Ohio State set to host Bowling Green in season opener

| By Dave Biddle |

Ohio State will kick off its 2016 football season against visiting Bowling Green on Saturday (12 p.m. ET; Big Ten Network).

It is a contrast of styles as the Buckeyes finished just 100th in the country (out of 127 teams) in passing offense in 2015. The Falcons were quite a bit better than that – they finished No. 2 in the land.

However, each season is different and OSU plans on putting a bigger emphasis on throwing the ball this season. They have the right man at the controls for that in fourth-year junior quarterback J.T. Barrett. He finished fifth for the Heisman Trophy in 2014, and after a year in which he shared time with Cardale Jones for much of the way, this is completely Barrett’s offense now. He’s the unquestioned leader and is likely headed for a monumental season for the Buckeyes.

Bowling Green finished 10-4 last season and were crowned MAC champions. The Falcons lost head coach Dino Babers to Syracuse, and lost quarterback Matt Johnson – the MAC offensive player of the year – to graduation. Mike Jinks replaces Babers as head coach and it appears to be a good fit as their offensive philosophies are very similar. Both coaches deploy spread attacks with the quarterback getting rid of the ball quickly.

Speaking of the QB, senior James Knapke takes over for Johnson as BGSU’s starter this season. The good news for the Falcons is Knapke already has one successful season under his belt. In 2014, Johnson suffered a season-ending hip injury in the Falcons’ first game of the season. Knapke ended up starting the final 13 games and finished the season with 3,173 passing yards (58 completion percentage) with 15 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.

Ohio State leads the series against Bowling Green 4-0, but there have been two very close games played between the in-state foes. In the first meeting in 1992, the Buckeyes won 17-6, but it was a 10-6 game in the fourth quarter. Then in 2003, the Falcons played the Buckeyes even tougher before falling to Jim Tressel and the defending national champions 24-17.

There is also the intrigue of Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer facing off against the school that gave him his first head coaching gig. Meyer was hired by Bowling Green in 2001 and engineered the best turnaround in college football that season. The Falcons were 2-9 in 2000, but Meyer led them to an 8-3 mark in 2001. Then they were 9-3 in 2002, giving Meyer a career mark of 17-6 for BGSU.

As for the Buckeyes’ personnel heading into the season, the biggest story has been the emergence of true freshman offensive guard Michael Jordan. On Saturday, he will become the first OSU offensive lineman to start the season opener since someone named Orlando Pace in 1994. Jordan was a four-star recruit who had scholarship offers from numerous top programs, but no one expected him to be a starter as a true freshman for Ohio State.

At running back, the Buckeyes will share duties between redshirt freshman Mike Weber and junior Curtis Samuel. Meyer called the latter the “No. 1 playmaker on our offense.” Weber is technically the starting tailback, while Samuel is the starting H-back (hybrid RB/WR), but Samuel will get his fair share of carries from the tailback spot. A safe bet is that Weber will have more carries than Samuel this season, but Samuel will have more overall touches, including receptions. It will be interesting to see if one of them separates themselves from the other and eventually becomes OSU’s bell-cow RB this season.

Defensively, the Buckeyes plan on using a deep rotation up front on the line. Meyer said Ohio State is at least eight deep on the D-line and they might end up using a rotation of closer to 10 players for the four spots. That will certainly keep defensive line coach Larry Johnson busy.

At linebacker, Ohio State is led by junior Raekwon McMillan, who was a Butkus finalist last season. This will almost certainly be McMillan’s final year at OSU, so Buckeye fans should enjoy watching him while they still can.

Same deal for fourth-year junior Gareon Conley. Meyer called him “one of the best cornerbacks in the country” earlier this week. Chances are extremely high that Conley will turn pro after this season, especially if he performs as well as he’s expected.

Score prediction: 45-17 Ohio State.

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