Ohio State Cannot Afford Slow Start Against Quality Non-Conference Opponents

By David Wertheim on June 9, 2019 at 7:45 am
Ryan Day
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Ohio State's 2019 football season will open on Aug. 31, in the 'Shoe, against Florida Atlantic at noon. 

Last year, Ohio State raced out of the gate despite Urban Meyer's suspension, clobbering Oregon State to the tune of 77-31. The Buckeyes rattled off win after win until they traveled to West Lafeyette. We know how that one ended.

The Owls will travel to Columbus with an upset of their own on the mind. Lane Kiffin, a boisterous, outgoing, fiery, large-ego'd coach, will enter his third season at the helm in Boca Raton, still with an everlasting chip on his shoulder. 

It seems that every year, there is one big upset that nobody sees coming. Stanford over No. 2 USC in 2007 and Liberty over Baylor in 2017 come to mind immediately. Oh, and this one.

Florida Atlantic and Cincinnati are the first two teams that Ohio State will play in 2019. Cincinnati won 10-games last year, and Florida Atlantic did that in 2017. Both teams will return a myriad of veteran players on both offense and defense, and both are expected to have very successful 2019 campaigns.

And, of course, there's what I like to call the "VARSITY" factor. This is when inferior teams play up to the skill of their opponent due to adrenaline and motivation. This happens all the time. It's why The Citadel was tied with Alabama at halftime last year. Usually, the "JV" team doesn't win, but as noted above, it does happen. 

With a veteran team, the VARSITY factor comes into play even more heavily. Players from that team usually have done this once or twice, and they know how to take down Goliath. Their coaches likely have done the same. In Cincinnati's case, their head coach once roamed the sidelines as the head man in Columbus, albeit in an interim role. In Florida Atlantic's case, their head coach has experience in the SEC, Pac-12, and the NFL. He's not backing down from any challenge, including this one.

The point stands, though, no matter how silly Kiffin can be on Twitter: these are veteran football teams that will treat the game against Ohio State like it's their Super Bowl, as this will undoubtedly be the highest-profile game on their schedules all season. 

Thus, the Buckeyes cannot afford to be complacent, and they cannot waste time like they have in seasons past. In the last few years, Ohio State has been able to get away with it early until they run into some middle-of-the-road Big Ten team in late October or early November.

This year, they may not be able to wait as long. It will not be easy. Ohio State is breaking in new starters pretty much everywhere. Justin Fields will get his first meaningful collegiate experience under center on opening day, the Buckeyes are breaking in four new offensive line starters, and the wide receiver corps looks a lot different without Johnnie Dixon, Terry McLaurin, and Parris Campbell.

On defense, most of the talent returns but the Buckeyes will have to bounce back from a year ago, when players were constantly out-of-position, allowing big plays, or just playing poorly overall. 

It's going to be a fun stretch early in Columbus. Let's see if Ohio State is up to the task.

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