On To The CFP

It was nail-biting time for members of Buckeye Nation at about 9:30 ET last night.  A talented and gritty team from Wisconsin came out swinging in the Big Ten championship game, and when the Badgers scored an improbable touchdown to go up 21-7 at the end of the first half Ohio State fans had visions of past disasters against Iowa and Purdue dancing in their heads.  But the Buckeyes made adjustments at halftime and righted the ship, scoring 27 points and shutting Wisconsin out in the second half to win, 34-21, and take home their third straight Big Ten crown.  Although the Buckeyes ultimately won by double digits, the Badgers fought until the final minute, and held the high-powered Ohio State offense to two field goals when touchdowns would have put the game out of reach.

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As the seconds ticked down to zero, I thought that Ohio State had been truly tested by a very good football team, and that the Big Ten championship game had taught us something about this Ohio State team — they don’t wilt in the face of real adversity on a big stage, the coaches and players are adept at making adjustments and game plan modifications under pressure, and the whole team can draw upon an ample reserve of inner toughness and guttiness.  And we also learned, again, that head coach Ryan Day has a bit of riverboat gambler in him, as his fake punt call showed.  Ohio State should be grateful to Wisconsin for making the Buckeyes draw deep and for providing a very stern test that will foreshadow what lies ahead.  Last night’s game showed why fans of the Big Ten like the conference and its particular, hard-hitting brand of football — which continued up until the final play, when the Ohio State defense gave the Wisconsin quarterback a tooth-rattling hit as the clock ran out.

Although things looked dicey at halftime, by winning Ohio State undoubtedly punched its ticket for the College Football Playoffs.  The big question to be answered by the CFP Selection Committee in a few hours is whether the Buckeyes will go in at number one or number two — or even number three, and that’s what the talking heads on ESPN and Fox Sports will be debating this morning.  I may be alone in this, but I really don’t care where the Buckeyes end up.  Ohio State clearly is an excellent unbeaten team, but so are LSU and Clemson — and I think all of this talk about “resumes” and “performances against Top 25 teams” and various weird computer metrics is kind of silly when the questions about who is more deserving will be resolved with actual games in about three weeks.  I also think such argument just puffs teams up — and that might not be good in the long run.  If I were Oklahoma, the likely number four seed and a great team in its own right, all of the talk about how important it is for other teams to make it to number one so they can play the Sooners rather than somebody else would be doing nothing except providing motivation and some prime locker room bulletin board material.

The reality is that there are many very good, well-coached teams in college football — Wisconsin is one of them, by the way — and if you’re going to win the national championship you’re going to need to beat a bunch of them.  Regardless of exactly who the top four teams are or where they are ranked, they’re going to need to beat two more great teams to get to the ultimate goal.  If Ohio State ends up playing Clemson in the first playoff game — and thereby lines up with a team that is the defending national champion and has never lost to the Buckeyes and pulverized them in the playoffs a few years ago — there is no chance that Ohio State will not go into that game emotionally pumped and ready to play.  That’s what I want to see.

So the selection show and final seedings announced today will be interesting, but I’m more focused on the fact that the Buckeyes won a very challenging game, are Big Ten champions, maintain their perfect record, and are moving on with a chance to get to their goal.  The members of Buckeye Nation are grateful that we get to watch the Men of the Scarlet and Gray continue their quest to be the best.

Night Game

IMG_4986Ohio State head football coach Urban Meyer is a big fan of playing football at night, under the lights.  It’s not hard to understand why.

When the sun goes down and the lights come on, the atmosphere becomes more charged.  The fans — fueled, in many instances, by ample alcohol consumption at tailgates — are seriously into the game and ready to scream.  Playing at night just seems cooler.  When you add in a flyover and fireworks launched from the top of the south scoreboard, as Ohio State did in its game against Wisconsin last night, you create an atmosphere that is designed to appeal to kids, and particularly the recruits who are trying to decide where to take their athletic talents.

Last night was a great atmosphere, and the Buckeyes won over a good Wisconsin team, 31-24.  As Buckeyes fans left the Horseshoe after 11 p.m., they could be happy with the result — but also confident that they would be seeing Wisconsin’s Jared Abbrederis, who created his own fireworks with 10 catches and more than 200 yards gained, in their fevered dreams.  Thank God that kid is a senior!

