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Ohio State season preview: Rutgers still miles away from top of Big Ten

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    Ohio State running back Demario McCall breaks away from Rutgers defensive back K.J. Gray for a touchdown.

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  • Ohio-St-Rutgers-Football-8

    Ohio State linebacker Baron Browning, left, and defensive end Chase Young, center, team up to tackle Rutgers quarterback Johnathan Lewis during last season's 56-0 Buckeyes win.

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COLUMBUS — Following a season-opener against Oregon State, Ohio State jumps immediately into Big Ten play for one week. The Buckeyes play host to East Division foe Rutgers, which has yet to post a winning league record during its four years in the Big Ten.

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Ohio State linebacker Baron Browning, left, and defensive end Chase Young, center, team up to tackle Rutgers quarterback Johnathan Lewis during last season's 56-0 Buckeyes win.

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Here’s what to know about Game No. 2 for the Buckeyes this season.

Rutgers at Ohio State

Sept. 8 (3:30 p.m., Big Ten Network)

Last year: The Scarlet Knights were able to knock off three teams that finished with losing Big Ten records (Purdue, Maryland, and Illinois), but not much else, finishing 4-8 and missing out on a bowl game for the third straight time.

Coach: Chris Ash, third year (6-18)

What's to know?: Rutgers has improved under Ash, even if its record hasn’t. The Scarlet Knights have done fairly well in recruiting, especially in the critical New Jersey and New York corridor that other teams often raid, and the roster is deeper than it was during Ash’s first season.

The Scarlet Knights still have no solution for their biggest problem: they still play in the Big Ten East. Ohio State, Michigan, and Penn State are traditional powers, Michigan State is in the midst of a golden era of football, and Maryland has poured money into its football team.

The school’s place in the division has been routinely established by the Buckeyes in particular, who have beaten Rutgers by a combined 163-7 (not a typo) during the past three years.

Rutgers is understandably excited about true freshman quarterback Artur Sitkowski, who at one point was committed to Miami (Fla.), and the roster should again take a step forward. But the fact remains this team is not close to contending in the East, and the final month of the schedule is brutal: at Wisconsin, Michigan, Penn State, at Michigan State.

For The Buckeyes: Ohio State has routinely crushed Rutgers along both lines of scrimmage, and that seems likely again. The Buckeyes return four offensive linemen with starting experience, and they have two potential 2019 first-round draft picks along the defensive line. This series won’t change until Rutgers can handle one or both OSU lines.

Stat That Matters: Rutgers quarterbacks completed 49.1 percent of their passes last season, which is not exactly a winning formula. That mark ranked 121st out of 129 Bowl Subdivision teams, and was a major reason Rutgers finished only ahead of Illinois in scoring offense among Big Ten teams. If Rutgers has anything passable in terms of throwing the ball, bowl eligibility is on the table. If not, it’s in another fight to stay out of last place.

Prognosis: Ash has done an admirable job since leaving OSU to take the Rutgers job, yet the programs are still far, far apart. Ohio State again will be a huge favorite. Unless something goes horribly wrong for the Buckeyes, they should head to Dallas in game No. 3 with two comfortable wins in the bank.

Contact Nicholas Piotrowicz at npiotrowicz@theblade.com, 419-724-6110 or on Twitter @NickPiotrowicz

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