After what has seemed to be a never-ending offseason, we have finally made it. It is finally game week. While most of the opponents on the 2013 Ohio State schedule kickoff on Saturday, the lone exception being Indiana, who kicks against Indiana State on Thursday night. So what can we expect from our enemies this year? We're going to give you a quick overview before all the action starts.
Buffalo (0-0), Next game: at #2 Ohio State, Saturday 12:00 PM
Originally the Buffalo Bulls were scheduled to play in The Horseshoe on September 21st, but due to Vanderbilt backing out of this year's season opener, the non-conference portion of the 2013 Ohio State schedule had to be juggled. The earlier scheduling might provide the Bulls with a couple advantages they would miss in late September, as the Buckeyes will be without the suspended Carlos Hyde, Rod Smith, and Bradley Roby for the matchup. The bad news for the Bulls though is that even without those three players, the Buckeyes are still loaded with talent.
The Bulls are led by Jeff Quinn, who is entering his fourth season as the Buffalo head coach. The first three years of his tenure in Buffalo has only resulted in a 9-27 record, but things are looking up as each year has saw the Bulls better their win total from the previous year by a win under Quinn. This year should see similar improvement from the Bulls, with running back Branden Oliver leading the offense and linebacker Khalil Mack heading up the defense.
While Ohio State shouldn't have too much trouble with the Bulls, Buckeye fans should keep their eyes on the senior linebacker Khalil Mack. Many think that Mack is poised for a bright future at the next level, and will be one of the best linerbackers that Buckeyes will square off against this year.
San Diego State (0-0), Next game: vs. Eastern Illinois, Saturday 8:00 PM
The Aztecs enter the 2013 season coming of a 9-4 2012 campaign, which ended with a 23-6 loss to BYU in the Poinsettia Bowl. From last year's team the Aztec offense returns starting QB Adam Dingwell along with 1400 yard rusher, Adam Muema. While two of the main cogs of the offense return, they will have to adjust to the system that new offensive coordinator Bob Toledo wants the Aztecs to run.
The last time that San Diego State came to Columbus was in 2005 when the Buckeyes won 27-6. While the score might not indicate it, the Aztec defense played hard that day and did their best to keep the team in it. This year's defense for the Aztecs is quietly good, as they are returning most of their starters from last year.
The San Diego State shouldn't have too many problems with Eastern Illinois on Saturday, as it will give the Aztecs a chance to iron out any wrinkles that they may have before coming into Columbus next Saturday to square off with the Buckeyes.
California (0-0), Next game: vs. #22 Northwestern, Saturday 10:30 PM:
Not only do the Golden Bears welcome Ohio State to Berkeley in the third week of the season, Northwestern makes the trip out to the west coast to help California open up the 2013 season. In both games that the Golden Bears and new head coach Sonny Dykes will play against Big Ten teams this year, they figure to be underdogs. Even if California does end up losing both games against Big Ten teams, they should finish the season with as many wins as Illinois against Big Ten teams.
Many moons ago when this home-and-home series was scheduled, California was one of the better teams in college football. Since that time the Golden Bears have fallen on hard times, and finally had to make a coaching change last year, getting rid of Jeff Tedford and hiring Sonny Dykes. The offense that Dykes brings to Berkeley with him from Louisiana Tech can certainly put points on the board. The good thing for Northwestern this week and Ohio State in a couple weeks, is that it is so early in Dykes' regime that the Golden Bears will still be adjusting and learning the new philosophies of Dykes' coaching.
#23 Wisconsin (0-0), Next game: vs. Massachusetts, Saturday 12:00 PM:
Gary Andersen should get a chance to ease his way into his coaching career at Wisconsin with what should be two layup games to open up the season, welcoming Massachusetts to Madison this Saturday, followed by Tennessee Tech next week. While there are questions as to whether Joel Stave or Curt Phillips will start at quarterback for the Badgers, it shouldn't really matter that much as both should see the field against these early season foes.
