COLUMBUS, Ohio – A new day is dawning at No. 5 Ohio State and analysts are predicting big things from first-year coach Ryan Day entering the Buckeyes' season opener against visiting Florida Atlantic on Saturday. Day hopes to make hay with a talented, well-stocked roster left for him by highly successful Urban Meyer, who stepped aside after Ohio State's victory over Washington at the Rose Bowl in January.
TV: Noon ET, FOX. LINE: Ohio State -27.5
Day's first highly anticipated personnel decision came last week when he named Georgia transfer Justin Fields the starting quarterback. The ubertalented sophomore came to Ohio State last spring and flashed enough dual-threat capability through fall camp to be handed the reins to the offense, but matching first-round NFL draft pick Dwayne Haskins' production will be difficult. It will help Fields to have veteran wide receivers K.J. Hill, Austin Mack and Bin Victor at his disposal, third-year starting running back JK Dobbins to take some pressure off and a rebuilt but formidable offensive line to protect him. The Owls, who are among the favorites to win the Conference USA East Division for the second time in three years, will have their hands full trying to slow down an elite opponent in their opener for the second year in a row after getting manhandled 63-14 by Oklahoma in 2018.
ABOUT OHIO STATE (2018: 13-1)
Everyone wants to talk about Fields and the offense's potential to put up big numbers again this year, but significant emphasis was placed in the offseason on improving a defense that was victimized repeatedly last year. The Buckeyes, guided by a revamped defensive coaching staff, expect to be improved on that side of the ball this season, especially in the back end with cornerbacks Jeffrey Okudah and Damon Arnette, safety Jordan Fuller and Brendon White playing the new bullet position in the secondary. The front seven features defensive end Chase Young, a potential 2020 top-five NFL draft pick who ranked among the Big Ten leaders in sacks last year with 10.5, and a more experienced and deeper linebacking corps that includes Malik Harrison (81 tackles).
ABOUT FLORIDA ATLANTIC (2018: 5-7)
Lane Kiffin enters his third year as coach with what is expected to be an improved team that will have Chris Robison (2,533 yards passing, 12 touchdowns, 12 interceptions) at quarterback, but one that's not on Ohio State's level - particularly its defense against the plethora of weapons the Buckeyes possess. Florida Atlantic's defense was a sieve last year, allowing 31,8 points and 420.1 yards per game, and linebacker Rashad Smith (86 tackles, team-best four interceptions) is one of only six of the team's 12 tackle leaders returning from last season. The offense, which led C-USA last year with 481.6 yards per game, lost running back Devin Singletary, who anchored a ground attack that averaged 242.2 yards per game (13th in FBS), but some experienced receivers (TE Harrison Bryant, WR Willie Wright, WR Tavaris Harrison) provide Robison some capable targets.
1. Ohio State RB JK Dobbins returns for his junior campaign after two consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons and is expected to improve his numbers on the ground and as a receiver now that running back Mike Weber has left for the NFL and with no proven players behind him.
2. Fields won't replace the record-setting passing production that Haskins provided last year with 50 touchdowns and eight interceptions, but his mobility will add a multidimensional element to the offense under new Ohio State offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Yurcich.
3. Senior TE Harrison Bryant might be Florida Atlantic's go-to player on offense after finishing 2018 with 45 receptions for 662 yards and four touchdowns.
PREDICTION: Ohio State 59, Florida Atlantic 17