Tag Archives: Buckeyes

What Should We Really Expect From Ohio State in 2017?

It’s no secret that Ohio State is reloading once again, both on the field and within the coaching staff. The Buckeyes are two weeks into spring practice with the annual spring game slated for April 15.

The talent exodus isn’t anywhere near the level it was a year ago, but Ohio State still must replace three starters in the secondary for the second consecutive season. So what should we really expect from the Buckeyes this upcoming season? Is a third playoff appearance in four seasons in the cards for 2017?

At this time last year, Ohio State was preparing to replace 16 starters and the Buckeyes ultimately qualified for the College Football Playoff with one of the youngest and most inexperienced teams in the country. Granted, the team looked like it in an uncompetitive 31-0 shutout loss to eventual national champion Clemson, but the season overall was an unexpected success. If Ohio State can pull off an 11-1 record, which included a win over Michigan and a playoff appearance with just six returning starters, 2017 should be a breeze right?

Without question, the Buckeyes will contend for a Big Ten title and be amongst the teams vying for one of the four coveted playoff spots. However, it will be anything but a breeze. Before we start talking playoff or national championship, let’s not forget that Ohio State has failed to even make the Big Ten title game each of the previous two seasons. But Ohio state fans have reason to be extremely optimistic considering head coach Urban Meyer has delivered a national championship every season following a bowl loss, both at Florida and Ohio State.

My honest opinion is that Ohio State makes it a third consecutive season without a conference championship game appearance just because it feels like it’s Michigan and head coach Jim Harbaugh’s time to finally beat their rival, especially with The Game being played in Ann Arbor this season. But that’s a whole different conversation.

Following the Clemson debacle, Meyer promised the media that we would see a vastly improved offense, specifically the passing game, and that a performance like the one Ohio State displayed that night “won’t happen again.” So you can pretty much take that to the bank. New offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson is certainly one of the best. I think it’s fair to expect the Ohio State offense to perform at a level closer to what we saw early in the 2016 season against Oklahoma.

Is Ohio State going to put up over 40 per game and throw the football with ease once the Big Ten schedule gets underway? Of course not, but the consistency will be much more evident. I just can’t see ineffective and sloppy football continue with Meyer at the helm.

And that brings us to fifth-year senior quarterback J.T. Barrett. Will Barrett revert back to the inconsistent and inaccurate passer many Buckeye fans have labeled him or will he return to the Heisman Trophy contender that he was in 2014 prior to a season-ending broken ankle? I believe it will be the latter for Barrett’s final season in Columbus.

The guy is too accomplished and is going to go down as one of the best quarterbacks, at least statistically, in the history of the program. Following a broken ankle, quarterback controversy and inconsistent play, it would be a storybook ending for Barrett to lead to lead and ultimately finish a national championship season for Ohio State. I’m not going to go that far, but I do believe Barrett will find himself in New York as Heisman Trophy candidate. With everything Barrett has been through,  he will most assuredly finish on a high note.

Defensively, losing safety Malik Hooker and cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore and Gareon Conley will be tough. However, we said the same thing a year ago when Hooker and Lattimore possessed minimal to no experience. Once again, three new starters in the secondary may need a little time to gel, but talent certainly won’t be an issue.

With former co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell now at the University of Cincinnati, Bill Davis steps in to coach the linebackers after 24 years of NFL coaching experience. That makes me feel good. Davis, Meyer’s longtime friend since they went to Cincinnati together, has quite the task since he will not have the services of former stud linebacker Raekwon McMillan, who should be a first-round lock in next month’s NFL Draft.

The 2017 is still five months away but the upcoming spring game will give us a little taste of where the Buckeyes are at. It’s safe to assume that there won’t be much of a drop-off in terms of talent and we can expect another typical season from Ohio State, a season where the Buckeyes once again contends for both a conference and national title. Not because the Buckeyes were able to in 2016 with 16 starters lost, but because it’s Ohio State and it’s Urban Meyer we’re talking about.

E-mail Mark at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @msilverman25

Photo: Flickr by Paula R. Lively

No Excuse For Meyer, Ohio State

Ohio State had over a month to prepare for the highly-anticipated CFP semifinal with Clemson in the Playstation Fiesta Bowl and head coach Urban Meyer managed to deliver a shutout.

Only it was the Buckeyes who were obliterated and embarrassed in 31-0 fashion by Clemson. The extra time to prepare clearly didn’t pay off and resulted in Ohio State’s first shutout since the Buckeyes were defeated 28-0 by that team up north in 1993.

Is anyone really shocked that Ohio State was unable to get the job done against a stacked Clemson team that was built for this season and appears will give Alabama all they can handle in a national title game rematch? No, at least they shouldn’t. Ohio State clearly peaked in September following the blowout of Oklahoma and offensively, has been in a steady decline ever since. Clemson was also primed to get back to the playoff for a second consecutive season and earn another shot at Alabama for all the marbles.

