How Good Are These Guys?

Today Ohio State returns to action after a bye week.  The Buckeyes have played nine games and won eight of them, are tied for the lead in the Big Ten, and are ranked ninth in the country.  And yet, somehow, they aren’t really well defined.  A lot of people are wondering:  how good are these guys?

This is the time of the season when you try to draw conclusions about a team’s relative quality by looking at its schedule.  For the Buckeyes, that indicator doesn’t tell us a whole lot.  Earlier wins that looking impressive — like at home against Miami, or on the road against Illinois — now don’t look quite as meaningful, as those teams have struggled since playing Ohio State.  Sure, the Buckeyes have soundly beaten teams they were expected to beat, but when they went on the road to play a conference foe now ranked in the top ten, they came up short.

You can certainly conclude that Ohio State is a good team.  Can it be great?  We’ll start to learn today, when Penn State comes to the Horseshoe.  We’ll learn still more in the next two weeks, when Ohio State travels to Iowa to play the Hawkeyes and then ends the season against Michigan.  Today’s opponent, the Nittany Lions, stand 3-2 in the Big Ten, having won three straight in the conference.  They have a good defense and an excellent running back in Evan Royster.  They also think they have found a quarterback in sophomore Matt McGloin.  McGloin has played in Penn State’s three conference wins and has thrown for seven touchdowns, including four last week against Northwestern.

In the Jim Tressel era, Ohio State’s matchups against Penn State have tended to be low-scoring defensive battles, so you would expect today’s game to be a good test for the Buckeyes.  Can the offense put up points against the traditionally tough Penn State defense?  Can the defense stop Royster and halt Penn State’s recent offensive resurgence in its tracks?  The answers to those questions will tell us more about how good the 2010 version of the Ohio State Buckeyes really is.