COLUMBUS — Even back when he was the interim coach for Ohio State, Ryan Day has always stressed the same thing for every opponent.
The stakes never get any lower for the Buckeyes, who are expected to perform at a championship level no matter who is on the other sideline.
So, in-state bragging rights, the return of program legend Luke Fickell to the Horseshoe or even knowing how much springing the upset would mean to Cincinnati — none of that really changes anything for the Buckeyes. Ohio State has eyes on returning to the College Football Playoff, which means there’s never a chance to let up and the motivation level should always be high without needing any other factors to help crank it up a notch.
“New challenge this week,” Day said. “Got a lot of respect for Coach Fickell and what he’s built down there. I think it’s a very strong program, in great shape. So we know they are going to come in here hungry. Being in the same state we know that means a lot.
“We are up for the challenge, but just getting ready for it as we get ready for Saturday.”
Sounds simple enough. But the degree of difficulty is certainly going up for the Buckeyes this week, and as part of the new weekly tradition at Lettermen Row, here’s what the staff is expecting to see with Five Bold Predictions.
Austin Ward: Silver Bullets will score for first time this year
The talent has really never been a question, but now Ohio State might have the coaching to match it on the defensive side of the ball. At all three levels, the Buckeyes are showing how special they can become coming off the debacle of a year ago. And the Silver Bullets could make life miserable for a Cincinnati offense that probably won’t be nearly as creative as Florida Atlantic was in the season opener and certainly doesn’t have the personnel to match up with Ohio State. The crystal ball is unclear on whether defensive end Chase Young will generate points with a forced fumble on a sack or cornerback Jeff Okudah will deliver a pick-six, but the defense is going to get on the scoreboard for Ohio State.
Jeremy Birmingham: Justin Fields will have first 300-yard passing game
Maybe this doesn’t feel all that bold considering Justin Fields had almost 240 yards in the season opener against Florida Atlantic. But Cincinnati is a much better defense, and it is going to sell out against the run to prevent Fields and J.K. Dobbins from beating them on the ground. We caught a glimpse of what Fields is capable of as a passer against the Owls, but this week he’ll be tasked with throwing into smaller windows against what will presumably be a more consistent and aggressive pass-rush in his face. His ability to handle that will be the difference in another win for the Buckeyes.
Tim May: Josh Proctor breaks into Ohio State secondary rotation
The announced crowd of just over 103,000 for Ohio State’s season-opening win over Florida Atlantic last week had dwindled substantially by the time the most spectacular defensive play of the game was made by the Buckeyes. What the exiteers missed was proof of what had been scuttlebutt through preseason camp — safety Josh Proctor is going to find a way to be a regular just by his sheer tenacity, audacity and capacity to make plays. He sprinted from the middle of the field toward the sideline toward a ball thrown to the edge, and not only did he get there, he leaped to make the first Ohio State interception of the year and landed like he was plopping into a high jump pit. Consistency in practice has been his challenge. But it says here there are more of those big plays to come and the Buckeyes will be willing to play, uh, Proctor and gamble.
Will Crall: Tight ends will again play key role for Ohio State
Was last week’s two-touchdown performance from Ohio State tight ends a fluke? I’m saying no. I like the Buckeyes one-two punch of Luke Farrell and Jeremy Ruckert to continue the momentum into Week Two after a strong opening performance — with Ruckert in particular shining as a receiving threat. The Cincinnati defensive line looked more like the Bengals than the Bearcats against UCLA, which will make it tough for Ohio State’s run game. But Justin Fields will continue to build confidence by looking to the big, sure-handed tight ends early and often. Watch Farrell’s blocking skills. He’s not the flashiest guy on the team, but he’s an extremely solid blocker and will make a lot of money in the NFL because of it.
Spencer Holbrook: Michael Warren won’t rush for more than 50 yards
Michael Warren is the best running back Ohio State will face until it plays Wisconsin in late October. His health has been in question this week, but still, this will be the first true test for the Ohio State defensive line, who many believe is one of the best in the country. They’ll prove that Saturday. The Buckeyes have suggested this week that Cincinnati reminds them of a Big Ten team, so they won’t sleepwalk into this game. Cincinnati’s offense is predicated on running the ball. If the Buckeyes can shut Warren down, they’ll have no trouble with the Bearcats — and he won’t have many running lanes on Chase Young and Co.