That they did. Hands down, Clemson was the better team however you slice it.

However, I don’t want to hear that Ohio State was “a year away” after all. I mean, clearly, after witnessing that performance Saturday night, it sure seemed more like two or three years away. But when Ohio State earned its way into the playoff, the Buckeyes were no longer a year away.

With that said, I don’t care if Ohio State came into this game as a three-point favorite or a four-touchdown underdog in the eyes of ESPN college football analyst and known Buckeye-hater Mark May, a top-tier program like Ohio State shouldn’t get shutout, ever. When the Buckeyes were blanked by Michigan in 1993, Ohio State was not a program that could be considered among the nation’s elite.

How was it that Ohio State’s offense couldn’t even muster garbage points against a Clemson defense that surrendered 10 points to Boston College? Pittsburgh hung 43 points on the Tigers defense in Death Valley and while Clemson’s defense is extremely talented, especially on the defensive line, it’s no Alabama front.

There is no way to describe Ohio State’s performance in the playoff as anything but pathetic and downright unacceptable. Awhile back, I placed Ohio State on a pedestal as Alabama’s potential replacement as the next college football dynasty. That may have been a reach, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. Who knows? Maybe Meyer and the Buckeyes respond with a couple national titles and the Clemson debacle will be an afterthought down the road, but it’s wishful thinking.

A shutout in the biggest game of the year doesn’t change the fact that Meyer is still probably the second-best coach in the country, but if there are still any comparisons to Alabama’s Nick Saban, they need to come to a halt. Aside from possessing twice the amount of championship hardware, Saban is not going to get shutout in a playoff game. Instead, he fires offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin from a job he already quit in a 17-point victory en route to the national championship game.

Meyer would be the first one to admit that Ohio State’s performance was unacceptable and he will get this thing fixed, but he doesn’t get a pass on this. Meyer doesn’t lose often, but when he does, he takes losing to another level. Between Virginia Tech (2014), Michigan State (2015) and Clemson on Saturday, it couldn’t have been uglier.

We can blame quarterback J.T. Barrett for his inaccuracy, a struggling offensive line to put it mildly, a lack of separation by the receivers, running back Mike Weber’s butterfingers or even kicker Tyler Durbin, they all contributed to the loss. The shutout is all on Meyer and the offensive staff. Heck, even Jim Tressel and the Buckeyes managed 14 points in another Glendale fiasco, the 2006 national title game against Meyer and the Florida Gators.

For anyone insinuating that this is a “fire Urban” rant, it’s not and the thought of that is more ridiculous than the shutout itself. It’s simply an unacceptable showing that should not and will not be repeated. Meyer will make the necessary changes and adjustments and everything will be gravy next fall for another championship run.

Unexpectedly for some, 2016 was a year that saw Ohio State make the playoff, its second appearance in three seasons. Meyer and the Buckeyes proceeded to hit rock-bottom and for the majority of programs, it would still be a successful season. But this is Ohio State. The offense is Meyer’s baby and it’s time for him to clean up the mess.

E-mail Mark at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @msilverman25

Photo by Wikiwand

The College Football Playoff is a Familiar Place for Ohio State

It’s no secret that Ohio State is faced with a daunting task in its quest to become the first two-time national champions of the playoff era. Defeat last year’s national runner-up in Clemson and barring a major upset by Washington, once again dethrone the dynasty that is Alabama football, that’s all.

However, Ohio State fans have plenty of reasons to be optimistic. The 2016 Buckeyes enter the playoff with a similar feel to the 2014 squad that ultimately secured the inaugural CFP national title. No, Ohio State will not be starting a third-string quarterback and the Buckeyes are not riding the momentum of a 59-0 scarring in the conference championship game. In fact, there wasn’t even a Big Ten title game appearance, thanks to Penn State. Regardless, Ohio State enters the four-team field once again, ahead of schedule.

Just like in 2014, this team wasn’t supposed to make it here. Ohio State never lost starting quarterback  J.T. Barrett or even backup Joe Burrow to season-ending injuries at any point, but the Buckeyes were forced to replace 16 starters due to last season’s talent exodus. Obviously, the cupboard wasn’t bare. A 10-2 season was widely considered a best-case expectation for this group. Young or not, the Buckeyes are one of the four best teams in the country for a reason.

The notion that Clemson’s hunger for a rematch with Alabama in the national championship game outweighs Ohio State’s youth and lack of experience in the playoff setting is a bit farfetched. Ohio State coach Urban Meyer has absolutely thrived with young teams his entire career and this time around shouldn’t be any different.

