Do you think Ohio State has progressed since its loss to Oklahoma early in the season, or is it hard to tell based on the past three teams the Buckeyes have played?
Both. There's no doubt that certain phases of their game that were exposed against Oklahoma — the passing game and the secondary — have made major strides. But the quality of the competition has been so suspect that it's hard to really gauge how significant that improvement is. Army, UNLV and Rutgers are nothing close to Penn State or even Maryland.
Given how much was made about improving the offense with after the 31-0 loss to Clemson to close out the 2016 season, do you feel the offense is better with the addition of former Indiana coach Kevin Wilson?
It's getting better. I still believe that Wilson is still figuring out how to maximize his playmakers while hiding the deficiencies. Ohio State exploited Rutgers' man-to-man pass coverage, but the Buckeyes will likely face more soft zone coverages the rest of the year, and they have to prove they can counteract that. Wilson's history with Indiana and as coordinator at Oklahoma and Northwestern suggest he will figure it out. But it hasn't been all smooth sailing so far.
At least from a statistical standpoint, senior quarterback J.T. Barrett has turned things around since the Oklahoma game. Is that a mirage based on the competition or do you think Barrett is back to where he was earlier in his career?
Barrett has many strengths — a great leader, a selfless player, a deceptively effective runner and a decent passer. His arm is only good, not great. Dwayne Haskins' arm is noticeably stronger. Barrett got more of the blame than he should have for the Oklahoma loss and probably doesn't deserve as much credit as he received for the recent success. But he is 30-5 as a starter. That's the stat that he and OSU coaches care about the most.
Maryland's skill players are probably the best the Buckeyes have faced since they played the Sooners, and wide receiver DJ Moore is one of the best in the Big Ten. Given how they smothered the Terps in College Park last season, do you see more of the same Saturday?
To me, the key is whether Maryland's offensive line will be able to protect well enough for Max Bortenschlager to have time consistently to find Moore. The Terps' line was overmatched last year in a 62-3 rout that was every bit as lopsided as the score. Maryland is better this year, but so is Ohio State's defensive line. The Buckeyes lost cornerbacks Gareon Conley and Marshon Lattimore, but Denzel Ward is becoming a shutdown corner. That will be an interesting matchup — Ward vs. Moore.
How does freshman running back J.K. Dobbins stack up against some of the great backs that have passed through Columbus in recent years? Does he remind you of any former Buckeyes back in particular?
I think it's still too early to make definitive statements about that. Ezekiel Elliott is the gold standard around here, though it's worth pointing out that he didn't become the star he became until the 2014 postseason. Dobbins and Mike Weber are actually pretty similar runners. Dobbins is more elusive — his lateral quickness is phenomenal — but he's probably not as rugged as Weber. Both are mostly between-the-tackles runners. Could Dobbins take his place among the OSU greats at RB? Absolutely. But five games isn't enough for me to take that leap just yet. And Weber is going to share the load for the foreseeable future if his hamstring cooperates.