Whether it be Stave or Phillips starting for the Badgers, they probably shouldn't need to throw a pass the first two games, as the Badger running game is more than capable of shouldering the offensive load. James White and Melvin Gordon figure to combine to create a scary combo in the backfield for the Badgers, continuing the assembly line of Wisconsin running backs, While I joke about the running backs doing it all for the Badgers, they still do have Jared Abbrederis to lean on if they need to create any offense through the air.
The first two games against weaker teams will give Wisconsin a chance to adjust to Gary Andersen's 3-4 defense that he brought with him from Utah State. Andersen does have a luxury though as he can count on linebacker Chris Borland to lead the defense and try to ensure that everything is in place.
#22 Northwestern (0-0), Next game: at California, Saturday 10:30 PM:
Northwestern makes the trip out to California this week to open up a 2013 schedule that has some pretty high expectations for the Wildcats. Returning quarterback Kain Colter and running back Venric Mark have Northwestern primed for a possible run to the Big Ten title game in Indianapolis in December. The Wildcats could have found their way to Lucas Oil Stadium last year, but they lost three games last year by a combined 19 points, include a heartbreaking one-point loss to eventual Legends Division champions Nebraska.
While the Northwestern offense looks to have that side of the football under control, there are still some questions that the defense will have to answer once the season gets started. The Wildcats return eight starters on the defensive side of the football, but the 2012 Northwestern defense wasn't particularly strong, allowing 385 yards per game to the opposition. A strong defensive performance against Sonny Dykes' "Air Raid" offense could set the tone for the season and give the Wildcats defense a confidence boost the rest of the year.
Iowa (0-0), Next game: vs. Northern Illinois, Saturday 3:30 PM:
These two teams squared off to start the 2012 season, with the Hawkeyes squeaking by with a 18-17 win. From there the teams headed in opposite directions with Northern Illinois winning the rest of their games before losing to Florida State in the Orange Bowl. On the other hand, Iowa finished the 2012 season at 4-8, the worst record they have posted since 2000.
Kirk Ferentz recently named Jake Rudock the starting quarterback, answering the question of who is going to take over for the graduated James Vandenberg. The main source of offense this year for the Hawkeyes should come from junior running back Mark Weisman. Knowing the Iowa running back history lately though, I'm expecting Weisman to have something crazy happen to him, like contracting dysentery halfway through the season. Although there are many out there that will contend that Greg Davis is the dysentery, and judging by what we saw from the Iowa offense in 2012, those people aren't wrong.
Iowa's defense should be able to keep them in games, but unless the offense is able to fix a lot of the issues they dealt with in 2012, they could be headed for a similar fate in 2013. The Hawkeyes lost five games by less than seven points. This year they'll have to be better in close games if they want to head to a bowl.
Penn State (0-0), Next game: at Syracuse, Saturday 3:30 PM:
Year two of the Bill O'Brien era begins on Saturday in Metlife Stadium against Syracuse, and that will bring a new quarterback taking snaps from center for the Nittany Lions. Tyler Ferguson looks to have the early hold on the job, but he will just be keeping the quarterback position warm for mega-talented freshman Christian Hackenberg. No matter who handles the quarterback position for Penn State this year, they'll have weapons in wide receiver Allen Robinson and running back Zach Zwinak to help ease some of the pressure.
Penn State does have some pieces coming back on defense as well, with Anthony Zettel and Deion Barnes returning to a unit that led the Big Ten in sacks last year. Penn State will have to replace linebackers Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges, but luckily linebackers grown on trees in Happy Valley, as the Nittany Lions always seem to find quality linebackers.
Penn State is catching a Syracuse team that is in transition, with coach Doug Marrone and quarterback Ryan Nassib having moved on to the NFL following last season. A strong performance in the opener could set the tone for another 8-4 season or even better if Penn State can spring a couple upsets.
