By the end of week four of the 2011 season, the Buffs will have traveled more than 7,000 total miles. More than 3,300 miles each way to play at Hawaii in Week 1, the game in Denver in Week 3, and then another 1,200 miles each way to play in the Horseshoe in Week 4. That is a LOT of traveling. Sure, the trip to Ohio State will net our athletic department $2 million, but holy cow.
Not to mention that we're playing in the freakin Horseshoe. I don't care what Ohio State has gone through or who they'll be missing, that is a loud and unforgiving place to play.
On the other hand, they've been through a lot and they're missing some of their most talented players, not to mention starting from scratch at the QB position...
Follow the jump to see if I'm crazy enough to predict 4 straight victories to start the season!
Ohio State Buckeyes
This may be the hardest preview to write. The Buckeyes are dealing with so much change in personnel this offseason that it's ridiculous. They are facing a CU-circa '06 lack of depth along the offensive line, starting over at QB with the loss of the fancy car-driving, merch-trading Pryor, and are missing their most experienced running back and receiver on offense, plus a bunch of high draft picks on defense. Plus, Jim Tressel will no longer be patrolling the OSU sidelines in that sweater-vest. They've had the craziest offseason in college football. It's a good thing (for them) that they've got some of the most loyal fans around, or there would be a good chance we'd be rolling into a mostly empty stadium for this game. But I have a feeling that won't be the case.
We start at QB, where they will start...someone! A bold prediction, I know. But they don't know yet. If Tressel was still there, I would say they go with Braxton Miller, the true freshman QB that is supposed to be the next Michael Vick/Pat White. That's not much pressure, is it? Here's the thing. He may very well end up being the next great dual-threat QB in college football, but there's no way it happens this year. Whoever they start, is going to be playing behind a line that only returns 2 starters for the first 5 games, with a whole lot of unproven depth behind that. Plus, in those first five games, they will also be missing DeVier Posey and Boom Herron, OSU's most experienced (by a lot) WR and RB respectively. So whoever starts at QB is going to struggle. If our defensive line improves as the season goes on, they might have a field day against the Buckeyes.
Along that offensive line, we will definitely (unless injuries occur) be facing Mike Brewster at center and J.B. Shugarts at right tackle. They are both very good, but they'll be forced to carry this line for nearly half of the season. Mike Adams, OSU's very good left tackle will be held out for the first five games, which will cause problems for the Buckeyes. That means most of the offensive line will still be getting their feet wet when they face us. Also, they will just have faced the Miami Hurricanes, and might be looking ahead to the start of their conference schedule. While it's a slim chance, they may overlook our Buffs a little bit. It sounds like we'll be rotating our defensive tackles plenty, which may give the newbies along the OSU line some trouble. That will make life much easier for our defense.
OSU is looking for the guy who can carry the load at RB while Herron is out. Consistency is the name of the game, but they're working with a new offensive line. The Miami game will be one to watch. If the Hurricanes can shut down the OSU running game, it means they'll be relying on an inexperienced QB to move the ball. Hopefully we'll be able to force that same thing to happen.
The Buckeyes may have lost a number of talented players, but this is the Ohio State defense we're talking about. They're going to find replacements and new talent will find its way onto the field. They've got plenty of guys chomping at the bit to get on the field and be the next great player there. Up front you've got John Simon who is looking to have a big year after 'only' netting 3 sacks and 8.5 TFLs in the middle, plus the enormous John Hankins and a couple of others who we're bound to see mixing it up with our o-line. At defensive end, we're going to see senior Nathan Williams and a slew of others. They've got a lot of depth along their defensive line and I'm pretty sure they're going to use most of it. This will be the measuring stick for our offensive line. If we can keep Tyler Hansen clean and create some lanes for Rodney Stewart (and I don't know that we'll be able to) our offense is going to make a little noise this season.
At linebacker, OSU once again has some talented individuals who will probably make big names for themselves. Sabino and Sweat (isn't that a great LB name?) are the two guys whose names we'll be hearing most. They both are poised to have breakout seasons at the Middle & Weakside LB spots. They have a couple of guys competing to play on the strongside (which they sub-out in their Nickel package), and they'll probably end up rotating them there throughout the season. The LBs won't be the most experienced group the Buckeyes have fielded, but they have a TON of potential. We can only hope they haven't gelled as a unit by Week 4, otherwise it is going to be incredibly tough sledding for Stewart and the RBs. We're going to have to hope our tight ends and fullbacks bring their A-game in the run-game.
At cornerback, they've got Travis Howard penciled in on one side. He had a few great games last year and many (including Howard himself) believe he's going to be the next great CB out of OSU. Opposite him, they have a pretty lively competition and whoever wins will surely be able to hold his own. At safety, they begin the season with the same two guys they had slotted to start in 2010. Johnson, the free safety, wasn't great last year, so they're hoping he has improved in the offseason. Barnett looked great, but was lost to injury after only a few games. Buckeye fans hope he can return at the same level he was at last year. Tyler Moeller should be back at the so-called 'star' position (OSU's nickelback). He has the potential to be a great player them after dealing with some injuries, but we'll see if he can live up to that.
This will be an incredibly tough matchup for our offense. Hansen will feel some pressure and our offensive ine will have its work cut out to get any kind of push for Speedy.
This will be an interesting game. I know it would be crazy for me to predict four straight victories to start the season under a new staff, so I'm not going to make a prediction on this one quite yet. I do think this is a very winnable game. Of course, the Buffs will have to overcome the road loss streak (which I think they will at Hawaii) and playing in an incredibly hostile environment. But these Buckeyes are as vulnerable as they've been in the last decade. Or at least, they look that way right now. Their first couple of games may not show us what OSU brings to the table, but their matchup against the Miami Hurricanes will be one to watch. I know the OSU defense will be good, but we have no idea if the OSU Offense will be able to do anything. Of course, we don't know either way about CU's units, but I'm pretty sure they both will be improved.
What do you think?
*In doing my research, I discovered an update on one of our long lost recruiting targets of the 2011 class, Michael Thomas. He's at a Prep School doing the post secondary year before College thing and still lists us as a possible candidate. At the very least, it's good to know the kid is still out there doing his thing.