Right before the start of the Big Ten conference slate, the Buckeyes get two final tune-up games in Northern Illinois and Western Michigan. While neither team is necessarily going to keep Urban up at night, Northern Illinois was a double digit win team last season and Western Michigan has a seriously legit quarterback and running back duo.
|Team||2014 W/L||2014 F/+||2014 Off S&P+||2014 Def S&P+||2014 FEI||2015 Proj. FEI||2015 Proj. S&P+|
Can either of these teams knock off Ohio State?
No. Well, probably not. It would be a huge upset, like an Indiana-over-Ohio State level of upset.
A good record, but disappointing season for the Huskies
All accounts had a good season, going 11-3 and taking down Northwestern and Western Michigan, but Husky fans probably feel a little dissatisfied despite the record and no longer having Jordan Lynch on the roster. That's because the Huskies actually weren't that great statistically (69th in F/+ rankings) and were blown out in the two games they played against quality opponents (52-14 against Arkansas and 52-23 in the Boca Raton Bowl against Marshall).
The Northern Illinois offense just wasn't the same last season missing Jordan Lynch. Lynch ran for 1,920 yards on 6.6 yards per carry in 2013, leading the 31st overall offense (S&P+) and 18th-best rushing offense. His replacement at quarterback, Drew Hare, certainly wasn't bad -- rushing for 900 yards on 5.7 yards per carry and a 53.6% Opportunity Rate -- he was more about consistency than the breakthrough rushing from Lynch. The Huskies are one of the most run-heavy teams the Buckeyes are likely to see all season, ranking 12th in Adjusted Run/Pass ratio. Not only do they run far more than they pass, but they move at a lightning-fast pace, ranking 10th in my Hurry Up No Huddle metric. The Buckeyes really can enjoy loading the box and working on that run defense for this one -- certainly an area that improved gradually throughout last season for the Buckeyes.
Head Coach P.J. Fleck is a Northern Illinois alum and ranks second on the school's list of all time single-season receiving yards with 1,028 yards as a senior (which was just 2003!). After a short stint in the NFL, Fleck actually was a grad assistant for the tight ends and special teams at Ohio State in 2006 before returning to his alma mater. Unfortunately, Fleck lost the season-ending dual with the Huskies 31-21 last year.
The Broncos are actually pretty darn good
Western Michigan has a two-headed monster in the backfield and wins with a plodding balance. Jarvion Franklin was the workhorse running back that you'd expect from an Iowa or Penn State -- under-recruited but heavily utilized by the Broncos. Franklin averaged nearly 24 carries a game last season on the way to a season total of 1,551 yards (5 yards per carry). Franklin isn't the most explosive runner, but the Broncos are balanced enough that the passing game more than made up for that -- the offense was the fifth-most explosive in the country according to IsoPPP.
Quarterback Zach Terrell is legit, throwing for 3,443 yards with a 68% completion percentage and only ten interceptions. Sure, it's just Terrell and only one other quarterback on the roster who has thrown another pass (and his backup literally had one pass attempt last season), but Terrell has serious skills. By all accounts he looks like one of guys who just slipped through the recruiting services' cracks.
Again, the Broncos are all about balance, but they're in no hurry. They were in the middle of the pack for both solo tackles (a proxy measure for spread offenses) and in Adjusted Run/Pass ratio, but they're also the sixth-least HUNH offense, mainly due to their glacial pace. Where the Huskies will test the Buckeyes' rush defense, the Broncos present a balanced but plodding attack that should really challenge the secondary to limit explosive plays in the back end.