Five storylines: Ohio State vs. Oklahoma

Ohio State’s Dre’mont Jones tackles Indiana’s Mike Majette on Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017, at Memorial Stadium in Bloomington, Ind. David Jablonski/Staff

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Ohio State’s Dre’mont Jones tackles Indiana’s Mike Majette on Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017, at Memorial Stadium in Bloomington, Ind. David Jablonski/Staff

Saturday’s game has major playoff implications

ESPN’s Paul Finebaum wrote a book three years ago titled, “My Conference Can Beat Your Conference: Why the SEC Still Rules College Football.”

The Ohio State Buckeyes would like to change that and took a step toward doing so by winning the national championship five months after the release of that book. To continue to carry the banner of the Big Ten and combat the power of the SEC, the No. 2 Buckeyes have to win games like the one looming at 7:30 p.m. Saturday against No. 5 Oklahoma, and they’ll have to overcome stats like the one Finebaum shared this week on Twitter.

Finebaum reported the Buckeyes are 0-5-1 at home against non-conference opponents ranked in the top five of the Associated Press poll.

“History doesn’t bode well for the Buckeyes on Saturday night,” he wrote.

Ohio State’s most recent chances to beat a top-five non-conference team at home came in 2005, when it lost 25-22 to Texas, and in 2009, when it lost 18-15 to No. 3 Southern California. Oklahoma ranked third when it last visited Columbus in 1977, and it beat the No. 4 Buckeyes 29-28.

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That 0-5-1 record matters little, of course. Ohio State is 8-4 against top-10 teams in the Urban Meyer era. It is 1-0 against Oklahoma under Meyer, having beaten the Sooners 45-24 on the road last season.

No matter how you look at it, this is a big game. Here are five storylines to follow:

1. Playoff implications: The Buckeyes earned a spot in the College Football Playoffs last season in part because of their victory at Oklahoma. The Sooners didn't lose after that game and finished seventh in the final playoff ranking. Ohio State also had a victory against No. 6 Michigan, while its only loss was to No. 5 Penn State.

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Assuming the loser of this game has another strong finish, the winner will have a strong line on its resume. Ohio State coach Urban Meyer was asked Thursday how much he thinks about how much this game might affect the playoff race.

“Not at all,” Meyer said with a smile.

2. Powerful pair: Mike Weber, a 1,000-yard rusher a season ago as a redshirt freshman, will make his 2017 debut for Ohio State after missing the 49-21 victory at Indiana with a hamstring injury. He will share time with the star of the opener, true freshman J.K. Dobbins, who rushed for 181 yards.

Both will play. Meyer said Thursday on his weekly radio show Dobbins will start, but he hasn’t said if he would play both in the backfield at the same time. The pair could also split time with Antonio Williams, who had seven rushes for 44 yards in the opener.​

“Last week, we used two (running backs),” offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said. “You need two. They’re going to get tired and gassed. I actually think you need three. No matter who goes out there first, they’re all going to play. It’ll be nice to get Mike off and see what he’s got this week.”

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3. Oklahoma connection: Wilson coached against his former team last week and will do so again this week. He was the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma under Bob Stoops from 2002-10. That was his last job before he got the head coaching job at Indiana in 2011.

“It’s a great team, a great program,” Wilson said. “This place shares a lot of history and tradition with us. It was an honor to coach there. It was good for our family. It’s going to be an awesome challenge.”
4. Home opener: Ohio State has won 37 of its last 38 home openers, the last loss coming three seasons ago to Virginia Tech. The Buckeyes will wear custom Nike cleats courtesy of LeBron James: the LeBron Soldier XI. James also donated cleats to the Buckeyes for the Michigan game last season.
That’s just part of the hype. ESPN’s College GameDay crew will work the game. A national audience on ABC will watch it. Ohio State expects its 107th consecutive crowd of 100,000 or larger.

" It never gets old," Ohio State defensive end Tyquan Lewis said. "There's nothing like the home opener, coming out and running down the tunnel, the fireworks and stuff."

5. Stopping Mayfield: Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield is the most accurate passer in school history. He completed 19 of 20 passes in the season opener, a 56-7 victory over UTEP. His career completion percentage stands at 70.1.
Ohio State freshman quarterback Tate Martell, an elusive quarterback like Mayfield, impersonated Mayfield in practice this week to help the Buckeyes prepare. Defensive end Nick Bosa said Mayfield is “like Tate Martell on steroids.”
Defensive end Tyquan Lewis called Mayfield a magical player. Watching Mayfield is like watching a video game for Lewis.
“He’s out there running around, spinning, doing all kinds of stuff,” Lewis said.


SATURDAY’S GAME

Oklahoma at Ohio State, 7:30 p.m., ABC, 1410

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