Happy Picture, Happy Thoughts

8dbb109f-2811-4942-b624-5d00d644946cOhio State isn’t playing in the Big Ten Championship Game today — more’s the pity — but that doesn’t mean we can’t still revel in last weekend’s crushing defeat of That School Up North.

And in the meantime, we’ll think happy thoughts about the dominoes that need to fall for the Buckeyes to get back into the playoffs to defend their National Championship.  I think we need Michigan State to beat Iowa convincingly in the Big Ten Championship Game, along with Alabama losing in the SEC Championship Game or Clemson losing in the ACC Championship Game — or maybe both.  It’s a long shot, perhaps, but it’s still a shot.

Thanks to Mrs. Nesser for this picture of the scoreboard at the Big House, memorializing the Buckeyes’ dominating win.

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5-0, 1-0

Ohio State (other than Ezekiel Elliott) didn’t exactly knock my socks off yesterday in their close win over a very game Indiana Hoosiers squad, but the statistics above are the ones that count:  Ohio State is 1-0 in the Big Ten and 5-0 overall.

IMG_1835Members of Buckeye Nation who bought into the team’s preseason hype are freaking out that Ohio State not only hasn’t crushed Indiana and its other opponents, but has struggled and doesn’t really resemble the team that rolled over Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon at the end of last year.  And they’re right in the sense that this team has a lot to work on.  Way too many turnovers, stupid penalties, muffed center snaps, lack of timing between quarterback and receivers, some bad in-play decisions, and a general out-of-sync feel have kept the offense from showing its true potential.  The defense has been better, but it has had its breakdowns, too — and yesterday the offense did it no favors by failing to put together any sustained drives.  When you leave the defense on the field and let the other team run 30 more plays than you do, there are bound to be breakdowns.

I’m not going to join the chorus of Ohio State fans who are second-guessing the coaches.  This team obviously hasn’t gelled yet, and it will be on the coaches to make that happen.  Eventually, turnovers and penalties will bite you if they aren’t stopped.  But nevertheless, Ohio State has managed to find a way to win — and yesterday they did it against a fired-up team that looks to be on the upswing, on the road, in sloppy conditions.  Some good teams that weren’t having their best day would have lost yesterday’s game.  It says something positive about this team and its coaches that Ohio State didn’t let that happen.

Four teams ranked in the top ten lost yesterday, and two of them got crushed.  Other teams — like Michigan State — also struggled.  That’s the way college football works.  Ohio State fans should stop fretting about style points and start appreciating the Ws.

Most Impressive

Look, I’ll admit I’m an Ohio State fan.

And I’ll also admit to being a Big Ten buff.  The Old Conference might not be the greatest right now, but I still think that Michigan State is a good team and East Lansing, at night, in prime time is a pretty darned tough place to play.

So say I’m a deluded homer . . . but I thought Ohio State’s win over Michigan State tonight was pretty impressive.

Who would have thought the Buckeyes would be able to rack up 568 yards against the very stout Spartans defense?  Who would have thought that Ohio State could run the ball down the throat of a Michigan State team that prides itself on stopping the run when the game was on the line?  Who would have thought that Ezekiel Elliott could rush for more than 150 yards and a clinching touchdown when the game was on the line?  Who would have thought that Ohio State could overcome two turnovers in the first half, on the road, against an opponent that had everything going its way?  And who would have thought the Buckeyes would win, despite the defense playing the softest prevent defense imaginable in the second half.  (OK, that’s unfair I suppose . . . but does any true football fan really like the @#&$%#@ prevent defense?)

Urban Meyer has his signature win.  Mark Dantonio missed on his guarantee.  And  J.T. Barrett had a tremendous, almost perfect game, throwing for 300 yards and 3 TDs, running for 86 yards and two touchdowns, and at one point leading Ohio State to 7 touchdowns on 8 possessions against a defense that is considered one of the very toughest defenses in college football.

Most impressive!  Now let’s turn our focus to the Golden Gophers.

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.

The Bloody And Battered Big Ten

Rutgers and Maryland may want to reconsider their decision to join the Big Ten, because apparently the Old Conference really sucks this year.

