Friday, July 12, 2013
Nonconference primer: Ohio State
By Brian Bennett
Yet another weekend is about to pass without college football, but rest assured: we're almost there. We've been helping you get geared up with a closer look at each Big Ten team's nonconference opponents this fall, and now it's time to wrap up the series with Ohio State.
Buffalo, Aug. 31
Coach: Jeff Quinn (fourth year, 9-27)
2012 record: 4-8, 3-5 MAC
Offensive headliner: Running back Branden Oliver rushed for 821 yards last year despite only playing in seven games and being less than 100 percent in four of those. He finished 14th in the FBS rushing in 2011 and has been named to the Maxwell Award preseason watch list.
Defensive headliner: Senior linebacker Khalil Mack is a two-time first-team All-MAC performer who had 94 tackles, eight sacks, 21 tackles for loss and four forced fumbles last year.
The skinny: Buffalo has made incremental progress under Quinn, the former longtime offensive assistant under Brian Kelly. The Bulls' losses last year included Georgia, Pitt, Northern Illinois and Kent State. They have 17 starters back and should field one of the better defenses in the MAC, leading many to believe they'll make a bowl game for the second time in school history.
San Diego State, Sept. 7
Coach: Rocky Long (third year, 17-9)
2012 record: 9-4, 7-1 Mountain West
Offensive headliner: Running back Adam Muema ran for 1,458 yards and 16 touchdowns last season, averaging 6.2 yards per carry. He ran for 127 yards in a win over Boise State.
Defensive headliner: Junior linebacker Jake Fely had 90 tackles, including seven sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss while being named second team All-Mountain West last year.
The skinny: The Aztecs have won 26 games the past three years, dating back to Brady Hoke's final season at the helm. The team won a share of the Mountain West regular-season title last year and has 16 starters back. Bob Toledo takes over as offensive coordinator, replacing Andy Ludwig, who's now at Wisconsin. San Diego State still figures to run the ball a lot.
at California, Sept. 14
Coach: Sonny Dykes (first year; 22-15 at Louisiana Tech)
2012 record: 3-9, 2-7 Pac-12
Offensive headliner: The Bears lost their leading passer, rusher and receiver off last season's team. But Brendan Bigelow, who averaged 9.8 yards per carry and had a big game at Ohio State, could be ready to post huge numbers in Dykes' offense.
Defensive headliner: Big Ten fans will recognize linebacker Khairi Fortt's name. He transferred last year from Penn State, but sat out with a knee injury. He should start this season.
The skinny: Jeff Tedford had a nice run with the Bears before seemingly losing his touch in the later years. Cal brought in Dykes fresh off a terrific season at Louisiana Tech, and he will install the Air Raid offense that should fit in well in the wide-open Pac-12. Andy Buh, who was Wisconsin's linebackers coach last season, is the defensive coordinator and will lead the switch to a 4-3. The biggest issue is at quarterback, where freshmen Zach Kline and Jared Goff, and junior Austin Hinder are battling for the right to lead Dykes' quarterback-friendly attack.
Florida A&M, Sept. 21
Coach: Earl Holmes (first year)
2012 record: 4-7, 4-4 MEAC (FCS)
Offensive headliner: Quarterback Damien Fleming completed 69.5 percent of his passes last year for 2,157 yards and 16 touchdowns. He also ran for 194 yards.
Defensive headliner: Illinois transfer Brandon Denmark made an immediate impact last year, registering 54 tackles, 4.5 sacks and 11 tackles for loss.
The skinny: Joe Taylor retired as head coach during the season last year, and now A&M alum and 10-year NFL veteran Holmes -- who most prominently played for the Pittsburgh Steelers -- takes over at age 39. The Rattlers haven't made the FCS playoffs in more than a decade.
For a team with realistic national title hopes, this nonconference schedule is depressingly devoid of marquee opponents. That's not to say there won't be challenges; Buffalo could be very improved, San Diego State isn't going to be a pushover for anybody and Cal -- which, remember, gave the Buckeyes all they could handle in Columbus in 2012 -- could use a high-powered passing game and West Coast homefield advantage to spring an upset. But Ohio State will be favored in every game, perhaps by double digits in all of them, and the Florida A&M game is just flat-out disgraceful (though the halftime show will be nice). If the Buckeyes aren't fully focused, they could find themselves in a dogfight or two, but the most likely scenario is a 4-0 trip through the nonconference slate. We're waiting anxiously for when the program's out-of-league schedules get a much needed upgrade. Ohio State had better hope this collection of opponents doesn't come back to haunt it when the time comes for the BCS computers and pollsters to decide on national championship dance partners.
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