This is the 50th in a series of 100 daily posts, a Countdown to College Football. (Sort of.)
In the immortal words of Jon Bon Jovi, “Whoooa, we’re halfway there. Whooooa, livin’ on a prayer that college football will finally get here.”
Yes, our countdown has officially hit its halfway point. Behind us are 50 days of “pretty good” and “just okay.” Ahead lies 50 days of greatness.
Today, we’ll examine a Buckeye who could only be contained by his own coordinators, a matchup of 2017 and 2018’s hotshot young head coaches, Barry Sanders’ record is in danger, and could history repeat itself in Happy Valley?
If you missed yesterday’s edition, you’ll want to remedy that by reading it 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
#51 Curtis Samuel
A four-star prospect out of Brooklyn’s Erasmus Hall High School, Curtis Samuel may have been the prototypical H-back in Urban Meyer’s offense.
Listed as a running back as a recruit, Samuel was a threat to go the distance any time he touched the ball on a carry or a reception.
His final season at Ohio State was by far his best. In 2016, Samuel averaged nearly a full first down every time he touched the ball on offense. He gained 1,636 yards from scrimmage on 171 touches, good for an average of 9.6 yards per play.
At times, it seemed the only people who could contain Samuel were the Ohio State offensive coaching staff. He rushed for 71 yards on exactly two carries in the loss at Penn State. It’s hard to say whether it might have been worth giving more touches to the guy averaging 35.5 yards per carry. After all, college football is a complicated game.
In the 31-0 College Football Playoff Semifinal loss to Clemson, he had 6 carries for 67 yards. All other Buckeyes combined for 17 carries for 21 yards. Again, maybe an offense that gained nine first downs all night could have benefitted from handing the ball to a guy who was averaging a first down every time he ran it. Perhaps.
When Samuel did get the ball, however, it was often spectacular. The high point of his career came in double-overtime of the 2016 Michigan game. Everyone remembers the game-winning touchdown he scored, but he may have really saved the Buckeyes’ season two plays earlier.
Facing 3rd-and-9 at the Michigan 24, Samuel took a little flare pass outside the right hash marks, but saw several Michigan defenders in front of him. He reversed his field, cut upfield, then dodged a defender and raced horizontally across the field again. When Michigan defenders outflanked him, he ducked back inside, made a guy miss and zipped down to the 16 yard line.
Just like that, a seemingly dire 3rd-and-9 was a manageable 4th-and-1.
It was the kind of play OSU fans hadn’t seen much of since the days of Ted Ginn, and it couldn’t have come in a bigger spot. Seriously, take a moment to watch this.
Two totally uncontroversial plays later, Samuel leapt into the end zone like a sprinter breaking the tape. He didn’t just get the job done, he did it in style.
And if Tom Herman had stuck around a couple more seasons, Samuel might have ranked a couple dozen spots higher on this list.
Best Games This Fall
#51 Troy at Nebraska, September 15
Scott Frost is going to do amazing things at Nebraska. The Big Red may not get all the way back to their mid-90s “I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds” mode, but they will certainly be nationally relevant again soon.
The Cornhuskers open their season with three straight home non-conference games, against Akron, Colorado, and Troy.
While the Buffaloes are a traditional rival and a power-5 conference team, it’s the Trojans who may present the toughest challenge.
Troy went 11-2 last fall, winning at LSU. Their head coach, Neal Brown, has built the program from a 4-8 record in 2015 to 10-3 and 11-2 in the two years since.
You may not know the 38-year-old Brown yet, but you will by this time next year. He’s going to be coaching at a much bigger school in 2019.
An upset win in Lincoln would be a big one for Brown’s career, but it wouldn’t necessarily be a big blow to Frost.
First seasons on the job can be rocky for a head coach taking over a rebuilding program. Nick Saban famously lost to Louisiana-Monroe in his first year at Alabama. Matt Rhule and Baylor lost to a 33-point underdog Liberty team last year.
However this game turns out, there are big things in store for the head coaches on both sidelines. And the next time they meet, a whole lot more could be at stake.
What We Can’t Wait To See
#51 A Healthy Bryce Love
The Pac-12 spent most of 2017 as a punchline. The league was basically eliminated from College Football Playoff contention by mid-November, and then got obliterated in bowl games to the tune of a 1-8 record.
Luckily, thanks to ridiculous late-night kickoff times and a conference network with a distribution range the size of your local Community Access channel, most people didn’t see it for themselves.
Unfortunately, that also meant they missed out on Bryce Love.
The Stanford running back rushed for 2,118 yards and 19 touchdowns on the year. His rushing yardage was the 15th-most of any season in college football history.
That, despite suffering a high ankle sprain in the middle of the year.
His yards per carry by game to start the season was absolutely ludicrous: 13.8, 9.4, 14.2, 8.8, 12.0, 7.6, and 8.6.
However, in that last game (a win over Oregon), Love sprained his ankle. He played on it the rest of the season, but wasn’t the same.
Pre-sprain he had 135 carries for 1,387 yards, good for 10.3 yards per carry.
After the injury, he ran it 128 times for 761 yards, or 5.9 per rush.
Just for perspective, Eddie George averaged 5.9 yards per carry in his Heisman Trophy-winning season of 1995, and that was the number Love fell off to with a bum ankle.
Love is supposedly 100 percent healthy again.
Barry Sanders holds the NCAA single-season rushing record with 2,628 yards.
Matchup To Watch
#51 Koa Farmer, PSU SAM vs. Demario McCall
If you recall, we spent an earlier part of this article talking about a small but shifty and explosive Buckeye H-back who might have been the difference in a loss to Penn State if only he’d gotten the ball more.
Two years later, a very similar player has the chance to let the new and improved OSU offensive coaching staff make up for that mistake.
Demario McCall has been limited by injuries and his spot on the depth chart, but when he has touched the ball, he has made big things happen.
His only extended playing time in 2017 came against Rutgers, where he rushed for 103 yards and a score on just 11 carries, and also had a 35-yard touchdown catch as well.
His explosiveness makes getting him the ball a must.
When he does get it, Koa Farmer may be the first guy he has to make miss.
Farmer was a running back and safety in high school, and has taken a couple years to grow into and also learn the role of a Big Ten linebacker.
Farmer has supposedly maintained his running back speed, which will be crucial if he wants to keep McCall in check.
If he can, he would take one very dangerous weapon out of Ohio State’s arsenal.