Purdue (0-0), Next game: at Cincinnati, Saturday 12:00 PM:
The first game for Purdue under former Ohio State assistant coach Darrell Hazell is a tough test, as the Boilermakers travel to Cincinnati to face the Bearcats. Recently Hazell named fifth-year senior Rob Henry starting quarterback, with freshman Danny Etling waiting in the wings. Luckily for Henry is that he will have running back Akeem Hunt to hand the ball off to. Hunt is poised for a breakout season, as many are picturing him in the mold of Hazell's running back at Kent State, Dri Archer.
The Boilermakers will matchup with a team also welcoming in a new coach and starting quarterback. Tommy Tuberville took over when Butch Jones headed to Tennessee. Sixth-year senior Brendon Kay will taking the snaps for Cincinnati, Even though both teams are facing a lot of the same issues, Cincinnati might be just a little ahead of Purdue at this point. Hazell will have Purdue headed in the right direction, he just needs some time to get his system and players in place.
Illinois (0-0), Next game: vs. Southern Illinois, Saturday 12:00 PM:
Illinois starts their 2013 on Saturday against Southern Illinois, which by looking at their schedule looks like it might be one of their best shots at earning a win this season. Saying that Tim Beckman's first year in Champaign was rough would be an understatement, as the Fighting Illini only went 2-10 and failed to win a game in the Big Ten.
Senior Nathan Scheelhaase returns for what seems to be his 15th season as Illinois starting quarterback. There isn't much that the offense has to compliment Scheelhaase, but one player that could contribute is incoming JUCO wide receiver Martize Barr. Former Western Michigan coach Bill Cubit steps into to become the offensive coordinator, and hopefully overhaul what Illinois is able to do when they possess the football.
The best player Illinois has returning on the defensive side of the football is linebacker Jonathan Brown. The linebacker is on the Butkus Award watch list despite missing four games due to injury in the 2012 season. The Fighting Illini are hoping that with Brown healthy and the addition of incoming freshman cornerback Darius Mosley might be able to help the defensive tighten up a little bit and keep them in games a little longer.
Indiana (0-0), Next game: vs. Indiana State, Thursday 7:00 PM:
Indiana opens their season on Thursday when the welcome in-state foe into Bloomington. While we know Indiana's first opponent, we don't yet know who head coach Kevin Wilson will send out to take the snaps at quarterback for the Hoosiers. Wilson hasn't yet announced who will be the starter between Cam Coffman, Tre Robinson, and Nate Sudfeld. Whatever quarterback ends up leading the Hoosiers offense onto the field will have the luxury of throwing to wide receiver Cody Latimer. Last year Latimer racked up 51 catches, 805 yards, and 6 TDs for the Hoosiers and should only continue to grow as he enters his junior season in Bloomington.
The Hoosiers return eight starters on the defensive side of the football. and will look to redeem their performance of the last three games of 2012 when they allowed 163 points. With the offensive side of the football being in pretty good shape, Wilson is going to need his defensive to improve in a big way if the Hoosiers want to realize their dreams of becoming bowl eligible this season.
#17 Michigan (0-0), Next game: vs. Central Michigan, Saturday 3:30 PM:
The third year of the Brady Hoke era begins in Ann Arbor on Saturday as the Wolverines welcome in directional school foe Central Michigan into "The Big House". The quarterback position is finally all Devin Gardner's now that Denard Robinson has graduated and moved on to the NFL. Running backs Fitz Toussaint and Derrick Green will help to take some of the pressure off or Gardner. While Gardner was recruited to Michigan as a quarterback, he did move to wide receiver while Denard took the snaps. Now that he is back to quarterback it will allow him to try and show some of the skills that earned him a scholarship from the maize & blue.
While the season will begin on Saturday for the Wolverines, they'll have to wait a while for linebacker Jake Ryan to return. The standout tore his ACL in spring practice and it looks as if he won't return to the lineup until around mid-season. Hoke and company will have the luxury of getting a couple defensive players back this season from knee injuries that kept them out for most to all of the 2012 season. Defensive back Blake Countess and defensive end Chris Wormley should be able to add to a stingy defensive unit that only allowed opposing teams to score 20+ points in four out of twelve regular season games.