Saturday, August 30th, 12:00 p.m. (et)
The Sports Network
By Pat Taggart, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: The second-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes have lost the national title game the last two years, and they hope for another chance to capture college football's ultimate prize as they begin the 2008 season against Youngstown State. Last season ended with a 38-24 loss to LSU in the championship game, but that defeat should not completely overshadow a third straight Big Ten Championship. Also, it should be pointed out that the 2007 team was rather young, a statement that is backed up by the fact that both the offense and defense welcome back nine starters in 2008. Coach Jim Tressel has the talent in place to win it all, and he would love to prove his doubters wrong. Youngstown State competes at the FCS level and is a member of the Missouri Valley Conference. The Penguins are ranked 12th nationally at that level. Despite a 7-4 overall finish a year ago, there is a wealth of returning talent in place. Ohio State and Youngstown State met on the football field for the first time last season, and the Buckeyes cruised to a 38-6 victory.
Last season, Youngstown State averaged 27.4 ppg and 366.8 total ypg. Of the 35 touchdowns that the offense scored, 28 of those came by way of the ground attack. Rather than rely on one player to carry the load, YSU used a backfield-by-committee approach in 2007, and more of the same is expected this fall. Expect the team to rely on senior Kevin Smith, who rushed for 610 yards and 10 touchdowns on only 123 carries. He is more than capable of an increased workload, but 20 carries per contest may be a stretch. As for the versatile Ferlando Williams, he led the team in receiving with 42 catches for 499 yards while also rushing for 464 yards and nine scores. Williams averages 6.3 ypc, impressive by any standards. It looks like Todd Rowan will get a chance to lead the offense from his quarterback position, but he leash may be short.
YSU was a strong defensive team in 2007, limiting the opposition to 18.5 ppg and 318.2 total ypg. The play against the run was impressive, as the Penguins held foes to 3.5 ypc. As for the pass defense, the team finished with more interceptions than touchdowns allowed. The top four tacklers from the squad are gone, so there are some big shoes to fill. It will be hard to get a good look at the quality of this defense in the opener, as Ohio State is simply too talented for any FCS defense. But players like senior defensive tackle Mychal Savage and Andre Elliott can be counted on for outstanding effort.
In his first year as the starter at Ohio State, quarterback Todd Boeckman put up big numbers (2,379 yards, 64 percent completions, 25 TDs), garnered First Team All-Big Ten honors and led his squad to the BCS National Championship Game. Still, most of the off-season talk revolved around ultra-talented quarterback Terrelle Pryor, the top-rated high school player in the nation, who is waiting in the wings and will likely see the field in some capacity as early as this season opener. Still, Tressel values the experience of Boeckman. "There's no price tag on experience and he (Boeckman) can now evaluate things from a whole different perspective. I think it is a lot easier for him to step up and take charge of a football team." Tailback Chris Wells rushed for 1,609 yards and 15 touchdowns as a sophomore despite a few nagging injuries, and he is among the top candidates to hoist the Heisman Trophy this year. OSU is set at wideout, with top receivers Brian Robiskie (55 rec., 935 yds, 11 TDs) and Brian Hartline (52-694-6) back in the fold. Even the offensive line is flush with veteran leaders, highlighted by All-American tackle Alex Boone (6-8, 312).
Two-time All-American linebacker James Laurinaitis (also last year's Butkus Award winner, Nagurski Award winner and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year) will be playing on Sundays soon enough. So will All-Big Ten corner Malcolm Jenkins. Much to the delight of Buckeye fans, both decided to return to campus rather than leave early for the NFL, and they will be on the field against Youngstown State. The Buckeye defense ranked No. 1 last season, allowing just 233 yards and 12.7 points per game. The most significant departure is defensive end Vernon Gholston, the Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the year, although there is a wealth of depth to replace him. Cameron Heyward came on to accumulate 10 tackles for loss in place of injured starter Lawrence Wilson, who is back after being forced to redshirt the final 12 games. All-Big Ten linebacker Marcus Freeman (105 tackles) will once again team with Laurinaitis (121 tackles, five sacks in 2007) to form a nasty tandem in the middle of the field, while the entire secondary returns, including Jenkins (47 tackles, four INTs).
Ohio State is loaded on both sides of the ball and clearly has what it takes to win the national title. Expect the Buckeyes to crush the Penguins in a lopsided opener that probably shouldn't even be played.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Ohio State 49, Youngstown State 6
08/27 10:55:24 ET