The Ohio State team that lost to Virginia Tech at the beginning of last season was not the same Ohio State team that beat Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon by a combined score of 143-55 at the end of the season. Yes, the Buckeyes improved mightily as the season progressed – so much so that they won the inaugural College Football Playoff, not to mention their first national championship since 2002.
Still, the fact remains that the Buckeyes lost to the Hokies in Columbus and must open the 2015 season on the road in Blacksburg on Sept. 7.
“That’s a good one. I’ll be at that one,” CBSSports.com national college football reporter Jon Solomon said on CBS Sports Radio’s Ferrall on the Bench. “The big question is, who’s going to play quarterback? Will it be Cardale Jones? Will it be J.T. Barrett? Urban Meyer says he won’t declare the starter until the day of the game. We’ll see when they come out on the field.”
Barrett was a Heisman Trophy contender last season before breaking his ankle against Michigan. Jones, however, stepped in and went 3-0 as a starter against some of the best teams in the nation.
Barrett struggled mightily against the Hokies in his second career start last season. He was sacked seven times and completed 9-of-29 passes for 219 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions, including a pick-six that sealed the loss with less than a minute to go.
“Ohio State got surprised last year by Virginia Tech’s defense,” Solomon said. “They weren’t expecting them to play the five-man front that they ended up facing. If they come out with that same defense, you got to think Ohio State will be better prepared this time, but they’re without four players, including Joey Bosa and three H-back/wide receivers. (That means) Braxton Miller becomes a really important player in Week 1 right away at his new position, wide receiver.”
Elsewhere in the Big Ten, Wisconsin will face its toughest test of the season in Week 1. The Badgers play Alabama at AT&T Stadium in Dallas on Sept. 5. Wisconsin played the SEC tough last season, losing to LSU, 28-24, in the season-opener and beating Auburn, 34-31, in the Outback Bowl.
Alabama, however, is Alabama.
“It’ll be interesting to see (how the Badgers do),” Solomon said. “They’ve lost Melvin Gordon. It’s a new coach (Paul Chryst). This is a tough task for them in an opener against Alabama. I’d be surprised if Wisconsin were to win the game. Maybe they can keep it competitive for a little while.”
The Tide, meanwhile, are coming off a disappointing 42-35 loss to Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl – a game they led 21-6 in the first half. Alabama has a ton of talent once more but is yet to name a starting quarterback.
“They don’t have an answer for that,” Solomon said. “Knowing Nick Saban’s track record, we may not have an answer for a couple weeks. He has done (it) in the past where he’ll have two quarterbacks play and then he’ll see who the hot guy (is) and then try to find one guy by about Week 3 or so.”