Here are some of my general thoughts in the middle of the week as we inch closer to perhaps the most highly-anticipated game in the Big Ten this year:
What's going on with Wisconsin should be terrifying to Ohio State fans. They begin the season with high hopes of winning the Big Ten West Division and challenging for a Big Ten championship. Week 1 couldn't have gone any better, considering the circumstances (they lost starting quarterback Jack Coan to injury before the season began). Everybody on the team tests negative before the Friday night opener against Illinois, quarterback Graham Mertz goes out and has the game of his life in his first career collegiate start, everyone in Madison is riding high ... and then it comes CRASHING down.
Wisconsin announced today that six players and six coaches, including head coach Paul Chryst, have tested positive for CoVID-19. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is reporting that one of those players is Mertz. Now, the game this weekend has been canceled and Wisconsin's Week 3 game against Purdue appears to be in jeopardy.
This is the exact situation that Ohio State fans should be fearful of and unfortunately the Big Ten has not worked any flexibility into its schedule to allow for rescheduled games. Of course it would be terrible if something like this happened to the Buckeyes, but it could be just as bad for Ohio State if this happened to multiple opponents. What if this were Rutgers or Maryland one of the next two weeks and the game got canceled on Ohio State? How would that be viewed in the eyes of the College Football Playoff selection committee? It's beyond anyone's control (for the most part), but you can be sure the Buckeyes are doing their part to avoid this from happening.
Rutgers, Indiana Earning Week 1 Wins
How about the performances from Indiana and Rutgers in Week 1 to start the season with a victory? Rutgers won a really ugly game, but they forced seven turnovers and handed Michigan State one of its worst losses in recent memory. Indiana has been knocking on the door for a bit, searching for a program-defining win. They got it, albeit a bit controversial, against Penn State last weekend. Is there a changing of the guard in the Big Ten East? Not in the top of the division, but perhaps the rest of it is more open than in years past.
Chris Booker is One of the Best Feel Good Stories of the Year
The Ohio State Buckeyes are chalk full of talent and have extremely high expectations for the 2020 season. But perhaps the best feel-good-story on this year's team is a player who's name you may have never heard.
Senior wide receiver Chris Booker is a walk-on and joined the Buckeyes in July, 2019. He began is collegiate career at the University of Dayton, where he redshirted for the Flyers as a freshman. After a family member of his convinced him to transfer to Ohio State, he essentially decided to stop playing football and move on with his life. he enrolled as an undergrad at Ohio State in the fall of 2017. But eventually he found his way on to the Ohio State Club Football team the following year and he fell in love with the game again. Not to mention, he played quite well.
James Grega, the Ohio State Club Team coach, helped Booker put together a highlight tape and started bugging the Buckeyes coaching staff about a talented young man they had on campus whom the didn't know.
Wide receivers coach Brian Hartline was impressed and along with a few other coaches, invited Booker to join the program as a walk-on. It was an opportunity Booker couldn't pass up.
Last year, he didn't see the field but he continued working, getting stronger, increasing his weight and handling his business the right way.
“Coach Mick came up to me one day and it really meant so much to me, he came up to me one day after our practice and he was like, ‘If you keep doing what you’re doing, you’re gonna play,’” Booker said Wednesday. “And I really didn’t even know what to say, because not a lot of walk-ons play here. And I am new to the team too, and I haven’t been here as long as many other walk-ons. I was just patiently waiting for my time, but when he told me that, my mindset kind of changed. Like ‘OK, I can do this.’”
Fast forward to Week 1 for Ohio State - Booker was named the Buckeyes' Special Teams Player of the Week.
“What he’s done in the weight room with Mick (Marotti), what Brian Hartline’s done in terms of turning him into a receiver and then his work on special teams with Matt Barnes, I can’t say enough,” Ryan Day said Tuesday with the media. “I asked him in the team meeting, how many stars were you? He said zero. ‘I wasn’t recruited by anybody.’ It just goes to show you when somebody wants something enough and they have a big enough heart, anything’s possible. What an inspirational story, and that was really, really cool to see.”
I can promise you I'll be keeping an eye out for No. 25 every time I see him on special teams the rest of the season.
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