Head coach: Jim Tressell
Last season: For all of you spelunking with Usama bin Laden, the Buckeyes were darn good last year. They went 12-1, won the Big Ten, finished No. 2 in the polls and boasted the nation's best offensive and defensive players (Troy Smith and James Laurinaitis). Ohio State has to replace 12 starters, however, before their matchup with Akron on Sept. 8.
Best returning player: Junior linebacker James Laurinaitis
Offense: Smith is gone, and so are his top targets Ted Ginn Jr. and Anthony Gonzalez. One Akron product will replace another at running back as Chris Wells will takeover full time for Antonio Pittman. Wells, from Garfield High School, runs a 4.4 but is not your typical speed back. He can truck you, too. The Buckeyes will introduce their first new quarterback in four years. It appears to be junior Todd Boeckman, who learned from two NFL quarterbacks the past three years. He has good size, a strong arm and knows the system well. Smith was an amazing playmaker, but Boeckman's maturity should make the transition smooth. It wouldn't hurt, however, to have a few receivers. Brian Robiskie is a good player, but does he have the talent to be a No. 1 receiver in the Big Ten? The offensive line lost a guard and center, but returns two of the nation's best tackles, Kirk Barton and Alex Boone, who were named to the Outland Trophy watch list.
Defense: The line will be the Buckeyes' biggest weakness, and in the Big Ten, that's a bad thing. Vernon Gholston is a stud defensive end. The other three linemen have talent (I mean, this is Ohio State) but have never started. Laurinaitis starts at middle linebacker. Weakside backer Marcus Freeman has blazing speed that he uses to track down ball carriers from behind. Larry Grant tops the depth chart at strongside linebacker. He is a transfer from a junior college, where he was an All-American. Malcolm Jenkins, a great cornerback, leads a fairly deep secondary.
How the Zips match up: With new quarterbacks on both teams, it's hard to say for sure how the game will turn out. Like any time a MAC school squares off against the Big Ten, the Zips will need to capitalize on turnovers. Akron's great secondary, combined with Ohio State's inexperience at wide receiver and quarterback, could create some of those. The real problem for the Zips will be Wells. It would be a tremendous overachievement for Akron's shoddy line to keep Wells to fewer than 150 yards. The Zips always seem to play their best at the Horseshoe. After all, it's every Ohio high school player's dream to play in the scarlet and gray. I see this game being awfully similar to last year's loss at Happy Valley.
Way-too-early prediction: Ohio State 38, Akron 17