Amid misreporting of abuse allegations, suspensions and interim head coaches, it might be easy to forget the Ohio State football team opens a new season Saturday inside Ohio Stadium. The Buckeyes enter the noon kickoff against the Oregon State Beavers as a heavy favorite.
The Saturday contest is a welcome sight for players and coaches still adjusting to life without their head coach. Ohio State trustees last week suspended Urban Meyer for three games for mishandling domestic violence allegations against former assistance Zach Smith.
Exit Meyer and enter interim head coach Ryan Day, a known commodity as an offensive coordinator but a complete unknown at head coach.
“Just on the running of the game, I expect very few changes,” says Columbus Dispatch sports reporter Tim May.
Day played quarterback in college and has worked as an assistant in college and the NFL, but has never served as a head coach at any level.
In addition to a new head coach, the Buckeyes enter the 2018 season with a new starting quarterback. Expectations are high for sophomore Dwayne Haskins, a highly-touted recruit who led the Buckeyes to a come-from-behind win over Michigan last season after replacing injured starter J.T. Barrett.
Barrett, who’s moved onto the NFL’s New Orleans Saints, is the most-decorated passer in Ohio State history. But May thinks the sky is the limit for Haskins.
“He is definitely nowhere near as mobile as J.T. Barrett, but he has shown he can scramble and run when he needs to,” May says. “But the bottom line is, his gift to the offense is his right arm and the ability to attack any point on the field with a passing game, which they have not had under J.T. Barrett the last four years.”
Haskins’ ascension on the depth chart pushed Joe Burrow, another highly-billed quarterback recruit, to transfer to Louisiana State during the offseason.
Ohio State faces another relatively-new development in the season opener: They’re not a clear cut favorite to win the conference. The Buckeyes enter the season ranked fifth in the country, one spot behind Big Ten West favorite Wisconsin.
Ohio State does not play Wisconsin in the regular season, but they do face fellow Big Ten East schools Penn State, Michigan State and Michigan, all of which are ranked in the top 15.
“Things change... when injuries happen, but I think Ohio State is the more talented team, so I think it would behoove you to pick Ohio State (to win the conference),” May says.
In a season full of change, Buckeye fans will see at least one familiar sight: Their November matchup with the Michigan Wolverines is likely to have big implications on who plays for the Big Ten title a week later in Indianapolis.