TV Schedule: Monday, September 7, 8:00 p.m. ET, ESPN
Location: Lane Stadium, Blacksburg, Va.
Line: Ohio State (-11)
The defending National Champion, and No.1 ranked Ohio State Buckeyes will take to the road in their season-opener to face off against the Virginia Tech Hokies as the two teams finish up a home-and-home series that began in 2014 in Columbus. In that game, the Hokies upset the Buckeyes 35-21 on their home field, but Ohio State wouldn’t lose another game the rest of the season as they won the National Championship.
If Ohio State is going to get revenge on Virginia Tech in this game, the Buckeyes are going to have to accomplish that feat without four of their top players due to marijuana/academic suspensions. Junior defensive end Joey Bosa, sophomore H-back Jalin Marshall, junior H-back Dontre Wilson and senior wide receiver Corey Smith will all miss the contest due to one-game suspensions.
The Buckeyes return 15 starters from last season, including three Heisman Trophy caliber players at quarterback, although Braxton Miller will move to H-back. J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones are both expected to play against the Hokies on Monday night, which I think could do more harm than good, but I’ve learned in from the past to never question head coach Urban Meyer.
Whoever is in at quarterback will have the best running back in college football behind him in Ezekiel Elliott. Elliott carried the ball 273 times for 1,878 yards and 18 touchdowns last season, while also contributing 28 catches for 220 yards. His patience and vision are among the best in the country, and he will running behind an offensive line that returns four of five starters from 2014.
At wide receiver, the Buckeyes will be without top deep threat Devin Smith, who left for the NFL, but junior Michael Thomas does return after catching 54 balls for 799 yards and nine touchdowns in 2014. Behind Thomas, there are a number of underclassmen which could cause some growing pains in this type of big game atmosphere.
Defensively, defensive tackle Michael Bennett and corner Doran Grant are two big losses for the team, but with Meyer’s ability to recruit, the Buckeyes should be fine at those positions. It will hurt the team tremendously having to play without Bosa for this game, as he led the Buckeyes with 13.5 sacks last season. For a player who is expected to be a top-five pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, Bosa has to learn from this mistake.
For Virginia Tech, the Hokies return 16 starters, while also getting defensive tackle Luther Maddy and corner Brandon Facyson back from injuries. Quarterback Michael Brewer looks to lead the team to its second consecutive upset of the Buckeyes, but he will have to put on a better performance than he did last season in Columbus, when he completed 23-of-36 passes for 199 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
At the skill positions, Virginia Tech returns their top three running backs, top two receivers and stud tight end Bucky Hodges. The offensive line should also be markedly improved as the leader of the unit, center Eric Gallo, is one of the best in the country. With so much continuity on the offensive side of the ball, look for the Hokies to show significant improvement in that area this season.
When a team has one of the best defensive coordinators in America, and he’s paired with the best talent he’s had to work with in years, the result will typically be a nasty defensive unit. Such is the case at Virginia Tech, where defensive genius Bud Foster possesses one of the best defensive lines he’s ever had to pair with an extremely talented and experienced linebacker and secondary group. The Hokies could have one of the top defenses in college football in 2015.
If you’ve never been to a night game at Lane Stadium, you should put that on your bucket list because it’s an atmosphere like no other. Despite being the No. 1 team in the country, the Buckeyes will be facing a daunting task playing in such a hostile environment against a team that’s more talented than experts give them credit for. In the end, I believe Ohio State will use that championship pedigree to dig down deep and find a way to come out victorious.
Prediction: Ohio State 31, Virginia Tech 27