The majority of Ohio State’s roster may not possess experience in the playoff, but the Buckeyes certainly come in with a chip on their shoulder and plenty of motivation, just like in 2014. Two years ago, it was Ohio State that had to prove it belonged in the playoff when TCU was checked out of the top-four, even with a blowout victory over an inferior opponent in Iowa State. There was plenty of controversy surrounding Ohio State’s inclusion to the playoff and the Buckeyes certainly backed it up with a national title.

There was no shortage of controversy when Ohio State finished at No. 3 in the playoff ranking a couple weeks ago. The Buckeyes managed to get the nod over Penn State because of having just one loss and a more impressive resume, even though the Nittany Lions defeated Ohio State earlier this season and were the Big Ten champions. Ohio State proved to be the best of the group in 2014, so why can’t they do it again?

The 2016 Buckeyes were dealt a mysterious loss, which was also the case in 2014 and that alone should make Buckeye Nation feel very comforting heading into the playoff. Whether Meyer was at Florida or in his current position at Ohio State, the three-time national championship coach has never secured college football gold in an undefeated season. Two years ago, it was Virginia Tech that entered the Horseshoe under the lights in early September and unleashed their will on Ohio State.

This year, it was the collapse in Happy Valley that resulted in Ohio State’s lone blemish. Although the loss to Penn State doesn’t look so bad now, it was pretty mindboggling to see the Buckeyes lose as three-touchdown favorites to a team that was defeated 49-7 by that team up north, especially in such fluky fashion.

Want another reason to feel confident? Ohio State will be playing Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl, which can be referred to as the Horseshoe of the west. Over the last 14 years, whether the location was Tempe or Glendale, the Buckeyes have won four Fiesta Bowl’s, including the 2002 national championship.

In light of the holiday season, Meyer is certainly a gift that keeps on giving and the 2016 regular season was surely a Meyer-like blueprint for the Buckeyes to make another legitimate run at a second national title in three years. After all, who’s got it better than Ohio State?

E-mail Mark at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @msilverman25

Photo by Paula R. Lively

It wasn’t Ohio State’s “Brand” that Earned Playoff Berth

Ohio State was admitted into the 2016 College Football Playoff, the Buckeyes’ second appearance in three years and it wasn’t because of their iconic brand name.

The Buckeyes were simply one of the four best and most deserving teams in the country and boasted the most impressive resume outside of Alabama. Ohio State defeated three top-10 opponents in Wisconsin, Nebraska and Michigan and recorded the most impressive out of conference victory with their pummeling of Oklahoma in Norman, the defacto Big 12 champion.

With all of that being said, I understand the argument for Penn State to be included in the playoff instead of Ohio State. It’s just incorrect.  For the record, I think Penn State should be in the playoff after winning the toughest conference in the country and coming out of the toughest division in the nation, just not at Ohio State’s expense.

The fact is that Penn State lost two games this season and Ohio State lost one. That’s a big deal. Ohio State has no argument whatsoever if both teams have the same amount of losses. Head-to-head results on the field and conference championships are used to differentiate similar teams when their resumes are comparable.

While Penn State’s non-conference schedule is respectable that includes a close victory over AAC champion Temple and a close defeat to four-loss Pittsburgh, it’s not even comparable to the Buckeyes’ blowout of Oklahoma. Keep in mind this was also the first true road game for 16 of Ohio State’s 22 starters.

Now, some will argue that Penn State’s victory over the Buckeyes was fluky and that Ohio State controlled the majority  of the game. This is all true, but Penn State won the football game. However, that doesn’t make Penn State better or even more deserving of a playoff spot with two losses. Thanks to Penn State’s rise from mediocrity, the Buckeyes possess the best overall loss concerning any of the one-loss teams.

Penn State lost to a mediocre Pitt team and was destroyed by Michigan 49-10. Should that be excusable because it was before Penn State got hot and won nine consecutive games? When Ohio State lost to Virginia Tech in 2014, it was a bad loss, but it was their only loss. I realize Pitt traveled to Death Valley and beat Clemson, but they also lost four games and surrendered 61 points to Syracuse at home.

If you want to say that if the resumes were reversed and Ohio State had two losses with a victory over Penn State and a Big Ten title, it would be the Buckeyes still claiming a spot in the playoff based on their brand, you’re wrong. First of all, if Ohio State lost to Michigan 49-10, that’s an absurd concept and the Buckeyes would surely never get in based on that result alone.

The Penn State argument is that their losses were early in the season so let’s say Ohio State lost to Pitt and Wisconsin and Penn State’s only loss was to the Buckeyes. The Nittany Lions still have the better resume even if Ohio State wins the Big Ten title with two losses and an even better loss because of how highly ranked Ohio State was to begin the season.

