnati went 9-4 in 2013. The old 2002 storylines will be in overdrive leading up to this game. Be on the lookout for stories involving how Coach Tuberville has a winning record vs Coach Meyer, when both were in the SEC. With a 6pm kickoff, this should be a good one.

10. Virginia Tech (09/06/2014 – 8pm EST kickoff, ESPN telecast): The 2014 home opener for Ohio State should be rocking. Virginia Tech is the marquee non-conference opponent for Ohio State this season, and I expect Coach Meyer will try to use this game to highlight the program with recruits in attendance, as well as impress a national television audience. Virginia Tech’s defense, which ranked eleventh in the country in points allowed in 2013, may be disruptive to a still-developing Ohio State offensive line. The special teams battles between both squads will also be something to watch.

III. Rivalry Games: Throw out the records in these contests. Ohio State fans should not be surprised if these games come down to the final play, with Ohio State emerging as the victor or the victim. (Note: In fairness to Penn State, I believe the Nittany Lions will again be in this category for Ohio State, but not this season, with remaining NCAA sanctions against the program.)

11. Michigan (11/29/2014 – kickoff and telecast TBD): That Team Up North. THE GAME. In 2012, Ohio State rallied to win, 26-21. In 2013, Ohio State survived on the road, 42-41. With Michigan head coach Brady Hoke under fire to turn the Wolverines around from a disappointing 2013 season, does anyone doubt that this game will be lacking any suspense or intensity? This could be a game that saves Coach Hoke’s job, or seals his fate. In addition, this could be a game that determines the representative from The B1G’s East Division for its 2014 B1G Championship Game.

12. @ Michigan State (11/08/2014 – 8pm kickoff, ABC telecast): Here is the game that all Ohio State coaches, players, and fans have been looking toward since the Michigan State Spartans ruined Ohio State’s chances to compete for the 2013 BCS Championship. In 2012, Ohio State eked out a 17-16 victory in East Lansing. With an 8pm kickoff, the coaches for both sides will have their hands full making sure their players are not too high for this game, after a full day of probable intensive media attention. I doubt that there is anything that will be done to help the fans, who will have a full day to properly imbibe at tailgates and parties.

There you have it – my perspective on the 2014 Ohio State football schedule, from easiest to most difficult. Let me know what you think. The 2014 football season is just around the corner.