Back for a second season, we'll be previewing each of Maryland's football games by conducting a Q&A; with a reporter who covers the Terps' next opponent.
This week, we traded emails with Bill Rabinowitz, Ohio State beat reporter for The Columbus Dispatch. Be sure to check out more of their coverage here before the Terps and Buckeyes kick off Saturday at noon for the first Big Ten game at Byrd Stadium.
Tracking the Terps: Ohio State wasn't overly impressive when the Buckeyes came out this way to open against Navy, and J.T. Barrett looked like a freshman through the first two weeks of the season. What's changed since?
Bill Rabinowitz: In the Navy game, he was playing for the first time in nearly two years. His senior season in high school ended with an ACL injury and he redshirted last year while he healed (and was unneeded). He played decently against Navy and has steadily improved as he has gained confidence. He came to Ohio State with a reputation for being a natural leader and having uncommon poise for his age. That seems to be true. He's also a better passer and thrower than many expected. He's not as gifted as Braxton Miller, but few are. It also helps greatly that the offensive line, which had to replace four multi-year starters, has begun to jell and that he has a lot of skill-position players to distribute the ball to.
Maryland is averaging a shade under 37 points per game. What's going to be the key for Ohio State slowing down the Terps (beside, perhaps, putting that assistant strength coach on the field)?
Unfortunately, Anthony Schlegel's eligibility has expired. What a tackle he made, though. Maryland and Cincinnati are fairly similar. Both have potent offenses. I'd say that while Cincinnati has a great quarterback and very good receivers, Maryland has great receivers and a good quarterback (though Brown's status is up in the air at this moment). The Buckeyes will try to make Maryland one-dimensional by stopping the run, which Ohio State is pretty good at, and then try to pressure the quarterback. The Buckeyes will stick to their new pass-coverage philosophy of contesting every throw. That might leave them vulnerable to the big play, which they can live with as long as it's an occasional occurrence and not a regular one. That'll be a huge key to this game.
What's your take on this year's Big Ten? Is it just a down year, and do you think the Buckeyes are still a contender for the playoffs if they run the table the rest of the way?
There's no question the Big Ten is down. The question is whether it's permanently down. There are macro factors -- demographic population shift to the South, etc. -- and other ones -- there are some coaches (Hoke, Beckman to name two) who look to be in over their heads. Michigan State is very good, and I think Ohio State, Nebraska and maybe Wisconsin are potentially very good. I thought Maryland would be a darkhorse this year, and the Terrapins might be more than that. As for the College Football Playoff, the Big Ten will need considerable help to get one of the four spots. It seems like every October, there's hand-wringing about having too many undefeated teams, and then things have a way of working themselves out. It's been uncanny. If Nebraska stays undefeated, it'll be in -- but I doubt the Cornhuskers will. Michigan State can get in with a 12-1 record, and I think Ohio State could as well. But it all depends on what happens with the other conferences.
Can you give us an Ohio State player we should keep an eye on Saturday?
On offense, I'll go with Ezekiel Elliott. The sophomore running back had a superb game against Cincinnati. He looked much sharper in all aspects of his game than he had in any previous game. He's not Carlos Hyde, but he was close enough on Saturday. On defense, watch defensive end Joey Bosa. Also a sophomore, I bet he'd be a top-10 pick if he were eligible for the 2015 NFL draft. He's the complete package and is capable of game-changing plays.
And a prediction?
I think it'll be similar to the Cincinnati game. Maryland has the offensive weapons to move the ball and put up points, but I doubt that the Terrapins have the defense to beat the Buckeyes unless OSU self-destructs with dropped passes (which have been an issue), turnovers or penalties. Ohio State 49, Maryland 31.