By Jim Naveau
Summer’s heading into the back stretch. Or at least it is if you believe fall starts as soon as college football season begins.
The Big Ten’s football media days will be Monday and Tuesday in Chicago. All 14 of the Big Ten coaches will be there and three players from each team will be there, answering questions. Ohio State will be represented by coach Urban Meyer, quarterback J.T. Barrett, offensive lineman Pat Elflein and linebacker Raekwon McMillan.
So, if you want to get a head start. Here are a few questions and answers about Ohio State and the Big Ten in the upcoming season:
Question: OK, big question first. How realistic is it to be talking about Ohio State winning the East Division of the Big Ten, winning the Big Ten and going to the College Football Playoff after losing 16 starters from last season, including five first-round NFL draft choices?
Answer: It’s not realistic. But is it possible? Maybe if almost everything goes right and some highly rated recruits play up to their four-star and five-star rankings all season long.
Don’t dismiss the Buckeyes’ chances of having a big season, but don’t bet heavily on it quite yet.
Question: Last week in a vote of 39 sportswriters who cover Big Ten football, 27 of them predicted Ohio State to win the Big Ten championship. How do the Buckeyes get so much love in a season when they have only six returning starters?
Answer: Maybe it’s habit. Maybe it’s Urban Meyer’s 50-4 record at Ohio State. Maybe it’s because of the Buckeyes’ recruiting successes. The best answer probably is there is a lack of a solid alternatives. There are also big question marks for all the other contenders in the Big Ten.
Question: Jim Harbaugh recently appeared in a rap video to promote Michigan football. Which other Big Ten coach would be most likely to do a rap video?
Answer: It’s easier to say which ones wouldn’t do it. But if I had to pick one, I’d say Penn State’s James Franklin, because he has never met a microphone he didn’t like.
For a really, really, really long shot, go with Minnesota coach Tracy Claeys just because he’s not married and doesn’t have any children to be embarrassed by his performance in it.
Question: Which Big Ten coach is the No. 1 candidate to be on the hot seat this season?
Answer: The obvious answer is Purdue’s Darrell Hazell, who has a 6-30 overall record in three seasons with the Boilermakers and has won only two of 24 Big Ten games.
It’s early, but if Nebraska doesn’t improve drastically over its 5-7 record in Mike Riley’s first season last fall, he could start hearing rumblings in the distance. Remember, this is a school which fired Bo Pelini and Frank Solich after both of them averaged nine wins a season.
Question: Will running back Mike Weber live up to expectations at Ohio State this season?
Answer: He’d better live up to them if Ohio State is going to be a contender to win its division and go to the Big Ten championship game. Even before Bri’onte Dunn was dismissed from the team, most people expected Weber to emerge as OSU’s No. 1 ball carrier this season.
After missing all of his first season in Columbus with a knee injury, Weber looked like he had the right stuff in the Buckeyes’ spring game. But a word of caution here, Ezekiel Elliott started slowly and rushed for 44 yards, 32 yards and 65 yards in his first three games as a starter for OSU.
Question: Will OSU’s 2015 co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash be missed as much this season as former offensive coordinator Tom Herman was last season?
Answer: Probably not quite as much. In hindsight, making Ed Warinner offensive coordinator but keeping him on the sidelines as offensive line coach was a bad decision. The Michigan game and the Fiesta Bowl game appeared to prove that.
That kind of mistake won’t be repeated with Greg Schiano, who is Ash’s replacement. Also, Herman just might be a rare talent that Ohio State was lucky to hold on to as long as it did.
Question: Is J.T. Barrett the most irreplaceable player at Ohio State in a long time?
Answer: Two years ago at this time, asking the same thing about Braxton Miller would have been a legitimate question, but first Barrett and then Cardale Jones proved they were very capable replacements after Miller was lost to a season-ending injury.
But losing Barrett for any significant amount of time because of an injury would leave an even larger hole in OSU’s season than losing Miller did because whoever would have to step in would have much less proven talent around him than Barrett did in 2014.
Question: Any truth that Urban Meyer will be taking on a new title at no increase in pay and will be happy about it?
Answer: Yes, and it’s a job most people are thrilled to get. His daughter Nicki posted a photo on Instagram of her baby bump on July 15 and said she was 17 weeks along. So that means the OSU coach will become a grandfather this fall.
Question: What’s a good guess for Ohio State’s record this season?
Answer: It’s just a guess, but 10-2. Winning at Oklahoma in September will be tough. Beating Michigan and Michigan State back to back will be tough. And if a team loaded with experience and NFL talent could lose a game it was expected to win last year, it certainly could happen to this year’s inexperienced team.
Contact Jim Naveau at [email protected]