Ohio State Buckeyes: What to know about return of Big Ten football

Credit: David Jablonski

Credit: David Jablonski

Almost three weeks ago, the Big Ten announced it will play football this fall after all.

After blaming uncertainty created by the coronavirus pandemic in making the initial decision to “postpone” fall sports to winter or spring, the league cited advances in testing and heart monitoring for deciding to give it a go.

Here are five things to know about the state of the Big Ten and the Buckeyes:

1. Ohio State will play a nine-game schedule that begins Oct. 24.

The Buckeyes, who have won the last three Big Ten championships, will open the season at home against Nebraska.

Star quarterback Adrian Martinez headlines the returning starters for the Cornhuskers, who went 5-7 last season and have a new offensive coordinator in Matt Lubick.

After hosting the Huskers, Ohio State travels to Penn State for what many expect to be the game of the year in the Big Ten East.

2. The Buckeyes will close the regular season against Michigan on Dec. 12.

The 116th edition of The Game is scheduled to be played in Ohio Stadium with Ohio State trying to extend its winning streak in the series to nine games.

Every Big Ten team will play in Week 9 with the No. 1 team in each division playing the Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis. The rest of the teams in the conference will also play that weekend with No. 2 from each division facing off and so on down the line.

2. Rapid testing began last week.

Centering the plan to play this fall is testing athletes and support staff prior to every practice and competition.

Biodesix was contracted to conduct daily rapid antigen tests developed by Quidel.

Biodesix also will confirm positives with a PCR test, and players who have a confirmed positive will undergo extensive tests for heart damage while being unable to return to play for at least 21 days.

“Quidel’s rapid antigen testing technology represents the ability to perform COVID-19 surveillance testing on a large scale with prompt results,” Ohio State team physician Jim Borchers, who co-chaired the Big Ten’s return to play task force, said in a release.

3. Six Big Ten teams are ranked anyway.

What kind of response will the Big Ten get when it does take the field later this month?

After all, the ACC and Big 12 were among leagues to start in the first half of September, and the SEC joined the fray two weeks ago.

Clemson topped the most recent Associated Press writers poll followed by three straight SEC teams — Alabama, Georgia and Florida — then Notre Dame despite the Fighting Irish having to deal with a COVID-19 outbreak on the team.

But next is Ohio State at No. 6 while Penn State is ninth, Wisconsin is 16th, Michigan is 20th and Minnesota is No. 25. Indiana also received one point.

In a season where style points might be more important than usual, that respect figures to bode well for whoever wins the Big Ten when it comes to what is next.

4. The playoff is still in play.

Getting back on the field as soon as possible was seen as urgent last month because the College Football Playoff moved back its selection date back to late December.

That created a window for Big Ten teams to play enough games to be considered — if the league’s presidents and chancellors would allow it.

With the Pac 12 also set to return this fall — though not until Nov. 7 — ESPN reported its commissioner argued the CFP field should expand to eight teams this year, but that suggestion was not taken up by the CFP management committee.

As of now, the committee is set to begin releasing rankings the week of Nov. 24 and pick its final top four on Dec. 20.

All teams are eligible for the playoff, but the committee may favor teams that played a more complete schedule.

The semifinals are still set to take place at the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1 with the championship game to be played Jan. 11 in Miami.

5. Expect to see some changes for the Buckeyes.

Ohio State returns the bulk of starters on offense, but head coach Ryan Day has shown a willingness to tweak his attack to fit his personnel and keep up with trends from around the country.

Having a veteran quarterback in Justin Fields should help, as will having three starters back fro an elite offensive line.

Many of the skill players will be new, but there does not seem to be a lack of talent for the coaching staff to choose from.

On the other side of the ball, Kerry Coombs is back in town after two years in the NFL. He now has the title defensive coordinator along with coaching the secondary, which lost starters Jeffrey Okudah, Damon Arnette and Jordan Fuller to the NFL.

Coombs is expected to rebuild around cornerback Shaun Wade, but he could make some tweaks to the scheme put in place last year by Jeff Hafley and Greg Mattison. While Hafley left to become head coach at Boston College, Mattison is back for a second season in Columbus.

Also back is Al Washington, who like Mattison came to Columbus from Michigan last season. He has a handful of veteran linebackers to find roles for and is looking at flipping seniors Pete Werner and Baron Browning, among other potential moves.

Meanwhile, defensive line coach Larry Johnson is tasked with replacing another highly regarded defensive end — this time Chase Young after Nick Bosa a year earlier — but few doubt his ability to do so, especially the way the Buckeyes have recruited up front.

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