It’s like the big Fourth of July fireworks show happening on June 27. It’s like Santa making his deliveries on December 18.
You don’t expect a match-up like today’s No. 2 Ohio State against No. 5 Notre Dame in Week One of the college football season. The last time Ohio State opened a football season in a similar way was in 1986 when it played Alabama in its opener in a match-up of Top 10 teams and legendary football programs.
It’s been since 2001 that Notre Dame began a season this way. The Irish’s opener that season was against No. 4 Nebraska back when the Cornhuskers were still among college football’s elite programs.
The fact that Notre Dame and Ohio State have played against each other only six times before today adds something to the game.
Notre Dame started playing football in 1887 and Ohio State’s football beginnings date to 1890. In Ohio Stadium’s 100th season, today’s game will be only the third time Ohio State has played Notre Dame there.
After playing each other in 1935 and 1936, the two teams didn’t meet again until a home-and-home series in 1995 and 1996. Since then, they’ve played in the Fiesta Bowl twice – in the 2005 season and the 2015 season.
Two big coaching moves have also added some interest to today’s game.
When Brian Kelly left Notre Dame to go to LSU, ND’s administration quickly hired Marcus Freeman, in his first year as the Irish’s defensive coordinator, to replace him. The 36-year-old Freeman was a linebacker at Ohio State from 2004-2008.
Around the same time, Ohio State made defensive coordinator Jim Knowles its highest paid assistant coach, hoping he can fix a defense that struggled mightily last season.
The odds makers have Ohio State listed as a 17-point favorite. The rankings of the two schools’ recruiting classes the last four years leans toward OSU but maybe not by that large a margin. Ohio State has ranked No. 4, No. 2, No. 5 and No 7 and Notre Dame has ranked No. 9, No. 10, No. 15 and No. 15.
Four things which could be big factors in who wins and by how much:
1. Quarterbacks. Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud proved he is among the best quarterbacks in college football when he threw for 4,435 yards and 44 touchdowns last season. And he got better as the season went on. Notre Dame starter Tyler Buchner is a dual threat quarterback who will be starting his first game. He threw three touchdown passes and three interceptions last season. 2. Who owns the line of scrimmage. In Ohio State’s two losses last season against Michigan and Oregon, it lost the battle up front. Notre Dame has a veteran offensive line with a combined 74 starts but its best offensive lineman,
guard Jarrett Patterson has been rehabbing a sprained foot. Defensively, Isaiah Foskey (11 sacks), Jayson Ademilola (8.5 tackles for losses) and Justin Ademilola (6.0 tackles for losses) are the Irish’s leaders on the line. 3. Explosive plays. If Stroud connects with receivers like Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Marvin Harrison Jr., Emeka Egbuka and Julian Fleming for big plays consistently and TreVeyon Henderson breaks a couple of big runs, Ohio State could put big numbers on the scoreboard and it will be a long day for Notre Dame. 4. Defense Knowles said earlier this week Ohio State’s defense is “100 percent ready to go.” It will be interesting, though, to see if Notre Dame thinks it learned some things about attacking Knowles’ defense in a 37-35 loss to Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl. Knowles had already left Oklahoma State to go to Ohio State before that game but Notre Dame’s Jack Coan passed for 509 yards and five touchdowns against a defense that was still playing his system.
The prediction: Ohio State 38, Notre Dame 21