Ohio State (-14) 33 VIRGINIA TECH 16
Ohio State is the defending national champion and the unanimous #1 team in the nation entering this season but I doubt the Buckeyes will let all the accolades derail their focus for this game. Virginia Tech was on the only team to beat Ohio State last season, a 35-21 win in Columbus in week 2 that proved to be a catalyst for the Buckeyes, who started last season as a mostly inexperienced team. Urban Meyer’s teams are 7-4 ATS in his career against teams that beat him the previous season and he’ll have his team prepared to play. Meyer is deadly with extra time to prepare, as Alabama and Oregon found out in the playoffs last season. In fact, Meyer’s teams at Bowling Green, Utah, Florida, and Ohio State are now 31-9-1 ATS when he’s had more than week to prepare (either game 1 or off a bye week), including 30-6-1 ATS if not favored by 28 points or more (5-0 last season). Meyer is also 41-9 ATS in his coaching career against non-conference opponents when not favored by 35 points or more (3-3-1 as a huge favorite). The Buckeyes also apply to a 41-4-1 ATS game 1 road revenge situation that was 3-0 last season. It should be noted that Virginia Tech is 9-0 ATS as an underdog of more than 3 points in Blacksburg since the 1990 season but that trend is not nearly as significant as the trends applying to Ohio State.
Virginia Tech obviously did a great job defending the Ohio State attack last season (just 5.0 yards per play) but quarterback J.T. Barrett was in just his second game as a starter and Heisman Trophy favorite RB Ezekiel Elliott wasn’t yet the main ball carrier on the team (he averaged only 9 carries the first 3 games and had just 8 against the Hokies). Ohio State’s pass attack is likely to be slowed again by what I rate as the best pass defense in the nation, especially given the suspensions of receivers Jalin Marshall and Corey Smith. There is plenty of receiving talent on the Ohio State roster but much of it is untested. They’ll certainly get a test in this game. Virginia Tech’s strength is their incredible pass defense. The Hokies return 3 starters, including 1st Team All-ACC CB Kendall Fuller, and they get back star CB Brandon Facyson, who was a freshman All-American in 2013 and broke up 5 passes in less than 3 games last season before getting injured (he did play against Ohio State). Fuller and Facyson together are an incredible combination and both safeties are experienced starters too. While throwing against the Hokies won’t be easy, I expect the Buckeyes to run the ball well enough that they won’t have to throw much, thus avoiding the strength of the Hokies’ defense. Ohio State averaged 5.5 yards per rushing play against Virginia Tech last season, even with Elliott as a backup, and the Hokies run defense was just average on a national scale in 2014 – allowing 5.4 yprp against teams that would combine to average 5.4 yprp against an average team. I do expect the Virginia Tech run defense to be significantly improved this season (0.6 yprp better than average) with all of last season’s defensive linemen returning, and with DT Luther Maddy back after an injury sidelined him after 4 starts in 2014. However, the Buckeyes ran over some good run defenses on their way to the title last year (302 yards at 7.7 yprp against Alabama, for instance) and they should be able to run consistently well in this game (6.5 yprp projected). The rushing attack should be enough for Ohio State to put up a decent number of points and the defense should limit Virginia Tech’s ability to keep up on the scoreboard.
The Buckeyes will be without 1st Team All-American DE Joey Bosa, who has been suspended for this game, and Bosa’s absence equates to a couple of points. However, Ohio State is still a great defensive team without Bosa and there is no indication that the Hokies’ offense will snap out of their 4 year bout with mediocrity. Virginia Tech last had a good offense in 2010 (1.0 yards per play better than average) and the Hokies have gotten worse every year since, dropping to a rating of +0.3 yppl in 2011, to -0.2 yppl in 2012, to -0.4 yppl in 2013 and another drop to -0.8 yppl last season (5.0 yppl despite facing teams that would allow 5.8 yppl to an average attack). Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer has not been the answer, as Brewer’s first season in Blacksburg was a disaster. Brewer threw 15 interceptions and he averaged a pathetic 5.1 yards per pass play despite facing a slate of defensive units that would allow 6.5 yppp to an average quarterback. I expect Brewer to make a substantial improvement this season with all his receivers also returning but my algorithm still rates the Hokies’ pass attack at 0.6 yppp worse than average while the rushing attack (0.5 yprp worse than average in 2014) should once again be below average, as it’s been in each of the last 4 years. The Buckeyes’ defense, even without Bosa, should dominate the Hokies’ punchless attack. Virginia Tech only averaged 4.2 yards per play in last year’s upset win over the Buckeyes and my ratings project 4.3 yppl for the Hokies in this game even after factoring in the absence of Ohio State’s best defender.
Overall my ratings favor Ohio State by 13½ points, even with the 3 points of adjustment due to Ohio State suspensions, and I really like the 41-4-1 ATS game 1 revenge situation that applies to the Buckeyes in this game. I’ll consider Ohio State a Strong Opinion at -12 or less.