Colin: Not to put you on the spot right out of the gate, but I've heard some rumors Justin Fields has been struggling a little bit. What are realistic expectations for him in 2019?
Baver: Yeah, word is things haven’t gone as smoothly as expected with Fields, and I do think the coaches sent Fields a wakeup call in not naming him the starter until well into fall camp. Still, a healthy Justin Fields was going to be the guy (almost) no matter what. And Ryan Day knows a thing or two about coaching QB’s, so I think Fields is going to get there eventually. Realistic expectations? Without injuries: 3,200 yds & 32 TDs, 400 yds & 9 TDs on the ground.
Colin: What kind of offense do you expect Ryan Day to run with Fields under center?
Baver: They will still want to spread defenses out, same as they did under Urban, and the same as they did with both Haskins and Barrett. With Fields’ athleticism, you’ll see the zone read more than last season, but not as much as when Barrett ran the show. And they will again line up in the shotgun on pretty much every play. Still, they can’t have Fields average 14 carries a game like JT did in 2017, as the lack of depth at the QB position is well documented.
Colin: Where would you rank JK Dobbins among the starting running backs for Ohio State in the past 20 years? Can he put the team on his back if the young QB struggles?
Baver: In ‘19, Dobbins was the first starting Buckeye tailback to average less than 5 yards per carry since 2004. Some of that was on the O-line, some of it because OSU lacked a mobile QB, and some of that was on Dobbins. Still, Dobbins has dropped a good amount of body fat in the offseason and this is a contract year for him. But no, he cannot put this Buckeye offense on his back. And with backs like Clarrett, Beanie, Hyde and Zeke coming through here over the past 20 seasons, JKD would need a big effort this year to rank up there with those guys.
Colin: Without record setting numbers from Haskins bailing them out, the defense is going to have to play much better this season. Are they up for the task? Where do you see room for improvement?
Baver: Call my crazy, but I think this Buckeye D makes significant strides this year. Greg Schiano was handed the best DC job on the planet....the D-coordinator job for the Patriots, and he walked away from it. I really have to wonder what Schiano had going on in his personal life last fall. That Ohio St D had elite talent stacked three-deep and they went from giving up 300 yds a game in ’17 to 400 YPG a year ago. I think the LBs and DBs will be significantly better this fall, especially the DBs. The back 7 is certainly where the room is for improvement.
Colin: I think I ask this every year, but how good is this D line?
Baver: They have great depth, but lack a second elite guy to take heat off Chase Young. Still should be a top 3 unit in the Big Ten.
Colin: Florida Atlantic is the new 2nd chance U and has some serious talent. Could an upset be brewing and how would you bet this game?
Baver: If FAU clicks and Ohio State is out of sync, you could see a tight game. If that happens, I think OSU will eventually impose their will on FAU and wear them out. Oklahoma thrashed Lane Kiffin’s squad 63-14 a year ago, where it was 42-scratch at the half. It was a big drop-off for their offense when OC Kendal Briles left after the ’17 season. The Owls still run plays at a blazing pace, and yes, they indeed have a lot more talent than most non-Power conference teams. Keep an eye on #40 tight end Harrison Bryant for FAU, a kid that should play on Sundays a year from now. I have Ohio State winning 45-16, so I’ve got OSU covering the 27½, but the spread seems about right to me. If I’m a bettor, I’d shy away from this one.
Colin: Following a legend is never easy. What record and wins does Ryan Day need in 2019 to keep the dogs at bay?
Baver: 10-2 or better in the regular season WITH a win over Michigan. Is that fair? Nope. But it is what it is.
Colin: Looking around this opening weekend, what other games and lines will you be keeping an eye on?
Baver: UM is overrated yet again this year, but they will ransack Middle Tennessee. Spread opened at 29½ and was up to 34½ last I checked. UM has to answer for their humiliating end to the ’18 season, and they are the best play I see on Saturday. It’s a tough call in the biggest game of the day tomorrow, Auburn-Oregon. I guess I wouldn’t want to lay pts in this one, so I’d if I had to play it, I’d take the Ducks getting 4. Auburn’s D-line vs Oregon’s O-line is one of the best trench matchups you will see all season.
Let’s get it on, shall we?