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CONFERENCES COACHING CHANGES TRANSACTIONS GAMING MATCHUP CURRENT ODDS
Saturday, September 5th, 12:00 p.m. (et)
From The Sports Network
By Ralph Lauro, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: The sixth-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes have won their last 30 home openers and they will look to continue that trend this weekend when they host the Navy Midshipmen at Ohio Stadium in Columbus.
Since 1890, OSU has posted a glaring 107-8-4 record in home openers and that includes a current streak of 30 wins in a row dating back to a loss to Penn State to start the 1978 campaign. Head coach Jim Tressel has won his last 13 seasons openers, including all eight with the Buckeyes, and that is plenty of reason for optimism this weekend.
The Buckeyes return several key faces from last year's 10-3 squad and they have notched four straight double-figure win campaigns, even more reason for Tressel to be confident heading into the opener.
For the Mids, they have won three straight season openers, but none have come against a major power like OSU. Navy is guided by second-year head coach Ken Niumatalolo, who led the program to an 8-5 record last year and its sixth straight bowl game. In fact, the Mids have won at least eight games in six straight seasons, the longest streak in school history, and they have a shot of keeping things going if they can get help from some of the younger players.
Navy though, is 0-3 all-time against OSU, which picked up a 31-28 victory in the teams' last meeting in the 1981 Liberty Bowl.
The Mids are well known for their option attack and that ground game has led the nation in rushing for a NCAA-record four consecutive seasons. The good news for Navy is that it returns four starters along the line which helped pave the way for 292.4 rushing ypg in 2008. The bad news though, is four of the team's top five rushers from last season are gone. The lone returnee in the top five happens to be quarterback Ricky Dobbs, who rushed for 495 yards and eight scores in eight games last season. This is now Dobbs' team and he not only has the skills to run the triple-option, but has a good enough arm to exploit teams through the air.
"Ricky has a skill set that is a little different than some of our past quarterbacks and that will help us in the passing game, although we aren't going to turn into Texas Tech or anybody." said Niumatalolo. "We will probably throw the ball a little bit more, but we know for us to be successful we have to run the ball
Bobby Doyle and Marcus Curry take over the slotback spots and they are two of several new starters for an offense that may need some time to click after losing seven regulars from a year ago.
Navy made great strides on defense last season and was the most improved unit in terms of points allowed. The Mids improved their scoring defense by 14.4 ppg from the previous season and with seven starters back in the fold, this year's unit should be just as good.
The defense however, was dealt a big blow when star tackle Nate Frazier was dismissed from the team during fall camp. His absence leaves the front in a bit of a flux, but end Jabaree Tuani, who had nine tackles for loss last season, does give this group hope for success.
The strength of the defense comes at linebacker with the return of Ross Pospisil. Last season, Pospisil led the team with 106 tackles and he also added two picks, showing he can contribute in more ways than one.
Rover Wyatt Middleton is the lone returnee in the secondary and he is coming off an 80-tackle campaign. Middleton has a streak of 24 straight starts and will provide valuable leadership for the younger players.
In 2008, Terrelle Pryor became the first true freshman in 30 years to start at quarterback at OSU and while he did lack some consistency, he certainly showed why he was chosen to start as a rookie. The speedy and ultra-athletic Pryor threw for 1,311 yards and rushed for 630 more, in addition to totaling 18 touchdowns. Pryor has all the tools to succeed and to emerge as a Heisman Trophy candidate, and he should be one of the most watched players in the nation in 2009.
"(Pryor) is a guy that's passionate about being good," Tressel said.
As for the weapons surrounding Pryor, they are talented, but many are new starters. At wideout, Dane Sanzenbacher (21 catches, 272 yards, TD) is the leading returning receiver and he will be opposed by DeVier Posey, who has great potential and made 11 catches as a rookie last season.
The backfield is also rather new, as the duo of Dan Herron and Brandon Saine are in charge of replacing 1,000-yard rusher and NFL draft pick Beanie Wells. Herron is the more explosive back and nearly averaged 5.0 yards per carry as a freshman last season, while Saine is a more physical runner.
"We feel real good about Boom Herron," stated Tressel. "Danny Herron is a tough kid, a good ball carrier, excellent pass protector, is solid in the passing game."
The offensive line should once again be a force, with three starters back in the fold, so finding holes to run through shouldn't be a problem.
Defense has always been a strength in Columbus and this year will be no different. Seven starters return from a unit that gave up just 13.9 ppg in 2008, and there are plenty of new and talented faces pushing for regular work. The line is experienced and deep and ends Thaddeus Gibson (five sacks) and Cameron Heyward (three sacks) will give fits to any offensive line.
At linebacker, three-time All-American James Laurinitis is now gone, leaving some big shoes to fill. Ross Homan is the most experienced player in the middle and look for him to improve greatly on the 67 stops he made a year ago.
The secondary is where OSU is the strongest and the group is paced by safety Kurt Coleman, who produced 78 tackles and four interceptions in 2008.
The Buckeyes haven't dropped a home opener in a very long time and don't expect that to change this weekend. OSU is simply too big and athletic for the Mids and should be able to pull away with ease for the victory.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Ohio State 42, Navy 14
09/02 10:32:16 ET