COLUMBUS — The projections about Ohio State have been close to unanimous since the second the Fiesta Bowl ended last year.
Now it’s time for the Buckeyes to prove that they really are the class of the Big Ten and a legitimate threat to go win the national title again.
The extended layoff has thrown another wrinkle at Ryan Day and the program heading into his second year leading Ohio State, and there were a couple times when it seemed like he wouldn’t even have a chance to coach a roster overflowing with talent this year. But both the Buckeyes and Nebraska fought to find solutions to play through the pandemic, and it’s fitting that they’ll square off in the opener at the Horseshoe.
“I just know that there were times that we never thought we’d be playing the season,” Day said this week. “Now the fact that we are is great. The fact that we’re playing [Nebraska] in the first game, I mean, we’ve got to play each other at some point. So, our guys are looking forward to it.
“But I’ve always had a lot of respect for Scott and certainly do after spending the last couple of months together on the phone.”
Now the Buckeyes and Huskers will renew acquaintances in person at high noon on Saturday. What should be expected from the preseason favorites in the Big Ten against Nebraska? The Lettermen Row staff is ready with five bold predictions for the season opener.
Austin Ward: Trey Sermon scores three times in Buckeyes debut
Ohio State once again made the biggest offseason move in college football. And just like last season, it should have a dramatic impact on the offense and keep the Buckeyes in the thick of the national-title chase. Maybe Trey Sermon won’t be a Heisman Trophy finalist like Justin Fields was in his first year with the program, but the transfer running back from Oklahoma has the tools to be a dangerous weapon alongside the dual-threat quarterback. The expectation here is that Sermon will stake a claim as the lead rusher for the Buckeyes, and he has a chance to make a strong first impression against the Huskers. He’s already scored in the Horseshoe before, and on Saturday he’ll finally do it in an Ohio State uniform — a few times.
Birm: Justin Fields throws seven touchdown passes for Ohio State
Justin Fields will set new Ohio State records a lot this season, and it will begin on Saturday against Nebraska. Three former Buckeyes have thrown for six touchdowns in a game — Kenny Guiton, J.T. Barrett (twice) and Dwayne Haskins (twice). And against the Huskers this weekend, Fields will surpass them all and break the single-game touchdowns record by an Ohio State passer. The biggest question I have is whether or not he’ll do it in one half like Guiton did in 2013.
Tim May: Garrett Wilson will lead Ohio State in catches
A great video posted on Twitter this week recounted the moment when Ohio State receiver Garrett Wilson leaped almost out of the dome in Arizona back in December to haul in a pass from Justin Fields in the eventual agonizing loss to Clemson in a College Football Playoff semifinal. But the replay was a reminder of what the Ohio State offense could be in general this season in terms of thrills, and what the hookup of Justin Fields-to-Wilson could generate in particular. With Wilson being moved to the slot, coach Ryan Day has set up the sophomore to be the most targeted receiver in an offense that appears loaded with “electric” pass catchers, as safeties coach Matt Barnes referred to them. Slot man K.J. Hill, now with the LA Chargers, led the team with 57 catches last year. Wilson had 30. This year despite the shortened season, Wilson still could see triple those chances, especially when he makes major launch forward against Nebraska.
Spencer Holbrook: Buckeyes force four turnovers, score on defense
Ohio State might not have a dominant individual presence up front in Chase Young quite like it did a season ago, but the defensive line as a whole can be daunting for any quarterback this season. Adrian Martinez had three interceptions against the Buckeyes last season, and he nearly turned the ball over a fourth time on a strip sack. I expect the Buckeyes to pressure Martinez and fellow quarterback Luke McCaffrey throughout the game and force turnovers, giving Ohio State an easy win in the season opener — and probably making the Nebraska quarterback situation a little more interesting.
Will Crall: Buckeyes get freshman wide receiver into end zone
Given the talent, it feels inevitable that one of the freshmen wide receivers will score a touchdown. Maybe there’s a decent chance that multiple newcomers at wide receiver will score a touchdown against Nebraska. Julian Fleming, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Mookie Cooper and Gee Scott are all more than ready to start contributing to the Buckeyes offense immediately. The extended preseason helps freshmen skill guys because they have been doing 7-on-7 work since August. Considering their skills and the influence of position coach Brian Hartline, don’t expect these young guys to need long to get up to speed.