This is the 77th in a series of 100 daily posts, a Countdown to College Football. (Sort of.)
It is now July, which means the unofficial start of college football season happens this month!
You might feel like the idea of players and coaches sitting around in a hotel talking about football doesn’t merit an exclamation point. But you would be wrong.
College football has the shortest regular season of any major American sport. You get three glorious months of autumn Saturdays, one weekend of championship games, and then a smattering of bowl games throughout late December and early January.
And then you spend half a year – a solid six months – waiting for the hotel ballroom portion of the season to start again.
If you don’t think that merits an exclamation point, maybe you should go watch the NFL instead.
Speaking of the NFL, today we’ll feature a possible Pro Football Hall of Famer, a potential Big Ten Championship Game preview, a return season for a breakout freshman star, and a battle in the trenches for 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
#24 Nick Mangold, 2002-2005
It’s not easy for a freshman offensive lineman to break into rotation for a national title contender, but Nick Mangold did just that for the 2002 Buckeyes.
Mangold saw extensive playing time that year, including in the Fiesta Bowl win over Miami, and then took over the starting center role for good in 2003.
He started the last 33 games he played as a Buckeye, earning first-team all-American honors as a senior in 2005.
Mangold was part of 43 wins during his Buckeye career, which tied for the most in school history at the time.
A first-round pick by the New York Jets in 2006, Mangold was a seven-time Pro Bowl player. He played his entire 11-year career with the team and officially retired in April of this year.
Best Games This Fall
#24 Wisconsin at Michigan, October 13
The Wolverines’ slide from potential Big Ten title contender to Outback Bowl runner-up last fall began with a loss up in Madison.
This season, the showdown between Michigan and Wisconsin will set the tone for Jim Harbaugh’s fourth Big Ten campaign.
The maize and blue should enter this game with a 5-1 record at worst, but it kicks off a brutal mid-season stretch.
Michigan will host Wisconsin, then travel to Michigan State, have a week off, and then host Penn State.
Win those three and Michigan could be a serious College Football Playoff contender coming into the regular season finale in Columbus.
But if they lose a couple, they’ll be looking at another middling Florida bowl game.
The 2017 edition of this game was the beginning of the end for the Wolverines. This year’s version will be a huge test for whether the 2018 team is a legitimate national title contender or not.
What We Can’t Wait To See
#24 A.J. Dillon’s Sophomore Season
Yes, there is a reason to be legitimately excited to watch Boston College football this year.
A.J. Dillon came to B.C. as a 3-star prospect who picked the Eagles over Michigan. One year into his career, that choice seems to be working out for him.
He racked up 1,589 yards and 14 touchdowns as a true freshman last fall. That’s 186 more yards a 7 more touchdowns than J.K. Dobbins had.
Granted, Dillon got 300 carries to Dobbins’ 194, but given the respective levels of talent surrounding them, that’s still a heck of a year for Dillon.
He had 272 yards and four touchdowns on the ground against Louisville, and put up 196, 200, and 193-yard games in consecutive weeks against N.C. State, UConn, and Syracuse.
Now he has a chance to build on that spectacular freshman campaign.
The Eagles’ quarterback, Anthony Brown, was also a freshman last year.
Unsurprisingly, they started last year slowly, but picked up five wins in their final seven games. Now, they’re poised for a step forward in 2018.
Five years ago, Andre Williams finished fourth in the Heisman voting after running for 2,177 yards and 18 touchdowns as a senior running back for Boston College.
If Dillon can pick up where he left off last year, he could eventually earn his own ticket to New York in the coming years.
Matchup To Watch
#24 Michael Onwenu, MICH OG vs. Antwuan Jackson
We have Antwuan Jackson listed here, but this could just as easily be Robert Landers or Davon Hamilton or Dre’Mont Jones. Or it could be Haskell Garrett or Jerron Cage or Tommy Togiai or Malik Barrow.
The Buckeyes have an incredibly deep rotation set up at the defensive tackle position for this fall, something that could play a massive role in this game.
By rotating those defensive tackles all year, they will help keep all of them fresher and healthier throughout the season. That’s a luxury most teams don’t have.
Michigan’s offensive line won’t have that option. Michael Onwenu was one of the nation’s top interior line prospects as a 2016 recruit, and has lived up to that hype early in his career.
He started eight games during the regular season last year before suffering an injury.
Keeping him, and other linemen like Ben Bredeson and Cesar Ruiz, healthy and on the field will be crucial to Michigan’s title hopes this fall.
Ohio State’s ability to throw wave after wave of defensive tackles at those guys, who will likely have to play every snap, will be a big advantage.
Last season, Michigan’s lines seemed to wear down during the course of The Game, as their lack of defensive line depth and OSU’s deep D-line took their toll.
If it happens again this year, it could lead to a third straight come-from-behind win in the series for the Buckeyes.