One of the Big Ten’s football coaches probably spoke for most if not all of his fellow coaches as I rode the elevator with him after the last day of Big Ten football media days in Chicago last year.
“I’m glad that’s over,” he said to his school’s sports information director.
That coach, who shall remain nameless but who will bring his team to Ohio Stadium for a game this season, doesn’t speak for Big Ten football fans.
Big Ten media days and the accompanying Big Ten Kickoff Luncheon, which will be Thursday and Friday, annually announce the return of college football as one of the dominant sports stories for the next six months.
Here are a few of the big questions for Ohio State and the Big Ten this season and some possible answers for them:
Question: Can Ryan Day continue the incredible success Urban Meyer had in his seven years at OSU?
Answer: Maybe the best answer is could anyone live up to what Meyer did. The Buckeyes won 86 of 95 games the last seven years, went 7-0 against Michigan and were in the national championship discussion each of those years except Meyer’s first when they were on NCAA probation.
Day should do well. The talent and the resources are still there. Anything other than a high level of success would be a surprise, but it will be challenging to reach the same level as Meyer.
Question: Whose fault was it that Ohio State’s linebackers and defensive backs underachieved last season – the coaches or the players?
Answer: We might find out this season because all the defensive coaches from last season except defensive line coach Larry Johnson are gone and most of 2018’s linebackers and defensive backs are on the 2019 roster.
The best answer is probably both contributed to the problem. And there definitely was a problem, starting with giving up big plays all season.
Oregon State’s Artavis Pierce set the tone with touchdown runs of 78 yards and 80 yards in the opener. TCU had a 93-yard touchdown run, Penn State had a 93-yard pass play for a touchdown, Maryland’s Anthony McFarland scored on runs of 81 yards and 75 yards the first two times he touched the football. Northwestern’s John Moten had a 77-yard touchdown run in the Big Ten championship game.
Question: Which Ohio State player comes into this season with the most pressure on him?
Answer: The runaway leader in that category is quarterback Justin Fields. The 5-star transfer from Georgia will face huge expectations.
Maybe no one expects him to throw 50 touchdown passes like Dwayne Haskins did last season. But a lot of people, at least among the fan base, will be disappointed if he doesn’t throw 35 or 40.
That assumes he will pick up where Haskins left off with a passing guru like Day in charge. But there are no guarantees.
Fields is a pass first quarterback with a big arm. But he likes to run more than Haskins did, which presents a bit of a dilemma for OSU. With the transfer of last season’s back-up Tate Martell and No. 3 QB Matthew Baldwin, there appears to be a dangerous drop off from Fields to whoever emerges as the No. 2 quarterback.
Question: Who is the Ohio State player with the second-most pressure on him?
Answer: That might be left tackle Thayer Munford. Left tackle is the position protecting a right-handed quarterback’s blind side. If he lets a defender get around him when Fields drops back to pass, Ohio State fans – and maybe the coaches – will hold their breath.
Also, Munford is the only returning starter on the offensive line.
Question: What is the most dangerous game on Ohio State’s schedule?
Answer: Who thought it was Purdue before last season? Who thought it was Iowa two years ago? But those two unexpectedly one-sided games kept OSU out of the College Football Playoff in 2018 and 2017.
ESPN is calling the Cincinnati game the most dangerous game for the Buckeyes. The greater danger will come from the north, though. The most dangerous game could be Michigan or it could be Michigan State.
Question: Which Ohio State freshmen could make the biggest impact?
Answer: Wide receiver Garrett Wilson, ranked the No. 2 receiver recruit in the country, and defensive lineman Zach Harrison, ranked the No. 1 recruit in Ohio, are probably the two most obvious candidates.
Wilson definitely showed he has the “wow” factor with a spectacular catch in OSU’s spring game. But both play at some of the deepest positions on the Buckeyes’ roster even after the departure of players like Nick Bosa, Dre’mont Jones, Parris Campbell, Johnnie Dixon and Terry McLaurin.
And at this time last year who was predicting Chris Olave would catch two touchdown passes against Michigan and another in the Big Ten championship game as a freshman?
Question: Does the Big Ten have a Heisman Trophy candidate?
Answer: Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor rushed for 2,194 yards last season and 1,977 yards as a freshman in 2017. Those are Heisman worthy numbers.
If he stays healthy, he has a chance. But it would help if the Badgers can improve on last season’s 8-5 record.
Ohio State running back J.K. Dobbins would probably need to get over 1,500 yards and have the Buckeyes go undefeated to be a contender. If Fields lives up to the hype and OSU is a national championship contender, he could get Heisman votes, too.
Question: Can the Big Ten get a team into the College Football Playoff after being left out the last two seasons?
Answer: It appears the only thing that will guarantee a Big Ten team making a trip to the playoff is winning all its games. Just leave no doubt.
The Big Ten has been outscored 69-0 in its last two College Football Playoff games. The selection committee claims not to be affected by past scores. But you get the feeling the conference has been haunted by those blowouts.
Question: Which Big Ten coaches, if any, are on the hot seat this season?
Answer: Even Rutgers has limits on its patience, so Chris Ash is at the top of that list after going 1-11 last season and 7-29 in three very well paid years as the Scarlet Knights coach.
You’d think Illinois coach Lovie Smith would be in trouble after a 9-27 record the last three seasons but he got a two-year contract extension after going 4-8 last year.
Question: What’s a good guess for Ohio State’s regular-season record?
Answer: It’s just a guess, but 11-1.