COLUMBUS, Ohio — Urban Meyer was taking questions in his weekly radio show Thursday when a caller asked him about his role in Bowling Green’s near-upset of Ohio State in 2003.
The Ohio State head coach politely interjected that he’d actually left for Utah after the 2002 season and it was, in fact, Gregg Brandon who put a scare into a capacity Ohio Stadium crowd before losing, 24-17. Meyer won’t miss this one, though, and his presence doesn’t bode well for the team he once coached. The Falcons are coming off another impressive year, but Meyer has the Buckeyes rolling in a way that makes them virtually unbeatable, having won 50 of its first 54 games since taking over in Columbus.
Although his success against bigger schools at Bowling Green (the Falcons went 5-0 against then-BCS conference teams) was what helped launch his career, Meyer has prevented college football’s minnows from doing the same to him. This isn’t likely to change Saturday.
When Ohio State has the ball
It all starts with junior quarterback J.T. Barrett, who finally began to look like his old self late in 2015 after struggling to start the season. The Buckeyes only return three starters on offense, but the ones they do return were among the most crucial on last year’s squad. All-Big Ten offensive lineman Pat Elflein will slide over to center to replace Jacoby Boren, and Billy Price returns as a third-year starting offensive guard.
There are questions concerning the running backs the linemen will be blocking for and the receivers that Barrett will be targeting. Redshirt freshman Mike Weber was named Ohio State’s starting running back on Wednesday, but he’ll likely share the backfield with junior H-back Curtis Samuel. At receiver, it looks like sophomores Noah Brown and Parris Campbell will start alongside senior Corey Smith.
There’s a ton of unknown about that group but also a lot of talent. They’ll be up against a Bowling Green unit that returns six starters, including two of the best linebackers in the MAC in Austin Valdez and Trenton Greene. The key will be for Ohio State’s offensive linemen to win the battle up front, which they appear poised to do. If that’s the case, look for Weber to run for 100-plus yards and Barrett to have plenty of time to find receivers.
Edge: Ohio State
When Bowling Green has the ball
Given Bowling Green head coach Mike Jinks’ offensive expertise and the program’s standard set in previous years, this is the Falcons’ best chance to give Ohio State fits. It’s unfortunate, then, that they’re replacing their starting quarterback, their starting running back and five of their six leading receivers. On top of that, would-be left tackle Jacob Bennett is out for the year with an injury.
That’s bad news for a team that will be facing arguably the best group of defensive ends in the country. In addition to Tyquan Lewis and Sam Hubbard, Jalyn Holmes will also get a starter’s amount of reps at end. And then there are a pair of 5-star defensive ends — Nick Bosa and Jonathon Cooper — waiting to fill out the rotation.
Can Ohio State’s defensive line be disruptive enough to help out the secondary? That’s the hope for the Buckeyes, who are replacing three starters in the secondary. If Bowling Green can find a rhythm, however, it could be a wake-up call for a young defense.
Ohio State will be fine during its limited number of punts because senior Cameron Johnston has been a steady presence and one of the nation’s leading punters throughout his career. The Buckeyes also have the speed at gunner to either down the ball or stop the returner deep in opposing territory. The situation is slightly dicier at kicker, where starter Sean Nuernberger will miss the game with an injury. His replacement is walk-on Tyler Durbin, a former college soccer player who had never played football before last year. It will be quite an environment for his football debut.
Bowling Green returns its own dynamic punter in Joseph Davidson, who averaged 46.0 yards per attempt last season, 2.1 yards better than Johnston. Kicker is a question mark, however, as Blake Levin takes over for Tyler Tate. Ohio State’s returns and defense on kickoffs and punts give it the slight edge in an otherwise identical matchup.
Edge: Ohio State
One coach has three national championships and the other is coaching his first career game.
Edge: Ohio State
Bowling Green is a good program in the midst of a highly successful run, but Ohio State is in the process of doing things that have never been done. The Falcons will have a chance to do some damage, but there’s not a scenario in which they can hang with Ohio State for four quarters.
Prediction: Ohio State 49, Bowling Green 20