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I hate to say it, but here’s my bold prediction for the 2021 Ohio State football season: the Buckeyes will not go undefeated! In fact, they’ll lose a conference game, and that loss will bring about some lineup changes and a fresh start.
Lots of question marks punctuate the forecast for this season. Who’s going to start at quarterback? Will he be ready from the get-go? Will he meet the very high expectations that Buckeye fans now have for the position? What about running back? Will someone emerge as a legitimate star?
On the other side of the ball, who’s going to be in the linebacker positions? Will they be any good? Will the defensive backs be an improvement over last year? Will there be a better pass rush to help them out?
Despite all of these unknowns, most commentators are predicting an undefeated season and a return to the playoffs. I hope so too, but I’m not so sure.
Ohio State starts off the schedule with two tough games: Minnesota on the road and then a ranked Oregon team at Ohio Stadium. I see the Bucks winning both games, but the wins won’t come easy, and it will be hard to foresee a shot at a national championship after these two performances.
Problems of all sorts will arise: C.J. Stroud (yes, I think that he’ll start at QB) will be inconsistent, the defensive secondary will be porous, and Master Teague won’t break any runs. The receivers and the stout pass blocking of the offensive line will allow long pass plays that pave the way for the Buckeyes to win two high-scoring, somewhat ugly, games. But there will be some worry.
Against Tulsa, Ohio State will look better, but, of course, the competition is a step down. Then comes the easy part of the schedule, and the Buckeyes will overwhelm Akron, Rutgers, and Maryland. So far, so good: 6-0.
Everybody knows that Indiana, in Bloomington, will be trouble. But I have faith in Ryan Day’s ability to use the extra week of preparation to get his team set. Bucks win. (I think.)
Mark your calendars, though, for the following week: October 30, Penn State in Columbus. This Nittany Lions team will have the most talent of any opponent so far (yes, even more than Oregon). Ohio State will lose — and will lose convincingly by 10 or 13 points. There will be some good line play, but defensive mistakes and penalties will require more points than the Buckeyes can score. Shock, even outrage, will come from fans.
The second part of my prediction is that Day will make changes following the loss. TreVeyon Henderson will be the No. 1 running back, carrying the ball 25 times per game from here on out. Kyle McCord will assume the quarterbacking duties, and we’ll see more long passes, more points. The defensive pass rush will become more aggressive, not just from the edge guys and the tackles, but there will be more blitzing, as the linebackers and secondary gain experience.
With these changes, Ohio State will have new life, and will, in fact, look like a new team and run the table. No trouble with Nebraska, Purdue, Michigan State, and Michigan. Whether they return to the Big Ten Championship Game will depend on whether Penn State will suffer two conference losses. Pretty iffy. I wish that it weren’t so.