This is the 32nd in a series of 100 daily posts, a Countdown to College Football. (Sort of.)
We are now just 69 days away from Big Ten Football Media Days wrapping up, which signifies the college football season being right around the corner.
Do you know what you’re getting your loved ones for College Football Season? Wings, pizza, and beer are traditional staples, though only beer really holds up in a stocking.
You only make that mistake once.
Speaking of mistakes, in case you missed yesterday’s piece, you can catch up 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
#69 Brian Rolle, 2007-2010
Brian Rolle came to Ohio State in the 15-member 2007 recruiting class. Rolle initially stood out because of his stature — listed at 5-foot-11 and 210 pounds. Rolle did not look like your typical linebacker, nor did he run like one. He was a bullet looking for a target from a very early age.
Rolle played in every game as a freshman in 2007, finishing with 18 tackles and three tackles for loss. He stood out in a mid-season game against Kent State, tallying seven tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, and a sack. Rolle was again a reserve linebacker as a sophomore in 2008, putting up similar numbers. He finished with 21 tackles, and while none of them came in the backfield, he did have an interception in a 45-7 win at Michigan State.
With 3-time All-American middle linebacker James Laurinaitis off to the NFL following the 2008 season, Rolle won the job and secured his first starting role as a Buckeye in 2009. He finished second on the team in tackles (95) behind Ross Homan (108). Rolle’s key moment of the 2009 season, however, came with 2:23 remaining in the season opener against Navy.
Trailing 29-27 following a touchdown, the Midshipmen decided to go for two points in order to tie the game. Rolle stepped in front of a Ricky Dobbs pass and returned it 99 yards for two points.
Rolle told me a few years ago that he had an out-of-body experience during this play and remembers watching himself from above as he returned it for the score. He said it was complete silence and he never heard the crowd once until he hit the end zone.
As a senior in 2010, Rolle led the Buckeyes with 76 tackles, adding two interceptions, 2.5 sacks, and 11.5 tackles for loss, including 5.0 in a two-game stretch at the end of the season against Iowa and Michigan. He earned First-Team All-B1G accolades for his performance that year.
Best Games This Fall
#69 Troy at Appalachian State
This is a matchup of the top two finishers in the Sun Belt Conference last season. Troy and Appalachian State both finished 7-1 in conference play, but they never played each other in 2017. This year, however, the meet up in the regular season finale in Boone, North Carolina.
Both teams return a handful of starters on each side of the ball, but neither squad is returning their starting quarterback from last year.
If Troy is going to win this one on the road, they are going to have to find the quarterback production they normally have. And the Trojans defense is going to have to find a way to stop Appalachian State running back Jalin Moore, who rushed for 912 yards last year, closing with 588 yards in his final four games. Moore also rushed for 1,402 yards as a sophomore in 2016.
What We Can’t Wait To See
#69 The Karan Higdon-Mike Weber Competition
Every couple of years, due to circumstances out of their control, there is a reason to follow the careers of a Buckeye running back and a Michigan running back.
The first instance of this in my sportswatchingdom was Robert Smith vs. Ricky Powers. Powers didn’t want to follow Smith to Ohio State so he went to Michigan. The two were tied together and compared to each other for the rest of their college careers. Over 20 years later, Urban Meyer told Derrick Green that they were no longer interested, putting their eggs into Ezekiel Elliott’s basket. Green went to Michigan. He rushed for 1,036 yards in his career. Elliott went for slightly more.
When 2016 prospect Kareem Walker was committed to Ohio State but leaning elsewhere, the Buckeyes went and secured a commitment from Antonio Williams. Walker eventually decommitted and signed with Michigan. Williams currently leads that battle 318 yards to 68 yards, though we probably won’t watch that one as closely as we had been now that Williams is at North Carolina and Walker is on the verge of something similar.
Before Walker v. Williams, however, there was Mike Weber v. Karan Higdon. Weber was the first head-to-head recruiting battle between Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh, and it was a doozy.
Even though he was committed to the Buckeyes, Weber was still undecided between Michigan and Ohio State on signing day. When Higdon switched from Iowa to Michigan that morning, that was the end of Weber’s Wolverine possibilities.
“I thought I was really the only back to get recruited in that class and when I heard (Higdon) was committed, it was like, ‘Oh, well then there you go.'” Weber said at the time. “That was the answer. That’s what it was.”
And so Higdon and Weber will be tied together forever. Or for at least one more season.
Where do things stand right now?
Weber: 283 atts, 1,722 yds, 6.1 ypc, 19 TD (6 100-yd games) 23-83-2 career vs. UM
Higdon: 247 atts, 1,438 yds, 5.8 ypc, 17 TD (5 100-yd games) 14-60-1 career vs. OSU
And this will remain an important battle to watch this year, especially when these two teams meet, because the team that runs the ball the best in The Game wins. It’s remarkably simple.
Matchup To Watch
#69 Brian Lewerke, MSU QB vs. Malik Harrison
As the Sam in Ohio State’s defense, Malik Harrison will be charged with defending the wide side of the field. This matchup could see Michigan State quarterback Brian Lewerke rolling out to the wide side of the field to better utilize his mobility.
As we saw several times last season, the Buckeye linebackers were treated like yo-yos by opposing quarterbacks. With Lewerke’s mobility and Michigan State’s running game, Harrison is going to have a very difficult night ahead of him trying to decipher his duties on every single play.
A successful performance for Harrison will involve zero missed tackles, and don’t be surprised if the Buckeyes get a little aggressive with Harrison in this game.