Ohio State season preview | Meet the opponents

Staff Writer
Buckeye Xtra
Penn State will be expecting much this season from star quarterback Trace McSorley. [Kyle Robertson/Dispatch]


When: Noon Saturday, Ohio Stadium

Coach: Jonathan Smith (first season)

Last season: 1-11 overall, 0-9 and sixth in Pac-12 North

Star power: Redshirt senior Jake Luton will look for redemption as he reclaims command of an offense that struggled in his absence. After suffering a thoracic spine fracture in a Week 4 loss to Washington State, Luton missed the rest of the season and finished with 853 passing yards with four TDs and four interceptions.

Question marks: Smith has been charged with carrying the banner for a team that has won seven games in the last 2 1/2 years. The Beavers lack depth at tailback, lamenting the loss of Thomas Tyner, Trevorris Johnson and Ryan Nall. Sophomore Calvin Tyler and junior Artavis Pierce, who ranked second behind Nall with 323 yards rushing and one touchdown last season, are the only two running backs with game experience.


When: 3:30 p.m., Sept. 8, Ohio Stadium

Coach: Chris Ash (third season)

Last season: 4-8 overall, 3-6 and fifth in Big Ten East

Star power: The expectations are much higher this season with Rutgers returning a number of key defensive players, including an experienced back seven. These seven will fortify the defense and cause problems for a number of potent Big Ten offenses.

Question marks: The offense will be a work in progress. Redshirt senior Gio Rescigno started seven games last season, but job security will be on the line with freshman Artur Sitkowski and sophomore Jonathan Lewis taking snaps behind him. At running back, graduate transfer Jonathan Hillman is primed to carry the load. He rushed for 638 yards with five touchdowns for Boston College in 2017. The offensive line surrendered the fewest sacks in the conference last season but has holes to fill at the guard positions.

Game 3: TCU

When: 8 p.m., Sept. 15, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas

Coach: Gary Patterson (18th season)

Last season: 11-3 overall, 7-2 and second in Big 12; beat Stanford 39-37 in Alamo Bowl

Star power: Patterson has selected Shawn Robinson over fellow sophomore Michael Collins, a Penn State transfer, as starting quarterback. Robinson won his only start last season, a win over Texas Tech. He will be able to rely on the solid receiving corps of Jalen Reagor and KaVontae Turpin and the tailback duo of Darius Anderson and Sewo Oloniliua.

Question marks: The Horned Frogs will need to find a way to protect Robinson. They must replace four starting offensive linemen and tight ends. The defense also suffered a setback with the loss of linebacker Travin Howard and Big 12 sacks leader Mat Boesen, but they can build around Ben Banogu, a defensive end who recorded 16 1/2 tackles for loss and 8 1/2 sacks last season.


When: Time TBA, Sept. 22, Ohio Stadium

Coach: Willie Fritz (third season)

Last season: 5-7 overall, 3-5 and fifth in American Athletic West

Star power: QB Jonathan Banks transferred in last season and made an immediate impact, passing for nearly 1,800 yards and running for nearly 600. He also finished strong, totaling 565 yards through the air in the Green Wave’s final two games. Banks also relishes working behind an experienced offensive line featuring four returning starters.

Question marks: Banks’ top two targets return in Terren Encalade and Darnell Mooney, who combined for 73 catches, but depth at receiver is a concern. The loss of 1,000-yard RB Dontrell Hilliard also will be felt. Tulane also must find a reliable kicking game. The Green Wave lost four games by six or fewer points a year ago, and inconsistent special teams didn’t help.


When: Time TBA, Sept. 29, Beaver Stadium, State College, Pa.

Coach: James Franklin (fifth season)

Last season: 11-2 overall, 7-2 and tied for second in Big Ten East; beat Washington 35-28 in Fiesta Bowl

Star power: Fifth-year senior quarterback Trace McSorley, who has appeared on Heisman watchlists, is poised to have a big season. He has thrown a touchdown pass in 28 straight games, and his 77 touchdowns is a team-best by far. The line protecting McSorley returns four starters.

New to view: Saquon Barkley led a star-studded cast of offensive playmakers last season, but now Franklin hopes a new crop of talented players can fill the void. RB Miles Sanders, a five-star recruit, has been molded to take over the reins from Barkley. Even though Sanders, whose running style often mirrors that of Barkley, has some big shoes to fill, he has shown flashes of success.


When: Time TBA, Oct. 6, Ohio Stadium

Coach: Tom Allen (second season)

Last season: 5-7 overall, 2-7 and tied for sixth in Big Ten East

Star power: The Hoosiers welcome the return of safety-linebacker Marcelino Ball and receiver Nick Westbrook, two top-flight playmakers that missed playing time last season because of injury. Ball, who registered 75 tackles and two interceptions two years ago, will steady the secondary. Westbrook is returning from a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered on the opening kickoff of last year's opener.

Question marks: Indiana’s coaching staff hopes that some new faces can provide an imposing presence on defense. Defensive tackle Jacob Robinson got to the quarterback four times last season and should be next in line to move up into the starting rotation. Allen Stallings IV had three sacks last season.


