This is the 65th in a series of 100 daily posts, a Countdown to College Football. (Sort of.)
When this countdown started, it seemed like it would take forever to get through it.
The depths of the college football offseason always seem to drag, but yet here we are. Nearly two-thirds of the way through it.
Today we’ll look at a player who was lightning-quick both in recruiting and on the field, the return of classic rivalries, and an Ohio native and Indiana native squaring off for another state’s school.
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
#36 Denzel Ward, 2015-2017
Denzel Ward was always fast as a Buckeye, starting with the day he committed to Ohio State.
Ward showed up at an OSU football camp during the summer of 2014 as a three-star recruit, with scholarship offers from schools like Cincinnati, Indiana, and Kentucky.
At the time, he was rated as just the 54th-best corner in the class, but he impressed OSU’s coaches enough with his speed and talent that day that they offered him a full ride. Ward immediately accepted.
Considered a lightning-quick, but raw recruit, he played in just five games as a true freshman.
As a sophomore, he helped replace departed first-round draft pick Eli Apple and earned honorable mention all-conference honors.
Then, after the Buckeye defensive backfield churned out another pair of first-round picks, Gareon Conley and Marshon Lattimore, it was Ward’s turn to shine.
His junior season in 2017 was one of the best of any corner in Ohio State history.
Ward picked off two passes and broke up another 13, but his stats don’t reflect his true dominance. That’s because after a while, teams just stopped throwing at him.
He was also robbed of a forced fumble, fumble recovery, and defensive touchdown by one of the most ludicrous targeting calls imaginable.
Ward was so impressive that he had basically locked up a spot as the next first-round Buckeye corner before the Cotton Bowl. He opted to sit that game out, and was selected No. 4 overall in the NFL Draft by the Browns.
Not bad for a guy who picked the Buckeyes over schools like Cincinnati and Kentucky.
Best Games This Fall
#36 Fresno State at San Diego State
Boise State is heavily favored to win the Mountain West’s Mountain division this fall. This is the game that will probably decide the West.
SDSU and Fresno State have won the division in all five seasons that the MWC has held a conference title game. The Bulldogs did it in 2013 and 2014, then the Aztecs won the league back-to-back in 2015 and 2016.
Last fall, new head coach Jeff Tedford returned Fresno State to the top of the heap in the West.
Now, the Aztecs have to replace star running back Rashaad Penny, a first-round NFL Draft pick.
It’s not crazy to think they could do it – after all, they were supposed to struggle when they had to replace Donnel Pumphrey’s 2,133 rushing yards from 2016. Then Penny went for 2,248 last fall.
Whoever wins this will have a big leg up to play for the league title, and have an outside shot at a New Year’s Six bowl as well.
What We Can’t Wait To See
#36 Classic Rivalries Back On The Field
We talked about the renewal of the Michigan/Notre Dame series earlier in the countdown, but that’s not the only rivalry headed back to the field this fall.
Penn State and Pitt will play for the third year in a row, following a 15-year hiatus. However, next year’s meeting is scheduled to be the last for the foreseeable future.
That’s because Penn State, which definitely isn’t scared, simply doesn’t want to play the team that beat it in 2016. Pitt wants to keep playing, but the Lions don’t. But we’ll thank you to stop saying it’s because they’re scared. Because that’s totally not why.
Another classic Pitt rivalry is set to come back soon. They will renew the Backyard Brawl with West Virginia in 2022.
Oklahoma and Nebraska will finally square off again in 2021.
These rivalries form some of the most memorable college football matchups in history. It’s crazy that they could have all vaporized in the wake of conference realignment, and it’s great to have them back.
Now someone needs to talk some sense into Texas and Texas A&M, and Georgia and Clemson.
Matchup To Watch
#36 Morgon Ellison, IU RB vs. Pete Werner
Morgon Ellison could very well be the latest in a series of high school football stars from Pickerington, Ohio who the Buckeyes regret passing on.
He ran for 704 yards and 7 touchdowns as a true freshman last fall, and should build on those numbers substantially this season.
Ellison didn’t make much of a first impression in this series, getting just 7 carries and 24 yards in the 2017 season opener.
With a year of experience under his belt, he should be a much bigger weapon this year.
While the Hoosiers will hand the ball off to a native of the Buckeye state, OSU will turn to a native of Indiana to stop him.
Pete Werner was a standout on special teams as a true freshman in 2017, and figures to see significant time in the linebacker rotation this fall.
While the lineup at that position still isn’t set, Werner projects to contribute on the outside, likely at the SAM position.
That could match him up with Ellison in both the passing and running games.
Containing Ellison would give the Buckeyes some much-needed breathing room against a team that gave them a scare a year earlier.