Ohio State goes into another season with high expectations and will be tested right out of the gate on the road, as the second-ranked Buckeyes visit Indiana on Thursday for an early Big Ten matchup. J.T. Barrett returns at quarterback for Ohio State with Heisman Trophy aspirations after completing 61.5 percent of his passes, throwing for 24 touchdowns and running for nine scores last season.
“His accuracy and just his energy level now are incredible,” Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer told reporters of Barrett. “He’s providing that energy for everybody. He’s always done that, but … he’s got complete ownership of everything going on in that offense.” Tom Allen, who begins his first full season as coach at Indiana, hopes to end Ohio State’s 22-game winning streak in the series on the way to leading the Hoosiers to their third straight Bowl appearance. Indiana has the benefit of a productive senior quarterback in Richard Lagow (3,362 passing yards in 2016) and an All-American caliber senior linebacker in Tegray Scales (33.5 career tackles for loss). The Hoosiers will have to contain a talented Buckeyes offense that will be led by first-year offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson, who was fired as Indiana’s coach in December after going 26-47 over six years in Bloomington.
TV: 8 p.m. ET, ESPN. LINE: Ohio State -21
ABOUT OHIO STATE (2016: 11-2): Barrett rushed for 100 yards three times while throwing just seven interceptions last year, but he will have to be even better with the departure of his top three receivers from 2016. Parris Campbell could step up to a key swing role on offense and the Buckeyes will depend a lot on sophomore running back Mike Weber (1,096 yards, nine TDs), who is expected to play after being slowed by a hamstring injury in the preseason. Three high draft picks from the secondary must be replaced on a defense that is led by lineman Tyquan Lewis (eight sacks last year) as Ohio State opens the season against a Big Ten team for the first time since 1975.
ABOUT INDIANA (2016: 6-7): Allen will be looking for more efficiency from Lagow, who completed 57.8 percent of his passes in 2016 and had 19 touchdown tosses but also threw 17 interceptions - four in his last two games. The Hoosiers do not have a running back returning that gained at least 250 yards, although they have a talented receiving corps that is led by junior Nick Westbrook (54 catches, 995 yards, six TDs in 2016). The status of junior Simmie Cobbs, who missed most of last season with an injury after registering 1,035 yards on 60 catches in 2015, is uncertain for the opener after he was arrested last month.
1. Ohio State TE Marcus Baugh, the team’s top returning pass catcher (24 for 269 yards in 2016), is probable after being hampered by a toe injury during the preseason.
2. Indiana K Griffin Oakes has converted 53 career field goals and needs one to pass Mitch Ewald as the school’s all-time leader.
3. Meyer is 61-6 in five years since coming to Ohio State, with just two losses in 41 Big Ten games, and 15-0 in season openers during his career.
PREDICTION: Ohio State 38, Indiana 20