The only reason Ohio State leapfrogged TCU in 2014 to make the playoff is because both teams had one loss and the 59-0 victory over Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game was used as the deciding factor. Sure, it will always be debatable as to why TCU dropped with a similar margin of victory against Iowa State on the same day, but nevertheless, head-to-head victories and conference championships put a team over the top when overall record and resumes are near identical.

That’s just not the case with Ohio State and Penn State. The selection committee factors in the entire regular season and not just the last nine weeks. Whether it’s Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State or Washington, not one of those teams would have been a home underdog to Maryland at any point during the season and that’s exactly what Penn State was in early October. It’s a moot point now, however it just goes to show you that you cannot earn a playoff appearance in September and October, but you can certainly lose the opportunity.

Last season, Michigan State defeated Iowa in the Big Ten title game with the Spartans going on to get trounced by Alabama in the playoff. Were Michigan State and Iowa truly the best two teams in the Big Ten? With the way everything unfolded, Penn State earned the right to ultimately win the Big Ten championship, but the two best teams in the Big Ten in 2016 were Ohio State and Michigan.

Ohio State is Ohio State because of their excellence on the field and overall body of work on a yearly basis. 2016 was no different as the Buckeyes truly earned their way into the playoff. The committee got it right.

E-mail Mark at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @msilverman25

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Meyer-Harbaugh II, Ohio State Will Not Disappoint

It’s finally Michigan week.

Throw the records out and forget about whether Michigan and head coach Jim Harbaugh have closed the talent gap on Ohio State. It’s going to be a battle for the ages on Saturday and will serve as the centerpiece for the 2016 edition of the college football playoff.

The new AP poll has been released and includes three Big Ten teams in the top-five for the first time since 1960. Wisconsin is listed at No. 5 with Ohio State and Michigan slotted at No. 2 and No. 3, respectively.

The 113th chapter of The Game clearly has everything on the line and is probably the most pivotal matchup between the storied rivals since their 2006 clash. Ohio State and Michigan were ranked No. 1 and No. 2 and it was a virtual play-in game into the BCS national title game. However, we are now in an era where a postseason playoff exists, so this Ohio State/Michigan game is as good as it gets and the stakes surely don’t get any bigger than this.

The Buckeyes are coming off a nail biting 17-16 victory over Michigan State. I’ve always said that Ohio State is a team that is built for overtime, but head coach Urban Meyer may want to thank Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio later for his failed two-point conversion attempt late in the fourth quarter. At the end of the day, Michigan State has always been a thorn in the side for Ohio State and coach Meyer, so we shouldn’t be surprised that the Spartans presented the Buckeyes quite a challenge, even in a down year.

Michigan State has interrupted and quite possibly prevented three separate national championship seasons for Ohio State (1998, 2013, 2015). In any case, the Buckeyes got through it and in November, you’ll take a win any way you can get it. Ohio State can now return home and think about nothing except that team up north.

Should we be worried about what would be a devastating loss to the Wolverines? Michigan can’t truly declare itself “back” until they beat Ohio State, especially when the stakes are at a level such as this. Whether we want to admit it or not, Michigan is going to win one of these games sooner rather than later, but it’s not going to be this year in the Horseshoe with a playoff spot on the line. No, not with Meyer in the scarlet and gray’s corner. Michigan is not Michigan State and let’s remember that in the championship department, it still reads Meyer 3-0 over Harbaugh.

As for the game itself, is Michigan backup quarterback John O’Korn going to deliver a victory on the road if starter Wilton Speight is unable to play? Boy, doesn’t that sound familiar to Ohio State fans. Cardale Jones worked out, O’Korn will not. I know it was a snow-covered field in less-than desirable conditions in Michigan’s victory over Indiana, but 7/16 for 59 yards just isn’t going to cut it. Something tells me that Speight will find a way to play Saturday because if not, it will be tough for the Wolverines to do much offensively.

Regardless of who lines up under center for Michigan, the Silver Bullets will be ready. When it comes to the Buckeyes offensively, quarterback J.T. Barrett and the combination of Mike Weber and Curtis Samuel should be tough to defend, even for Michigan’s stout defense. Weber is now over 1000 yards on the season as a redshirt freshman and we know Samuel can deliver a house-call any time he touches the football. Most importantly, I like Ohio State’s chances strictly because of Barrett’s experience.

This isn’t going to be Barrett’s first Ohio State/Michigan game like it will be for either Speight or O’Korn. It really does give the Buckeyes the advantage. Now, there have been plenty of times where experience proved to be irrelevant in the rivalry. Former Buckeye Craig Krenzel sure didn’t have a problem delivering a victory in Ann Arbor back in 2001, the day the rivalry swung in Ohio State’s favor. However, with young cats all over the field in their first experience of The Game, Barrett has been here before and should be able to put Ohio State over the top.

