This is the 49th in a series of 100 daily posts, a Countdown to College Football. (Sort of.)
The countdown is about to hit the halfway point. That’s great because it means college football season (or at least the unofficial start of the college football practice season) is getting closer.
It also means we have to hurry up and get all of our offseason projects done.
This week, I started posting some photo galleries from past editions of The Game on our new site. You can check out the 2002 and 2016 editions now, and I’ll have more in the coming weeks. There is some great stuff in there that I haven’t seen in years.
Today, we’ll take a look at one of the most ridiculous recruiting stories ever, Lane Kiffin’s last big test, Michigan’s next head coach, and a matchup with a Wolverine who the Buckeyes wanted badly.
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
#52 Na’il Diggs, 1996-99
College football recruiting is consistently one of the most ridiculous processes imaginable. The story of how Na’il Diggs ended up at Ohio State is Exhibit A.
The story starts with a running back prospect from California named Durrell Price.
He committed to the Buckeyes and faxed in his Letter of Intent on National Signing Day.
However, the clerk at the store who faxed it in had the wrong side of the paper up, so OSU didn’t get the signed letter.
Price took that as an indication that he wasn’t meant to be a Buckeye, and signed with UCLA instead.
That left one spot open in OSU’s 1996 recruiting class, and it went to Diggs.
Price played four seasons for the Bruins, but never did much on the field.
Meanwhile, Diggs turned into a monster at linebacker for the Buckeyes. He had a team-high 16 tackles for loss as a sophomore in 1998, and was named first team all-conference.
He was even better as a junior, leading the team in tackles (94) and tackles for loss (15), and was picked as a first-team all-American.
Diggs left after that season for the NFL and played 12 seasons with the Packers, Panthers, Rams, and Chargers, racking up 642 career tackles.
Not bad for a guy who never would have set foot in Columbus if some random store clerk knew how to use a fax machine.
Best Games This Fall
#52 Florida Atlantic at Marshall, October 20
A team from one of the Group of Five conferences is guaranteed a spot in one of the New Year’s Six bowl games, and there’s a shot this game will help determine who gets it.
This will be Lane Kiffin’s final season at FAU, but before he heads off to bigger and more lucrative pastures, he has the Owls primed for a run to remember.
They open at Oklahoma, and have a road game at UCF in late September. If they can win one of those, they’ll be in line for an 11-win regular season.
This trip to Huntington will be their last big test.
The 2018 Thundering Herd won’t look anything like the Chad Pennington/Byron Leftwich/Randy Moss era teams, but they should be pretty good.
This edition will make a run at 10 wins, but will do it on the backs of a strong defense, and a not-great offense.
If they can keep the explosive Owls offense in check, they have a shot to steal this one.
If not, and if FAU still has either 0 or 1 losses after this game, don’t be surprised if they get a shot on a very big stage in January.
What We Can’t Wait To See
#52 Maryland (Maybe?) Making The Leap
I’ve spent enough time on Accost The Field talking up Maryland that I should get an agent’s cut of D.J. Durkin’s next contract, but I’m going to do it one more time.
Durkin got the Terps to a bowl game in 2016, and seemingly had them on the verge of a big step forward last fall.
They opened with a road win at Texas, but lost their starting quarterback Tyrell Pigrome to a season-ending injury in the process. Then they lost his backup, Kasim Hill, to another season-ending injury.
Their season spiraled from there, ending with a 4-8 record.
This fall, they should have a fully-healthy quarterback room again, and should once again be on track to make a decent bowl game.
In the Big Ten East, they’re never going to be a national title contender, but an 8-win year that includes an upset of one of the division’s “Big 4” would be a massive success.
Durkin is only 40, so if he does get Maryland up to a 9 or 10-win level at some point, he could be in line for a big job soon.
He served as Jim Harbaugh’s defensive coordinator before moving to Maryland. If Harbaugh leaves in the next few years, don’t be shocked if you see Durkin back in maize and blue.
Matchup To Watch
#52 Donovan Peoples-Jones, MICH WR vs. Marcus Williamson
If you let the Ohio State coaching staff pick players off the Michigan roster to replace their own guys, they wouldn’t have too many places they could upgrade.
But it’s almost certain that Donovan Peoples-Jones would be one of the players they picked.
Peoples-Jones was a 5-star prospect coming out of high school, and the Buckeyes wanted to sign him very badly. Kerry Coombs and Urban Meyer went out in a snowstorm to visit him.
— Kerry Coombs (@DB_CoachCoombs) December 13, 2016
However, Peoples-Jones opted to stay closer to home and play for Michigan.
He had a 42-yard punt return against the Buckeyes last fall to set up a Wolverine touchdown, and should be even more dangerous on offense and special teams this fall.
If he lines up in the slot, he’ll likely face off with Marcus Williamson, who figures to get time as the nickel back for OSU.
Michigan’s wide receiving corps was young, but explosive last fall. With another year of experience, they should be a dangerous weapon for Shea Patterson in 2018.
Containing Peoples-Jones on passes, runs, and punts will be key to keeping the Wolverines’ offense in check this November.