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Receivers are coming out of nowhere for the Ohio State offense

Walk-on C.J. Saunders scored his first touchdown with the Buckeyes Saturday.

NCAA Football: UNLV at Ohio State Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

“It’s the best feeling in the land, easily. When I got in the end zone, I just wanted to make sure I got in that red (turf). When I heard the screams from the fans, I knew it was a touchdown. That was unreal the roar I heard.”

-Ohio State wide receiver C.J. Saunders, via Steve Helwagon, 247Sports

The Ohio State Buckeyes set both a program and conference record Saturday, with seven different receivers catching touchdown passes. Among those receivers was junior walk-on C.J. Saunders, who caught the Buckeyes’ sixth passing touchdown of the game from Dwayne Haskins in the second quarter. The catch set the Ohio State record for number of different receivers to catch a touchdown. Tight end Rashod Berry’s third quarter score set a new Big Ten record in the same category with seven different receivers catching a touchdown pass. Saunders finished the game with a team-high six catches for 102 yards, while Berry ended the day with three receptions for 57 yards. The walk-on from Dublin Coffman, who received no FBS offers coming out of high school, is seeing his first on-field action this season, with his only previous reception coming last weekend against Army.

Initially invited to walk-on by former co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell, Saunders spent the previous two seasons in the defensive secondary before switching over to receiver in the spring, the position he played in high school. After earning high praise from both Urban Meyer and Zach Smith, Saunders was part of the travel roster for the Buckeyes’ opener against Indiana. Still, Saunders is the smallest wide receiver listed on the roster at 5-foot-11, 176-pounds, and Meyer has acknowledged that he has been doing some serious work with strength coach Mick Marotti to get bigger. While mentioning problems that the program has had previously with small receivers, Meyer mentioned Saunders’ strong hands and his courage in setting himself apart.

Senior quarterback J.T. Barrett also got in on the praise for Saunders: “He’s just a hard-working dude,” he said. “He goes out there every day and tries to get a little better. It doesn’t matter what it is. Those are the guys you want to be around--guys who are about their business.”

“On paper, the Buckeyes may still have a few chances to experiment ahead of them. But as they dive back into the Big Ten slate, every game the rest of the way will have championship implications.”

-Austin Ward, Land of 10

It seems as though Ohio State has come a long way in two short weeks following their devastating loss to Oklahoma. Now, as the Buckeyes dive back into their Big Ten schedule, they still have a few weeks to tweak things before facing off against No. 4 Penn State. This weekend, Ohio State is set to face 1-3 Rutgers after opening as 28.5-point favorites. After beating enormous spreads the past two weeks against Army and UNLV, the offense looks poised for more fireworks against the embattled Scarlet Knights. Still, even after throwing for five touchdowns in less than a half, questions remain around the Buckeyes’ offense in general and J.T. Barrett’s passing attack in particular.

After facing significant criticism following the loss to Oklahoma, Barrett and the offense have gotten back to their true identity. By opening up the run game and being efficient with short passes, the vertical passing game began to fire against UNLV this weekend. Barrett threw for 209 yards and five touchdowns through the first half, and did not need the “big arm” that has been so questioned in the last few weeks. With speedy receivers like Parris Campbell and Binjimen Victor, short passes proved plenty effective, as those receivers were able to get out in space.

Moreover, Ohio State has two viable options at running back. While Mike Weber was the workhorse last season as a freshman, true freshman J.K. Dobbins has taken over this year with Weber mostly sidelined with a hamstring injury. Dobbins already has 520 yards on the season on just 69 attempts. Weber, meanwhile, has had just seven carries on the season in two games, but could be back in full force behind Dobbins by the time the Buckeyes get rolling in conference play. Meyer and offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson have even toyed with the idea of playing both Weber and Dobbins in tandem.

“The Buckeyes were left for dead after their week 15-point loss to Oklahoma in week two, but history suggests Urban Meyer’s team will improve dramatically before season’s end.”

-Mark Schlabach, ESPN

While Ohio State, through four weeks of play, has not proven itself to be a likely threat to Alabama’s reigning dominance, history has shown that the Buckeyes are more than capable of getting to that point by the time the College Football Playoff rolls around. Urban Meyer, more than any other active coach, has Nick Saban’s number, as the only current FBS coach to have defeated the Tide under Saban on more than one occasion. Still, the Buckeyes will need to record solid wins over the likes of Penn State and Michigan before the end of the season to even have a shot at Bama.

The Crimson Tide currently sit in an unprecedented state of power after throttling Vanderbilt by a 59-0 margin, and have the best odds of any Power 5 team of winning their conference. It seems unlikely that anyone in the SEC could challenge them at this point, and there are few teams in the nation who would be able to present a threat to Saban and his mastery.

Chief among those threats, however, are the second-ranked Clemson Tigers, the team which toppled Bama in last season’s championship game behind quarterback Deshaun Watson. Watson may be gone, but the Tigers’ defensive line remains one of the best in the nation. Clemson has had some early wake up calls already, entering the fourth quarter of last week’s matchup tied seven-all with Boston College and narrowly defeating Auburn at home earlier in the month.

Oklahoma is the next likely candidate, behind quarterback Baker Mayfield. As Ohio State fans know, Mayfield brings a certain swagger to the quarterback position a la Johnny Manziel, and has the confidence to take down the top team in the nation.

Penn State, meanwhile, has the dual threat of Heisman-candidate Saquon Barkley at running back and Trace McSorley at the helm. USC and Georgia are also in the discussion.

The Ohio State Buckeyes men’s hockey team enters the season ranked No. 19 nationally. They are scheduled to open the 2017-18 season Saturday with an exhibition game at the Schottenstein Center.

Last year’s team made the NCAA Tournament with the nation’s third-best scoring offense, but were bounced in the first round by Minnesota-Duluth. It was the seventh time that Ohio State had made the NCAA Tournament, and the team’s first appearance since 2009.

The Buckeyes return 19 players from that squad heading into this season with two, junior Mason Jobst and senior Matthew Weis, named to the Big Ten Preseason watch list.