This is a game where legends are made and regardless of anything that has happened up to this point in the season, we can be sure that The Game will live up to its billing as it so often does. As it should be, it’s now a one-game season.

Maybe the third try will be the charm for Harbaugh and Michigan in 2017 because this time around, Barrett and the Buckeyes earn a spot in the playoff and provide more happy times in Columbus. Ohio State wins 27-23 with a goal line stand to preserve the victory. Everyone have a happy Thanksgiving!

E-mail Mark at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @msilverman25

Photo by Paul Kruse

Win Out and There is No Denying Ohio State of Playoff

124-6.

That is the combined score that Ohio State has used to defeat its last two opponents with consecutive 62-3 blowouts of Nebraska and Maryland. The Buckeyes have regained their swagger and are hitting on all cylinders at the right time. Especially with three of the top four teams in the latest playoff rankings falling to defeat, on what might have been the most chaotic college football Saturday in over 30 years, Ohio State is once again playing like the top team in the country outside of Alabama.

But there is one minor problem.

Michigan decided to be Michigan and found a way to lose to a struggling Iowa team and that makes the playoff picture a bit foggy for Ohio State. Although, Ohio State fans can’t say much after the Buckeyes were dealt a similar type of loss to Penn State. In any case, Penn State holds the tiebreaker with Ohio State in the Big Ten East to make it to the Big Ten title game due to their head-to-head victory should both teams finish with one conference loss. The Wolverines certainly paid an additional price in defeat with the loss of starting quarterback Wilton Speight to a broken collarbone.

As far as Ohio State is concerned, I wouldn’t be too worried about the Buckeyes’ playoff chances, assuming they are victorious in their final two regular season games. First off, Ohio State is playing like a playoff team and boasts one of the best resumes in the nation, whether they are a conference champion or not. The Buckeyes have impressive wins over Oklahoma, Wisconsin and Nebraska with two of the three coming in true road games. Sure, Michigan’s loss likely means we will see a Wisconsin/Penn State matchup in the conference title game.

The Buckeyes’ most significant competition of playoff contenders may come from within the conference. Ohio State certainly has a valid argument over a two-loss Wisconsin team that includes a head-to-head victory. As long as Penn State doesn’t find a way to win the Big Ten Championship, the Buckeyes should be fine.

It’s natural to believe that if Ohio State can’t become a conference champion, much less play in the title game, its chances can’t be that great, especially because of the requirements the playoff committee has laid out each of the first two years of the playoff.

When it came down to Ohio State and TCU in 2014, it was the Big Ten champion Buckeyes that received the final invitation into the playoff. It’s no secret that the Big 12 doesn’t play a conference championship and that came back to bite TCU hard in the eyes of the committee. However, 2016 is a different animal. There is likely going to be a conference with multiple teams included in the dance and it just might be the Big Ten.

Of course, it would be nice for Ohio State to have the ability to control its own destiny in the Big Ten title game. But seriously, any Ohio State fan would be lying if he or she didn’t at least crack a little smile at Michigan’s heartbreaking defeat. When the craziness of Saturday’s action finally settled, losses by Clemson and Washington almost canceled out Ohio State’s roadblock to Indianapolis caused by Michigan.

It would be different if Ohio State were sitting around No. 4 in the playoff rankings, but the Buckeyes are almost guaranteed to be slotted at No. 2 when the new rankings are revealed Tuesday night. Ohio State is ranked No. 2 in the latest AP poll. As long as Ohio State takes care of business the next two weeks against that state up north, the Buckeyes may just get an extra week to prepare for a playoff semifinal during championship week.

With that said, let’s not pencil Penn State into the title game just yet. With just Rutgers and Michigan State left on the Nittany Lions’ schedule, it’s not exactly a daunting task but the Spartans certainly have a way of playing spoiler.

I don’t think it is even a question that Ohio State is one of the four best teams in the land, especially now that the Buckeyes are looking the part. With back-to-back 59-point victories, Ohio State is certainly trending in the right direction. A conference championship looks nice on paper but should be irrelevant in what has been a roller coaster ride across college football in 2016.

Do people really buy Ohio State merchandise celebrating a conference title? I know I don’t because it’s not the ultimate goal.

Even if Penn State were to do the unthinkable and run the table through the Big Ten Championship, would the committee really include Penn State in the playoff the way the rest of college football stands as of today? Did you watch Michigan State get throttled against Alabama last year?

For years, it’s been Ohio State carrying the Big Ten on its back as far the conference’s accomplishments go, and it will be more of the same in 2016. The Buckeyes were the first national champion of the playoff era and they might as well be the first team to make the playoff that does not play for their conference championship.