When: Time TBA, Oct. 13, Ohio Stadium

Coach: P.J. Fleck (second season)

Last season: 5-7 overall, 2-7 and sixth in Big Ten West

Star power: Senior linebacker Blake Cashman is expected to have a season similar to 2016, when he led the team with 7½ sacks. Cashman had a relatively underwhelming junior season with just 20 solo tackles and two sacks, but with Jon Celestin gone, Cashman is poised for a resurgence. The Gophers offensive line will also be a strong point. Senior Donnell Greene, who has had 19 starts the past two years, will head the offensive line.

Question marks: Fleck has settled on a true freshman, Zack Annexstad, to start at quarterback. No matter what, about the only way to go is up. Only eight FBS teams finished with fewer passing yards per game than the Gophers in 2017, and five of those had run-heavy option schemes.


When: Time TBA, Oct. 20, Ross-Ade Stadium, West Lafayette, Ind.

Coach: Jeff Brohm (second season)

Last season: 7-6 overall, 4-5 and tied for third in Big Ten West; beat Arizona 38-35 in Foster Farms Bowl

Star power: Brohm galvanized the Boilermakers in a first season that culminated in their first bowl game win since 2011. He hopes to achieve even more success by shifting the focus to the offense. The starting quarterback gig is still up for grabs, with Elijah Sindelar and David Blough in the running. Blough maintains the edge in experience, but Sindelar has the stronger arm.

Question marks: Jackson Anthrop is the only returnee with more than 40 receptions last season. Brohm will lean more on his offense because the defense lost seven starters to graduation. He will rely on linebacker Marcus Bailey, who was the Boilermakers’ second-leading tackler with 89, to steady the defense.


When: Time TBA, Nov. 3, Ohio Stadium

Coach: Scott Frost (first season)

Last season: 4-8 overall, 3-6 and fifth in Big Ten West

Star power: Frost hopes to bring Central Florida’s winning pedigree to his alma mater. The run game will be stacked with all four backs returning and the welcome addition of newcomers Greg Bell and Maurice Washington. Wideouts Stanley Morgan Jr. and JD Spielman, who combined for 116 receptions, will drive the deep receiving corps.

Question marks: Frost expects a quick turnaround for the program comparable to what he accomplished with the Knights, who were winless the season before he arrived and undefeated in his final year there, but he will have his work cut out for him. Unproven freshman Adrian Martinez has been named the starting quarterback. The defense returns some experienced players, but the Cornhuskers were 98th out of the 130 FBS teams in total defense last season.


When: Time TBA, Nov. 10, Spartan Stadium, East Lansing, Mich.

Coach: Mark Dantonio (12th season)

Last season: 10-3 overall, 7-2 and tied for second in Big Ten East; beat Washington State 42-17 in Holiday Bowl

Star power: The Spartans must deal with powerhouses like Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Wisconsin, but they will at least have familiar faces helping them out. Ten starters on offense, including quarterback Brian Lewerke, and nine on defense return for Michigan State. The Spartans boast stout offensive and defensive lines. They only lost their center on offense, and defensive end Kenny Willekes and nose tackle Raequan Williams shore up that line.

Question marks: Running back LJ Scott can position himself among the top four on the school's career list in rushing yards and touchdowns with 2,591 yards and 25 TDs, but he will need to curb his turnover tendencies after fumbling five times last season.


When: Time TBA, Nov. 17, Maryland Stadium, College Park, Md.

Coach: DJ Durkin (third season)

Last season: 4-8 overall, 2-7 and tied for sixth in Big Ten East

Star power: Amid the turmoil at Maryland after offensive lineman Jordan McNair’s death and Durkin’s administrative leave, interim coach Matt Canada has found a few bright spots. Durkin touted a strong recruiting year, and Canada hopes to foster that talent and improve upon last season’s record. One of those recruits, Byron Cowart, will bolster the the defensive line. Cowart left Auburn and sat out last season but participated in 10 games in 2016.

Question marks: Maryland cycled through four quarterbacks in 2017. Tyrrell Pigrome and Kasim Hill are competing for the starting job; both suffered a torn ACL last season. Maryland’s offense will also have to find its way without DJ Moore, who made 80 catches for 1,033 yards and eight touchdowns.


When: Noon, Nov. 24, Ohio Stadium

Coach: Jim Harbaugh (fourth season)

Last season: 8-5 overall, 5-4 and fourth in Big Ten East; lost to South Carolina 26-19 in Outback Bowl

Star power: Former Mississippi quarterback Shea Patterson, who transferred to Michigan in December, will have a talented stable of running backs behind him. Karan Higdon and Chris Evans combined for 1,679 yards and 17 touchdowns. With all three, the Wolverines are apt to use more run-pass option plays. The offense is also brimming with up-and-coming talent at receiver such as Donovan Peoples. On defense, the Wolverines remain loaded, with nine starters returning.

Question marks: Patterson threw for 3,000-plus yards with 23 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in 10 starts, but the pressure will be heavy at Michigan, which has not won a Big Ten title since 2004, its longest stretch since the school's conference championships in 1950 and 1964.

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