Eyeing The Illini

Tonight the Ohio State Buckeyes play their second night game in a row. This week, their opponents are the Fighting Illini of the University of Illinois, and the Illibuck — the wooden turtle that goes to the winner — will be at stake. I’ll be there in the Horseshoe with a group of friends for the match-up.

Ohio State’s performance last week against Penn State hurt it both literally and figuratively. Literally, because quarterback J.T. Barrett sustained a knee injury that is concerning, even though he was able to tough it out and lead the Buckeyes to victory in overtime. Figuratively, because most people — me excepted — thought the Buckeyes would beat the Nittany Lions easily, and the fact that Penn State came back to force the game into overtime clearly hurt the Buckeyes’ national reputation. It’s part of the reason why Ohio State is sitting at number 16 in the bowl playoff rankings, which puts it pretty much in the “out of contention” category for now.

Ohio State has three goals in the game tonight. First, win. A loss to Illinois, which had struggled mightily before upsetting Minnesota last weekend, would end any hope Ohio State has of making it to the first college football playoff. Second, perform well enough to allow J.T. Barrett to give his knee a rest while Cardale Jones and other quarterbacks play. Barrett says he will be ready, but I’m expecting that — if he plays at all — his role will be limited to handing off and passing, where there is less chance of aggravating the injury. That means Ohio State needs to run the ball effectively and get off to a fast start, and the Buckeyes can’t give Illinois any flukey scores, like the pick-six that allowed Penn State to get back in the game last weekend.

Finally, Ohio State needs to win impressively if it hopes to move up in the football playoff rankings. I’m not sure that it’s possible to wow selectors with a win over Illinois — no matter how lopsided — but Ohio State simply can’t afford a ho-hum effort that causes them to drop farther down the rankings.  As it is, a lot of dominoes will need to fall for Ohio State to have a chance.

All of these goals recognize one thing: the big game for Ohio State really is next weekend, in East Lansing, against Michigan State. They will need J.T. Barrett at his best for that game — which is the next big opportunity for Ohio State to impress the voters by beating an excellent team on the road. But focusing on that game just increases the risk that Illinois might pull off the upset tonight, as it did last week. The Buckeyes can’t let that happen.  Tonight, focus will be the key.

Please, Don’t Mess With The Game (Fin)

The Sox fan pointed out yesterday that, in the hoopla surrounding the Buckeyes’ first game, I failed to comment on Wednesday’s announcement of the Big Ten divisions and scheduling.  Ohio State and Michigan fans everywhere who were concerned that numbers-crunching, revenue-addled Big Ten administrators might ruin The Game can breathe a sigh of relief:  Ohio State and Michigan will play every year, in the last game of the regular season, once the Big Ten starts divisional play.

What about the fact that Ohio State and Michigan are in different divisions?  Well, what about it?  The divisions are phony constructs anyway, developed just to allow the Big Ten to play a conference championship and collect the additional TV revenue that every major college seems to crave above most everything else.  The important thing is that the The Game will still have prominence as The Game — the tradition-rich, bitter, end-of-the-season capstone of the Big Ten regular season.

As for the divisions themselves, the Big Ten clearly tried to achieve competitive balance and probably did so.  Two of the traditional football powers — Ohio State and Penn State in division X, and Michigan and Nebraska in division Y — are in each division and will play each other every year, and those teams also get a guaranteed out-of-conference game against one of the non-divisional powers, with Ohio State facing Michigan and Penn State facing Nebraska.  In addition to Ohio State and Penn State, division X will include Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, and Purdue, and in addition to Michigan and Nebraska division Y will include Minnesota, Iowa, Michigan State, and Northwestern.  Ohio State thus gets to continue to play Illinois every year for the Illibuck trophy.

It would be interesting to know whether the outcry about moving the Ohio State-Michigan game had any effect on the scheduling decisions made by the Big Ten, but we will probably never know the full story.

Please, Don’t Mess With The Game (Cont.)

Please, Don’t Mess With The Game

Let The Big 10 Begin

The Illibuck

Tomorrow the Buckeyes play the Fighting Illini in their Big 10 opener.  And, as important a game as USC was, as fun and patriotic as the Navy game may have been, the Big 10 is where the rubber meets the road.  We remember when the Buckeye defense could not stop Juice Williams two years ago; we remember when, in times past, the Illini beat the Buckeyes.  We remember when the Illibuck went to the men of Champaign-Urbana.  And so, we want the Buckeyes to stomp the mortal piss out of the Illini come Saturday.  We want Terrelle Pryor to have an excellent game; we want Boom Herron to pound the middle and burst through for a touchdown or two, and we want the Ohio State defense to shut down the Illinois offense and humble Juice Williams, as he should have been humbled two years ago.  We want to bring home the Illibuck.

This is what we want, and what Big 10 football is all about.