E-mail Mark at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @msilverman25

Photo: Wikimedia

Baby Buckeyes Growing Up Fast

The Ohio State Buckeyes were a dominating force in September and then the usual growing pains took over for what is one of the youngest teams in the nation. If Ohio State entered the Nebraska game as pre-teens, they left Ohio Stadium Saturday night as full-fledged adults. What a difference a week makes. It was just last week that Ohio State squeaked by Northwestern and preserved a 24-20 victory on its final drive. The offense had looked anything but explosive over the last month and we all wondered if the Buckeyes could get back to playing an elite brand of football.

And then Nebraska came to town.

If Ohio State’s 62-3 thrashing of Nebraska didn’t send shock waves through the college football universe, I’m not sure what will. Ohio State was a sleeping giant in October that just decided to take a little cat nap with all of its youth. Now, the Buckeyes are starting to grow up real fast. It’s perfect timing with road games at Maryland and Michigan State prior to an epic showdown with that team up north for a spot in the Big Ten title game and most likely a playoff berth.

Save it, Penn State fans. You’ve had a nice season and should see the Nittany Lions in a quality bowl game, but there will be no trip to Indianapolis this year. Michigan loves beating up on bad Big Ten teams so don’t think the Wolverines will be on upset alert come this Saturday. Iowa certainly qualifies as one of those.

For one Saturday night in the Horseshoe, Nebraska was the Wisconsin of 2014 that got blitzed by Ohio State 59-0 in the Big Ten Championship Game. How coincidental that the Buckeyes happened to record another 59-point victory in an effort that will surely impress the playoff committee. At least for Nebraska, it was a lot closer than that 62-3 score. Okay, not really.

When Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. suffered what looked to be a frightening injury midway through the second quarter, Ohio State already had the game won in convincing fashion. I’m sure that Armstrong could have put up a few more points on the board had he been able to play a full game, however, Nebraska was overmatched from the start.

Not only was Ohio State’s resurgence to the elite of college football the most impressive showing of the weekend, it may have been a statement that the Buckeyes could be the only team in the country that is capable of knocking off Alabama. We all remember who defeated the Crimson Tide in the playoff semifinals of 2014. Ohio State has done it before so why not?

Alabama has lost just six games over the last five years and they have all been against dual-threat quarterbacks in a spread offense. Personally, I don’t think teams like Michigan or Washington would stand a chance. Michigan’s pro-style offense would be an inviting matchup for Alabama any day of the week. Washington won’t see an opponent that is even half the caliber of Alabama and the Huskies would get exposed mightily. I would give undefeated Clemson a fighting chance. The Tigers did come close in the national title game last year, but Clemson isn’t operating at the level it was in 2015.

Ohio State is the only team that can beat Alabama at its own game. The Buckeyes have coach Urban Meyer, quarterback J.T. Barrett and the necessary talent to defeat the Crimson Tide in postseason play not once, but twice.

However, first things first. Ohio State needs to stay sharp in a couple of road tune-up contests before The Game returns to Columbus in three weeks. Meyer and company haven’t accomplished anything if they don’t finish the regular season strong, but Saturday’s performance surely put Ohio State back on the map. Nothing has changed in terms of Ohio State’s chances to wind up in Indianapolis or be included as one of the four playoff participants, but now the Buckeyes finally look the part.

E-mail Mark at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @msilverman25

Photo by Nik Bronder

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Ohio State Growing Pains Are a Reality

If there was any question about the legitimacy of growing pains for the Ohio State Buckeyes, last Saturday’s 24-20 “bounce back” victory over Northwestern proved those pains are as real as they get. Don’t get me wrong. Ohio State did get the win against a decent opponent in Northwestern, which may be the most improved team in the Big Ten since the beginning of the season.

Regardless, you should be able to beat Northwestern by more than four points at home following a loss. The key word is “should,” and let’s be honest, the Buckeyes are simply playing like a slightly above-average team at this stage of the season. Frankly, Ohio State looks like a team many of us thought they would be in September. A little over a month ago, Ohio State was right there with Alabama on top of the college football world after a dominating victory at Oklahoma. The offense was clicking on all cylinders, and it appeared the Buckeyes possessed two legitimate Heisman contenders in quarterback J.T. Barrett and H-back Curtis Samuel.

Now, the offense has regressed and has continued to sputter ever since. It makes you wonder, was it the Ohio State offense executing to near perfection early on or was it the lack of defense the Buckeyes faced with their opposition? For example, in six games (not including Louisiana-Monroe or Kansas), the Oklahoma defense has surrendered 40 points per game. That’s hideous, but it’s the Big 12 in a nutshell.

