This is the 98th in a series of 100 daily posts, a Countdown to College Football. (Sort of.)
I don’t want to get you too excited, but while you’re reading this, I’m probably packing my suitcase for Chicago. Big Ten Media Days start tomorrow.
Yes, tomorrow. As in “the day after today.”
You can almost taste the Media Days. They taste like deep-dish pizza and questions that start with “Talk about…”
Ohio State’s representatives (Urban Meyer, Dre’Mont Jones, Jordan Fuller, and Parris Campbell) will speak on Tuesday.
That’s almost exciting enough to make Chicago-style pizza sound tolerable.
Today, we’ll revisit a special teams dynamo who worked out okay on offense as well, the biggest non-rivalry game on the schedule, your first taste of the 2018 season, and a relative of a Buckeye legend squares off against OSU.
If you would like to check out yesterday’s edition, you can find 4 Days To Ohio State Football right here.
Now please join us as we continue our countdown of the 100 greatest Buckeyes of The Ozone era (1996-present).
We will also preview one of the 100 most exciting games on this fall’s college football schedule, and one of the 100 things we’re most looking forward to this fall.
Plus, we’ll preview one of this season’s 100 biggest personnel matchups.
Greatest Buckeyes Of The Ozone Era
#3 Ezekiel Elliott, 2013-2015
Several of the guys on our countdown played before some of our readers were following the Buckeyes closely, so we felt the need to provide some historical context around their profiles. We’re guessing you remember this guy.
Ezekiel Elliott was a nice high school player, but not a five-star recruit. He ranked as the 5th-best all-purpose back and No. 69 player overall in the 2013 recruiting class.
He had offers from a lot of midwestern schools, but not places like Alabama, Michigan, Penn State, or Oklahoma. Elliott ultimately picked the Buckeyes over his other finalist, his parents’ alma mater of Missouri.
Elliott first made his mark on special teams as a true freshman in 2013. Take a few seconds to enjoy this hit from kick coverage against Purdue.
After that, it wasn’t a surprise when he was a fast and physical runner once he got the chance to start on offense for the Buckeyes.
Elliott put up a 100-yard game every time he had 13 carries or more in a game for the next two seasons.
He was at his best in the biggest moments. Elliott ran for 121 yards and two touchdowns against Michigan as a sophomore, then ripped off three straight games of 200+ yards during the Buckeyes’ postseason run to the national title.
Big Ten Championship Game: 20 rushes, 220 yards, 11.0 yards per carry, 2 TDs
Sugar Bowl: 20 rushes, 230 yards, 11.5 yards per carry, 2 TDs
National Championship Game: 36 rushes, 246 yards, 6.8 yards per carry, 4 TDs
So that’s two games against top defenses with 11 yards per carry, plus one with four touchdowns.
You probably don’t recall this little-known play from a game against some team from Mississippi or Louisiana or one of those places where people talk kind of weird.
At times, it seemed like the only people who could contain Elliott were wearing headsets and Ohio State windbreakers.
He had only 12 carries for 33 yards in the 2016 loss to Michigan State, but reached 100 yards in every other game that season.
He finished his career with 57 carries for 363 yards and six touchdowns combined in wins over Michigan and Notre Dame.
Best Games This Fall
#3 Ohio State at Penn State, September 29
With all due respect to TCU, this is the first time you’ll really know how serious OSU’s chances at a national title are.
They’ll have a first-year starting quarterback playing in a truly hostile road environment at night.
Penn State isn’t invincible at home, even during their beloved White Out games, but they’re going to present a very tough challenge.
The Nittany Lions must replace star running back Saquon Barkley, and possibly more importantly, offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead.
They will likely lean on quarterback Trace McSorley to put up points. That means relying on their offensive line to keep McSorley upright, and for a change, that could be a strength for the Lions this fall.
Their bigger question may come on defense, where they lose all three starting linebackers and four starting defensive backs.
But for the the Buckeyes to take advantage of that, they’ll have to be willing to turn Dwayne Haskins loose on the road in a high-pressure environment.
Urban Meyer-coached teams have traditionally called plays somewhat conservatively in these types of games, which could play right into Penn State’s hands.
Whichever team wins this will immediately become the favorite to win the Big Ten East and be a strong contender to make the College Football Playoff.
Ohio State will have only one truly dangerous road game left, at Michigan State. The Nittany Lions’ only difficult game outside of Happy Valley is at Michigan.
Win this one, hold serve at home, and win in Indianapolis, and you’ve probably punched your ticket for the Final Four.
What We Can’t Wait To See
#3 Week Zero
It’s not Week One, but the Saturday before it when just a handful of random small schools play.
This is when really bizarre stuff happens, like Cal playing in Australia or on the moon or somewhere else the Pac-12 thinks it might expand in 2065.
But more importantly, this will be your first real taste of honest-to-goodness live college football since Alabama stuck a dagger into Georgia back in January.
The slate isn’t one that’s loaded with national championship implications, but that hardly matters.
After wandering through the desert of the offseason, when you stumble into an oasis are you really going to complain that they only have tap water and not sparkling water? I think not.
There are five games currently slated for Saturday, August 25. The only FBS vs. FBS matchups are Hawaii at Colorado State and Wyoming at New Mexico State.
But glorious, stupid, wonderful, ridiculous college football will finally, really be back in less than five weeks.
We truly can’t wait to see it.
Matchup To Watch
#3 J.D. Spielman, NEB Slot vs. Jordan Fuller, OSU FS
First things first. Yes, J.D. Spielman is one of THOSE Spielmans. His dad is Rick Spielman, the general manager of the Minnesota Vikings, and his Uncle Chris played a little college ball in Columbus a while back.
J.D. Spielman was nearly a Buckeye as well, committing to play lacrosse at OSU before Nebraska came calling with a football scholarship.
Now he’s a slot receiver for the Cornhuskers. He had 55 catches for 830 yards and two touchdowns as a freshman in 2017, insane numbers for a receiver that young.
Under new coach Scott Frost, he figures to be an even more explosive playmaker.
He had 11 catches for 200 yards against the Buckeyes last fall, including a 77-yard score. That was more than half of Nebraska’s total yards in that game.
OSU could get away with being torched like that because most of those yards came after the Buckeyes had built a 42-0 lead.
This year’s game probably won’t be that lopsided, so giving up another two bills to Spielman could come at a much higher cost.
As a slot receiver, he’ll either match up with a nickel corner like Jeff Okudah, boundary safety Isaiah Pryor or field safety Jordan Fuller.
Fuller made several huge touchdown-saving tackles for the Buckeyes last fall. Keeping Spielman contained and out of the end zone will be a big part of containing Frost’s offense, and handing the Huskers another lopsided loss.