This is the 69th in a series of 100 daily posts, a Countdown to College Football. (Sort of.)
It’s Saturday, but more importantly, we’re now exactly 10 weeks from the first College Football Saturday of the 2018 season.
Whether you know it or not, this weekend – the one happening today! – is actually a huge one for the future of Ohio State football.
Last night was Friday Night Lights, one of the biggest recruiting events of the year for the Buckeyes. There were some major developments in the Buckeyes’ pursuit of several quarterbacks.
So there’s a decent chance that this week, traditionally one of the quieter ones on the college football calendar, could have not just news… but GOOD news for the Buckeyes.
While you’re waiting for the OSU coaching staff to start sending celebratory “BOOM” tweets, let’s look back at a 3-star recruit who turned into a 3-time all-American, an academically-prestigious school with an impressive football program playing in South Bend, a potentially groundbreaking change to special teams, and the battle in the trenches that could decide The Game.
If you missed yesterday’s edition, you can find it 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
#32 James Laurinaitis
Recruiting rankings are generally a very good predictor of how likely a player is to become a starter, turn into a star, or a future NFL Draft pick. But as James Laurinaitis showed, that’s not always the case.
Laurinaitis was rated as the No. 554 player in the nation and the 27th-best middle linebacker in the 2005 class. It didn’t take long to figure out that the evaluators had missed the mark on him.
That November, starting linebacker Bobby Carpenter broke his ankle very early in the Michigan game. Laurinaitis replaced him, and then never relinquished the job again.
He was a consensus all-American in 2006, 2007, and 2008, recording 115, 121, and 130 tackles in those seasons.
His 24.5 career tackles for loss, 13 sacks, and 9 interceptions do a good job of illustrating how much Laurinaitis seemed to be everywhere on the field at once.
He went 35th overall in the 2009 NFL Draft, and played every game for seven seasons for the Rams. He finished his pro career with 869 career tackles, 16.5 sacks, and 10 interceptions.
Not bad for a 3-star.
Best Games This Fall
#32 Stanford at Notre Dame, September 29
This will be quite a thrill for NBC, which will actually get to televise a game featuring an academically-prestigious private school with an impressive football program for a change.
The Cardinal have won 9+ games in seven of the previous eight seasons. David Shaw has done a remarkable job keeping the momentum going after Jim Harbaugh started turning the Cardinal into a winner.
Meanwhile, Notre Dame has won more than 8 games just three times in 11 years. And despite the holier-than-thou attitude you see from many Irish fans online, one of the three seasons where they actually managed to crack 9+ wins was vacated for NCAA violations.
This is another year when both teams enter the season at least on the outskirts of the playoff chase.
Even if the Irish get through this game, they have to travel to Blacksburg the following week to face Virginia Tech.
Meanwhile, the Cardinal face USC early in September, then have to travel to Oregon the week before they go to South Bend. Then, they welcome in Utah the next Saturday.
There’s a decent chance one or both of these teams will have two losses by the end of September.
What We Can’t Wait To See
#32 The New Kickoff Rule
Starting this season, returners can fair catch a kickoff anywhere on the field and get the ball as a touchback at the 25 yard line.
This is almost certainly a smart move from a player safety standpoint.
Kickoffs and punt returns account for a disproportionate amount of serious injuries. Anything the NCAA can do to limit the number of kick returns, and the resulting collisions of players running full speed in opposite directions, can only help.
However, as we discussed on this week’s edition of Accost The Field, the new rule will also be fascinating to watch play out from a strategic perspective.
Urban Meyer has always asked his kickers to drop the ball between the numbers and the sideline, inside the 5. That gives the Buckeye coverage team a smaller portion of the field to account for, and has led to an average starting field position inside the 20 in most of his seasons in Columbus.
Now, a returner can simply fair catch that ball and get the ball at his team’s own 25. So how will Meyer and other top coaches respond?
One choice is that they can try to kick it higher in the air, but shorter. Perhaps by having a returner field the ball at his own 10, they can induce him to run it out, and by kicking it higher, they can get their coverage unit downfield before the ball comes back down.
Or maybe teams will decide to try an even shorter boot, figuring that they might be able to drop the ball between returners and try to steal a possession with a variant on the onside kick.
Or perhaps they’ll just boom it through the end zone and go play defense.
This is a significant change, and one that could inspire some creative and exciting new strategies. But even if it only ends up with more touchbacks, it should help make the game just a little safer.
Matchup To Watch
#32 Bryan Mone, MICH DT vs. Josh Myers
The highlight of Bryan Mone’s Michigan career to this point may have come before he ever set foot in Ann Arbor.
During then-Michigan coach Brady Hoke’s in-home visit with the Mone family in December 2013, someone took a picture at the dinner table.
Hoke is there, along with defensive coordinator Greg Mattison. So are approximately 1,200 lbs of meat products.
If you’ve ever wondered how you can raise a child that grows up to be a defensive tackle, that’s the answer.
Hoke exercised good portion control that evening. He only had one of those incredible-looking sausages.
Hoke actually wanted more, but for the second time in 2013, he went for two but failed.
Since Mone arrived at Michigan, he’s only received bite-sized playing time. He started seven games in 2017, splitting time with freshman Aubrey Solomon, but only recorded 10 tackles on the year.
That duo does provide the Wolverines some quality depth along the defensive front, something they have lacked in recent years. If Mone and Solomon can both play at a high enough level to split time all year, it could help keep both guys fresh as the unit works to overcome the loss of Maurice Hurst.
If Mone is playing nose tackle this fall, he’ll face off with whoever the Buckeyes have playing center. Coming out of spring football, the most likely candidates were 5th-year senior Brady Taylor or redshirt freshman Josh Myers.
Myers was a 4-star recruit coming out of high school, but played in an almost exclusively run-based system there. He spent his redshirt season last fall learning the nuances of pass blocking, then shifted from guard to center this spring.
Coming out of the Spring Game, Myers had closed the gap on Taylor, and was a serious contender to win the starting job in the fall.
Whoever it is snapping on the Saturday afternoon following Thanksgiving, they’ll have to keep Mone and Solomon at bay in order to keep the Buckeye running game going, and give Dwayne Haskins time to throw.
One big thing to watch: if Myers can handle Mone 1-on-1, that frees up other linemen to help control the Wolverines’ talented defensive ends Rashan Gary and Chase Winovich, and gives the Buckeye offense a big advantage.