Here are five pressing questions regarding No. 15-ranked Ohio State football (1-0) as it prepares for its Week 2 matchup against the Toledo Rockets (1-0), which opened its season with a 58-22 win against New Hampshire of the NCAA’s Football Championship Subdivision.
1. Four previously-suspended players return for the game against the Toledo. What role will these players have in the game?
Ohio State coach Luke Fickell confirmed Tuesday that junior running back Jordan Hall, sophomore defensive back Corey Brown, junior defensive back Travis Howard and redshirt sophomore linebacker Jordan Whiting will be available for Saturday’s game.
Expect each of the players to see game action, but don’t expect them to play a significant role in the contest. Not in the first half, anyway.
For starters, OSU running backs coach Dick Tressel said Wednesday that sophomore Carlos Hyde will start Saturday’s game. Hyde rushed for 93 yards on 19 carries during the Buckeyes’ 42-0 win against Akron. Redshirt freshman Rod Smith also rushed for 74 yards on 18 carries with one touchdown.
Considering all that, Hall might find himself as OSU’s No. 3 running back at the start of this weekend’s game.
In attempting to earn his job back, Hall will also be competing with sophomore Jaamal Berry who, according to Tressel, is 100 percent recovered from a hamstring injury and will see an increased role as the weeks pass.
Sophomore defensive back Dominic Clarke isn’t likely to relinquish the starting job to Howard, either.
“(Clarke) competes everyday,” senior linebacker Andrew Sweat said. “I think he’s a great player. He got an opportunity on Saturday and took advantage of it.”
The four previously-suspended players will take the field on Saturday, but it might not be early and it might not be for extended periods of time. Keep in mind that these players are returning from punishments, not injuries. They’ll have to earn their jobs back.
2. Who is Toledo and how do they compare with Akron?
Both Toledo and Akron are members of the Mid-American Conference, but that’s about all they have in common.
The Rockets are 10-time MAC champions and are expected to be at or near the top of the conference again in 2011.
Toledo also returns 22 seniors and is looking to extend its streak of five consecutive seasons with a win against a team from an automatic BCS qualifier conference.
Don’t expect this Rockets squad to be awed and intimidated by the sight of a sold-out Ohio Stadium either — members of this team have enjoyed road victories at Michigan in 2008 and at Purdue last season.
3. Which Toledo players could hurt OSU on Saturday?
Let’s start with Rockets’ senior running back Adonis Thomas.
Thomas rushed for 115 yards and one touchdown on just 15 carries last weekend against New Hampshire. There’s a tendency to roll your eyes when you hear that an FBS player put big numbers up against an FCS team, but he did what you’d expect a talented player to do against less-skilled players.
Thomas also rushed for 1,098 yards in 2010 and earned second-team All-MAC honors. He is legitimate talent at running back that could burn the Buckeyes if they don’t give him his due respect.
The most dynamic player on Toledo’s roster is junior Eric Page, a dual threat at both wide receiver and kick returner.
Page, whose name is already littered throughout Toledo’s football record book, caught more than 1,100 yards in each of his first two seasons with the Rockets while also grabbing 16 touchdown receptions in his 26-game career.
As a kick returner, Page has collected 1,389 yards, three touchdowns and averages 28.9 yards per return in his career.
The Buckeyes could have their hands full with both Thomas and Page on Saturday.
4. Who is the most important OSU player or coach going into the Toledo game?
Toledo is a talented team that travels well and, with a trip to play the Miami Hurricanes at Sun Life Stadium on the horizon for the Buckeyes, this weekend’s contest is a classic “look ahead” game.
Fickell will need to keep OSU focused its present task — beating a Toledo team that it should beat.
The Buckeyes are bigger, faster and stronger than the Rockets. The difference between a blowout win, a tight game or a loss will be how focused Fickell has his team.
“We’re definitely nit-picking,” Fickell said at a Tuesday press conference. “We’re definitely going to make sure (our) guys know we’re never satisfied with where we are. We have to find ways to get better.”
5. Will Toledo be the first in-state opponent to beat OSU in 90 years?
The Buckeyes’ last lost to an in-state opponent in 1921 when Oberlin College upended OSU, 7-6.
Toledo will have a better chance of ending OSU’s unbeaten streak against in-state rivals than Akron did, but by game’s end, it won’t have accomplished the feat.
Toledo has the athletes and the experience to make a game of it at the ‘Shoe this weekend, but do not expect an upset win. OSU is still too focused on proving its doubters wrong — one win against Akron won’t change that.
Final prediction: Ohio State 49-10 Toledo