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#1 OSU faces Virginia Tech on Monday
By: Brian Graham
OHIO STATE BUCKEYES (0-0) at VIRGINIA TECH HOKIES (0-0)
Lane Stadium – Blacksburg, VA
Kickoff: Monday, 8:00 p.m. ET
Line: Ohio State -13, Total: 53
No. 1 Ohio State begins defending its national championship when it visits Virginia Tech on Labor Day.
The Buckeyes are an overwhelming favorite to repeat as national champions, becoming the first school in the 65-year history of the Associated Press college football pool to receive all 61 first-place votes. They return 13 starters from a team that was 14-1 SU (10-5 ATS), which included a 6-2 ATS mark away from home. Head coach Urban Meyer hasn’t announced which of his quarterbacks (J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones) will take the first snap on Monday. Jones was taken to a hospital Wednesday with a severe headache, but he appears to be OK to suit up Monday. The Hokies were a pedestrian 7-6 SU (6-7 ATS) last season, which included a poor 2-5 ATS mark at home. Sixteen starters return to try to improve this win total, including senior QB Michael Brewer. Virginia Tech was actually the only team to beat Ohio State last season, prevailing 35-21 in Columbus last September. Both schools turned the ball over three times, but Brewer threw for 199 yards and two touchdowns and the Hokies defense limited the Buckeyes to 108 rushing yards on 40 carries (2.7 YPC). There are several betting trends favoring OSU, including the fact that good offensive teams (31+ PPG) in non-conference games pitting two FBS programs are 34-7 ATS (83%) when favored between 10.5 and 21 points over the past 10 seasons. But Virginia Tech loves being a home underdog, going 10-2 ATS in that role since 1992 and outscoring those visiting favorites by an average of 33 to 14. The Buckeyes will be missing four players due to suspension on Monday night (DE Joey Bosa, RB Dontre Wilson and WRs Corey Smith and Jalin Marshall), and will also be without RB Mike Weber (knee) and WR Noah Brown (leg). The Hokies will likely play without suspended RB Shai McKenzie.
While much doubt remains about Ohio State’s quarterback situation, there is no doubt who the top ball carrier is. Heisman hopeful RB Ezekiel Elliott (1,878 rush yds, 6.9 YPC, 18 TD) was unstoppable in three postseason games last year, rushing for 696 yards on 9.2 YPC and scoring eight times. Junior WR Michael Thomas (799 rec yds, 9 TD) is the go-to receiver who catches nearly everything thrown in the radius of his 6-foot-3 frame. Ohio State’s defense allowed only 22.0 PPG (26th in nation) and 342 total YPG (19th in FBS) last season, and has seven starters back to make sure those numbers stay top-notch. Although stud DE Joey Bosa (13.5 sacks, 21 TFL, 4 FF) will not play Monday, plenty of talent remains in the front seven with DT Adolphus Washington (4.5 sacks, 10.5 TFL) and OLBs Darron Lee (7.5 sacks, 81 tackles, 16.5 TFL, 2 INT, 2 TD) and Joshua Perry (124 tackles, 3 sacks). The Buckeyes finished 13th in the nation in yards per pass attempt (6.1) and will be strong again with safeties Vonn Bell (6 INT, 92 tackles) and Tyvis Powell (4 INT, 76 tackles) returning.
The Hokies did not move the ball efficiently last year (365 YPG, 96th in nation), which led to a mere 20.2 PPG (14th in FBS). But eight starters are back on an offense that will count mostly on QB Michael Brewer (2,692 pass yds, 6.1 YPA, 18 TD, 15 INT) and RB J.C. Coleman (533 rush yds, 5.0 YPC, 3 TD) to keep drives alive. The 5-foot-7 Coleman capped off his junior season with 468 total yards in the final four games. Brewer’s best pass catcher, WR Isaiah Ford (709 rec yds, 6 TD), is also back this season along with 6-foot-6 TE Bucky Hodges (526 rec yds, 7 TD), who provides a huge red-zone target. Eight starters return to Virginia Tech’s outstanding defense that limited opponents to 20.2 PPG (14th in FBS) and 344 total YPG (21st in nation) last year. DEs Ken Ekanem (9.5 sacks, 15 TFL, 53 tackles) and Dadi Lhomme Nicolas (9 sacks, 19 TFL, 72 tackles) were a big reason the unit produced 3.7 sacks per game and 8.4 TFL per game, which both ranked third in the nation. But the only starting linebacker returning is LB Deon Clarke (5 sacks, 74 tackles). Virginia Tech allowed a hefty 14.1 yards per completion (7th-worst in FBS), but have CBs Kendall Fuller (54 tackles, 15 PBU, 2 INT, 1 TD) and Chuck Clark (73 tackles, 11 PBU, 8.5 TFL) to trim down the big plays. This duo will need to be much more productive to help out a green group of safeties.