Remember when Noah Brown hauled in not one, two, three but four touchdown passes from Barrett? It seems like months ago. We all know that aside from Brown, the receivers are gaining absolutely no separation, which is contributing mightily to the lack of a downfield passing game and a lackluster offense as a whole. There is no Devin Smith on this team and there probably isn’t going to be one, at least not this season.

With Nebraska on-deck in the lone night game at the Horseshoe this season, the atmosphere should be just right for Ohio State to once again look the part of a playoff contender. We will know very soon whether these glaring issues are correctable or not. Nebraska is an obvious upgrade from Northwestern all across the board, and the passing game will undoubtedly need to be improved in order to deal the Cornhuskers their second consecutive defeat.

If the Nebraska game was a noon or 3:30pm kickoff, I might be a little worried considering the product we have seen from Ohio State over the last month. But this is a night game in the Horseshoe. Now, it won’t rival a white-out in Happy Valley, but the setting itself will cause havoc for what I would call a slightly overrated Nebraska team.

I fully expect the Buckeyes to play one of their best and most complete games of the season, aside from Oklahoma. While Ohio State isn’t going to rack up 600 yards of total offense, you can expect coach Urban Meyer and Barrett to at least make enough improvements to the offense to come away with a fairly convincing victory in front of a national audience.

It should be mentioned that while the offense has absorbed most of the blame over the course of the last few weeks (and deservedly so), the defense has also taken down its play a notch. Where have the ball-hawking Silver Bullets been that specialized in forcing turnovers through the first three games? The Buckeyes have managed to force just three turnovers over the last five games. While the defense has been fine in general, it is not operating at a championship level and I also expect that to change Saturday night.

The Game is still a month away and that should be very comforting for Ohio State. The Buckeyes are not ready to compete with that team up north just yet, even though the Wolverines have dominated against inferior competition. It seems like everyone wants to compare the 2016 Buckeyes with the 2014 group. In 2014, it was the Michigan State primetime performance in East Lansing that catapulted Ohio State to be mentioned with the nation’s elite and ultimately land a national title. Can the Nebraska game be that defining turning point for Ohio State on Saturday?

I’ll say this, you can expect a lot of “Where has that been all month?” The initial playoff rankings are set to be released tonight and we obviously won’t be seeing Ohio State in the top-four. Championships are not won in November, but they surely can be lost. November is not the time for growing pains, as they should be long gone. And the Nebraska game should certainly tell us if it could be the start of a special month for Ohio State.

E-mail Mark at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @msilverman25.

Photo by Paula R. Lively

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Ohio State Not Playoff Worthy — Yet

The Ohio State Buckeyes need to forget about the College Football Playoff — at least for now.

Playoff? You kidding me? Playoff? I just hope Ohio State can complete a pass.

The Buckeyes are by no stretch of the imagination out of the playoff picture and still have a very realistic chance of making it to the Big Ten championship, however, Ohio State is far from elite at this point in the season. Ohio State dropped to No. 6 in the latest AP poll. It was easy to excuse underwhelming performances against Indiana and Wisconsin. Even with an improved Indiana team, it’s difficult to get excited about a program of its caliber coming into your house, especially with the Buckeyes making their first conference road trip against a top-ten team in Wisconsin the following week.

As for the Wisconsin overtime thriller, the Badgers appear to be for real, and even though Ohio State played below their expectation for the majority of the game, a comeback victory on the road at Camp Randall was impressive. It gave us the impression that after Ohio State played so dominant early in the season, the Buckeyes won’t always play perfect, especially on the road but will come through and make the necessary plays when the game is on the line.

That was until the fourth quarter of Saturday night’s game in Happy Valley. Outside of a 74-yard touchdown run from under-utilized Curtis Samuel early in the second half, Ohio State’s play was porous against an inferior opponent. As bad as the Buckeyes played, they still found themselves with a two-touchdown lead in the fourth quarter. This wasn’t a case of Ohio State playing poorly and Penn State executing on all cylinders and playing a perfect game as is most often the case with these types of upsets. Both teams played poorly, and Ohio State’s “bad” is always going to better than Penn State’s and that’s why it appeared that the Buckeyes had the game in control.

Obviously, the Penn State special teams was the deciding factor, but the Happy Valley white-out atmosphere single-handedly ended Ohio State’s perfect 20-0 record in true road games under coach Urban Meyer. No matter what type of product that Penn State puts on the field, the white-out at Beaver Stadium under the lights is a top-three atmosphere in college football and it’s not even arguable. It’s probably the loudest stadium I’ve ever been to. It even trumps the Horseshoe during a Michigan game.

The Penn State crowd and hostile environment was the only factor that you would even consider that could potentially keep the Nittany Lions in the game. Regardless of how or why Ohio State found a way to lose this game, there is no way around it. This was a bad loss. It’s right up there with the Virginia Tech debacle from 2014. Even with Penn State having an outside shot to come out of the Big Ten East, the Buckeyes lost to a bad football team.