Saturday, September 6, 2014 was an embarrassing bloodbath for the Big Ten.  The top teams — including, unfortunately, the Buckeyes — all lost convincingly.  Virginia Tech came in, pulverized the overmatched Ohio State offensive line, sacked poor redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett more times than you can count, and came out of the Horseshoe with a tough, physical win.  Kudos to them for a great victory.  Meanwhile, Notre Dame beat the tar out of hapless Michigan, shutting out the Wolverines 31-0 and leaving Brady Hoke looking sweaty and bewildered, as always, on the sideline.  Oregon put on a track meet in the second half and drubbed Michigan State, 46-27.  Purdue got crushed by Central Michigan, and Northern Illinois beat Northwestern.

Even the wins that Big Ten teams racked up yesterday were pretty lame.  Nebraska needed a last-second miracle to beat McNeese State.  Penn State squeaked by Akron, and Minnesota slipped past Middle Tennessee.  Maryland and Rutgers, at least, held up their end of the bargain and won.

The season is young, of course, and I’m hoping that the Buckeyes get better.  They’re young, and without Braxton Miller to energize their offense with his special talents I wasn’t expecting them to contend for a national championship.  But there’s no doubt that, after yesterday’s crippling losses, the Big Ten has taken another black eye and its national reputation, which already was battered, has slipped another notch.

I hope I don’t have to take any trips down to SEC country soon.

Bad Fan

I admit I was a bad fan last night. I watched the OSU-Michigan State basketball game, but when the Buckeyes fell behind by 17 points with less than 10 minutes in the game I concluded it was a lost cause. Rather than stay up late and grow increasingly frustrated by the conclusion of a blowout, I snapped off the TV with a curse or two and went to bed.

When I woke up this morning and checked the final score, I was amazed — and ashamed — to learn that the Buckeyes had come roaring back to tie the game and send it to overtime before losing. Amazed, because the team that played while I was watching was a turnover machine that seemed to be playing without much punch or purpose. Ashamed, because I had given up when the players clearly didn’t. I felt like a quitter who let the team, and Buckeye Nation, down. It’s embarrassing.

Because I am a superstitious fan, I now wonder whether Ohio State came back precisely because I turned off the TV. We all know, from the Butterfly Effect theory, that the smallest action may have profound consequences. Maybe my watching the Buckeyes is a jinx? Maybe it would be better for the team if I didn’t watch Ohio State basketball at all this season.

I’ll watch the next Buckeyes game, but you can be sure that if they fall behind and are playing sluggishly, I’ll be tempted to snap off the TV in hopes of provoking a comeback.

A Big Early Season (And Late Night) Match-Up

Tonight the Ohio State men’s basketball team plays Michigan State at East Lansing. The Big Ten season is still very young — the Buckeyes and Spartans have each played only two conference games — but this game is shaping up to be a big one in a conference that many people consider to be the premier basketball conference in the country.

Ohio State is ranked third in the country, whereas Michigan State is ranked fifth. Both teams have senior leadership. Both teams are experienced in playing big games and know how to win them. Both teams have great coaches. Both teams have some excellent players. For Michigan State, it’s Keith Appling, Gary Harris, Branden Dawson, and the unguardable Adreian Payne, who always seems to make a crucial three-point shot or put-back basket. For Ohio State, it’s Aaron Craft, LaQuinton Ross, and Lenzelle Smith, Jr. Both teams are deep. Michigan State plays great offense; Ohio State plays great defense.

It’s a wonderful match-up, all the way up and down the lineups. Who wouldn’t want to see Aaron Craft and Keith Appling go head to head, or watch the defense-oriented Buckeyes try to figure out a way to guard Adreian Payne? Who wouldn’t want to see whether the Buckeyes can avenge the football team’s bitter loss to the Spartans in the Big Ten championship game? You have to give Michigan State, which has played a much tougher schedule than the Buckeyes and is playing at home, the clear edge, but this game should tell the Buckeye Nation a lot about how good this team might actually be.

So why in blue blazes does the game have to start at 9 p.m.? C’mon, Big Ten — how about having some pity on us working folks who need to get up early tomorrow?