Ohio State is 5-0 and ranked No. 2 in the latest AP poll as the Buckeyes travel to Madison for a top-10 matchup with No. 8 Wisconsin. All of a sudden, maybe because the Buckeyes only managed to defeat Indiana by 21 points, the local vibe surrounding Ohio State has taken a significant dip. The Buckeyes did not lose this game and never came even remotely close. In Columbus, sometimes even a shaky performance can be perceived like a loss.
Sure, Curtis Samuel only receiving nine touches is somewhat baffling as is the fact that quarterback J.T. Barrett only completed nine passes. These are things that can and will be fixed, especially with an upgrade in competition on the horizon in a primetime setting.
Ohio State played anything but a perfect game and made plenty of mistakes against Indiana, but if that is the Buckeyes’ version of bad, Ohio State is in great shape. Indiana also deserves a lot of credit. The Hoosiers came into the Horseshoe with their hair on fire, following an emotional last-second victory against Michigan State last week. Teams like Indiana have nothing to lose when playing Ohio State and the Buckeyes are going to have a target on their back week-in and week-out.
We would be naive to think that a subpar performance was not in the cards for Ohio State at some point this season. There will be another game or two where the Buckeyes may come out of the gate a bit flat, especially against an inferior opponent. The Indiana game had “letdown” written all over it and I apologize to any of you who had Ohio State covering the four touchdown spread.
It was a game sandwiched between Rutgers (as close to a bye-week as you can possibly get) and at Wisconsin, the first true road conference game for many of these Buckeyes. Aside from Wisconsin being a top-10 opponent that hung with Michigan for four quarters, Camp Randall can be a beast at night, so it doesn’t surprise me that Ohio State appeared lackluster at times against Indiana, both players and coaches.
I might be worried if the Buckeyes were making a trend of mediocre performances like they did in 2015, but they’re not. The problem last year was that Saturday against Indiana became the norm. Ohio State has already proven that they are one of the most dominant teams in the country, if not the most, and a 21-point victory against at least a semi-decent team isn’t going to change that. This Indiana team doesn’t resemble Bowling Green, Tulsa or Rutgers in any way and Ohio State isn’t going to play a perfect game or win by 50 points every time it takes the field. And that’s okay.
When Ohio State takes the field at Wisconsin on Saturday night, a capacity crowd at Camp Randall will be silenced. Of course, the Badger faithful will “jump around” at the conclusion of the third quarter, but they won’t have much else to be excited about. Wisconsin is an extremely solid team that plays phenomenal defense and is without question, worthy of their current No. 8 ranking based on their resume so far.
The Big Ten has four teams currently ranked in the AP top-10 for the first time since 1960. I understand that the conference appears to be back on the map for the first time in a decade and that Wisconsin is a team that played Michigan tough and even knocked off SEC-power LSU.
However, Wisconsin is still what I would call “Big Ten” good. The Badgers are a top-tier physical team that plays defense, but lacks the necessary speed in order to beat the nation’s elite. Being at home and playing under the lights in the primetime showcase game, Wisconsin will compete with Ohio State for awhile, but ultimately the Buckeyes are just on another level from a talent and speed perspective.
Before the 2016 season began, none of us could have expected Ohio State, a team that lost 16 starters, to be arguably the best team in the country after six weeks. Through four games, Ohio State’s smallest margin of victory is 21 points, which came at Oklahoma, an impressive statement to say the least. Now, the Buckeyes come out with one lackluster performance offensively and all of a sudden we’re worried?
R-E-L-A-X. Ohio State doesn’t need style points against Indiana. Wisconsin will have Ohio State’s undivided attention and Barrett and Co. will jump all over and around the Badgers.
E-mail Mark at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @msilverman25
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