I’ve been high on the Buckeyes all year, but it’s clear that the offensive line and any receiver not named Noah Brown need a lot of work. It’s only one loss but Ohio State’s inconsistent offense over the last three games has become a disturbing trend and is nothing close to what we witnessed in September. Unless Ohio State and quarterback J.T. Barrett can find consistency in the passing game, there is not going to be a national championship opportunity for Ohio State in 2016. And worse, Ohio State’s streak over that team up north will surely be snapped. I love freshman running back Mike Weber, but it would also help if Samuel recorded at least a carry or two prior to the second half.

Now, before we all get down on the Buckeyes, let’s remember that Meyer has won three national championships and exactly zero of his titles have resulted from a perfect season. Aside from 2012, this is what Meyer does. His team’s lose one game a year, sometimes in inexplicable fashion and are playing right there with the nation’s elite by the end of November.

All of Ohio State’s goals are still in front of them. But right now, the Buckeyes just aren’t good enough to be thinking about the playoff.

E-mail Mark at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @msilverman25.

Photo: Wikimedia

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Who’s Next? Meyer, Ohio State Will White-Out Penn State

Following an emotional 30-23 overtime victory at Wisconsin, the Ohio State Buckeyes were the team jumping around at Camp Randall Stadium. Ohio State is now 6-0 overall and 3-0 in the Big Ten. The focus now turns to Penn State as the Buckeyes prepare for another night game in Happy Valley on Saturday.

I’m not sure how much focus the Buckeyes will need to come away with a victory in this one. You never want to see your team play with a lack of focus, especially in an atmosphere like the one Penn State presents, on the road and at night. However, the Buckeyes’ level of focus will only determine their margin of victory and with quarterback J.T. Barrett, it won’t be an issue.

I know we all remember previous losses and close-calls in Happy Valley in front of the white-out, including the 2014 contest that took double-overtime for the Buckeyes to defeat the Nittany Lions. But let’s be honest, Penn State is flat-out bad, despite coming off a bye week at 4-2. I will say that that Penn State does possess arguably the best running back in the Big Ten in Saquon Barkley, but it will need a lot more than Barkley to even hang around with the Buckeyes.

Although Penn State did get the victory, Ohio State fans should not be worried about a team that was a slight underdog to Maryland at home. Before the season and because of possessing such a young team, I predicted that the upcoming Penn State game would be one of two losses for Ohio State during the regular season (Oklahoma being the other one). I obviously was way off when it came to the Sooners. It’s easy to get sucked in thinking Penn State will present a tough challenge because historically speaking, they are supposed to, especially at home in a night game. Those days are over, at least in 2016 when Ohio State is concerned.

When we look back at the many different times that Penn State hung with a highly ranked Ohio State team in State College, it’s usually been because of a stout Penn State defense. In 2016, the Nittany Lions are surrendering over 28 points per game and that includes playing against less-than offensive juggernauts Kent State, Temple and Minnesota. As recently as the 2014 matchup, it was a pick-six by the Penn State defense that swung the game in the Lions’ favor after trailing Ohio State 17-0. Ultimately, it was not enough and unless Linebacker U pulls a rabbit out of its hat and makes a sudden return on Saturday night, Ohio State will white-out Penn State real fast.

Now that we are officially into the second half of the season, regardless if Penn State pulls an absolute shocker or not, Ohio State and Michigan are on a collision course to not only both be undefeated when The Game comes around, but potentially be the top two ranked teams in the nation should Alabama have a slip-up. The second half of the season also means losses are tougher to absorb, although a stunning loss to Penn State wouldn’t be anything close to crippling for the Buckeyes, but would be a lot more significant than if Ohio State would have fell at Wisconsin.

Penn State does enter the Ohio State game with only one conference loss and plays Purdue, Iowa, Indiana, Rutgers and Michigan State to close the season. Those games are all certainly winnable, but I can guarantee that even if Penn State knocks off the Buckeyes in what might be a bigger upset than Appalachian State defeating Michigan in 2007, Penn State isn’t running the table.

As long as Ohio State doesn’t lose to Michigan at the end of the season, the Buckeyes will remain in playoff contention, even with a loss. Ohio State has already won their two games against Oklahoma and Wisconsin where a loss would have been anything but devastating. Oklahoma was in the early non-conference part of the schedule and Wisconsin is a Big Ten West foe with both teams being highly ranked when the Buckeyes played them.

Until somebody knocks off Ohio State and ends coach Urban Meyer’s perfect 20-0 record in true road games with the Buckeyes, Penn State will be just another “tough” test Ohio State will pass in preparation for their playoff-like showdown with that team up north.

E-mail Mark at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @msilverman25

Photo