 

When Wisconsin Comes To Town

Tomorrow night the Wisconsin Badgers come to town for a night game at Ohio Stadium.  Technically, Ohio State has played four games already, but I think their season really starts tomorrow.

Wisconsin is a perennial power that has been the Big Ten’s representative in the Rose Bowl for the last three seasons.  Last year, the Buckeyes and the Badgers played a bruising game up in Madison that Ohio State won in overtime, 21-14.  It was a defensive struggle in which Wisconsin throttled Ohio State’s high-powered offense and held it to only 236 yards.  That game was a good representation of what Wisconsin always seems to bring to the table.  On offense, the Badgers are known for handing the ball to a gaggle a fine running backs who pound you behind a huge, corn-fed offensive line and mixing that diet of hard-nosed running in with an occasional pass.  On defense, the Badgers will pressure and hit and try to rattle their opponents, physically and mentally.

IMG_1835Wisconsin’s performance this year suggests that tomorrow’s game may be different — or maybe not.  The Badgers’ quarterback, sophomore Joel Stave, has thrown for six touchdowns, including three to fine receiver Jared Abbrederis.  But in last week’s Big Ten opener against Purdue, Wisconsin ran for a mind-boggling 388 yards on their way to pulverizing the Boilermakers, 41-10.  Ohio State’s defense has played against spread offense, quick-throw teams so far this year.  Tomorrow night, they had better be ready for  up-the-gut football with an opponent that would like nothing better than to derail the Buckeyes’ national championship aspirations.

When the Buckeyes are on offense, the big issue will be how quarterback Braxton Miller plays.  After missing two full games and most of a third with an injury — and watching back-up Kenny Guiton break a number of Ohio State offensive records on the way — Miller will be trying to reestablish himself as the premier quarterback and offensive weapon in the Big Ten.  He’ll also be looking to use every arsenal in the multi-faceted Ohio State attack.  With power runner Carlos Hyde back in the backfield after a three-game suspension, along with fellow running backs Jordan Hall and freshman Dontre Wilson and Ezekiel Elliott, Miller has plenty of options in the ground game, and Guiton has shown that Devin Smith, Corey Brown, Chris Fields, and Evan Spencer can catch and run for quick scores.

Tomorrow night’s game will answer a lot of questions about this Buckeye team.  Can their defense handle a team that plays the prototypical Big Ten power game?  How does the Buckeyes offensive speed match up against a big-time opponent that will tackle hard and do whatever it can to force turnovers.  We’ll see tomorrow night, and I’ll be there are the Horseshoe to see it.  I can’t wait!

76-0

Today the Ohio State Buckeyes trounced the Florida A&M Rattlers, 76-0.  The game was expected to be a rout — and it was.  Ohio State had more than 600 yards of offense and only had to punt once.  Florida A&M put up only 80 yards of offense and never got close to the Ohio State goal line.  Ohio State was favored to win by 57 points, and it almost exceeded that line by halftime, when the Buckeyes went into the locker room ahead 55-0.

IMG_1440People here in Columbus complained about the quality of the game.  It wasn’t a much-heralded match-up, to be sure, but it’s not entirely the fault of the OSU Athletic Department.  The Buckeyes had scheduled Vanderbilt, but the Commodores backed out.  So, Ohio State went looking for someone to fill the open date, and the Rattlers agreed to be the sacrificial lambs.  We shouldn’t feel too bad for them, though — they got a nice fee for coming to Ohio Stadium and getting pulverized.

Although games like today’s aren’t competitive, they still can be interesting.  You get to see players you’ve only heard about until now.  Today, freshman running back Ezekiel Elliott had his coming out party, rushing for 162 yards and two touchdowns, and we got to see third-string quarterback Cardale Jones run the offense.  They both look like they may be able to contribute in the future.  Other players who’ve been working hard in practice had their chances, too.  Carlos Hyde came back after a three-game suspension and got some touches, the OSU defense manhandled the Rattlers’ offense, and Braxton Miller got another week of healing as Kenny Guiton put up another OSU offensive record.

Next week, the season starts in earnest as Wisconsin comes to the Horseshoe.  After next Saturday night, we’ll have a better idea of how good this Buckeyes team really is.

Down Goes Michigan

The Michigan Wolverines have had a tough time of it lately.

Michigan was undefeated for the first two months of the season.  On January 12, they were 16-0 and ready to become the number one-ranked team in the nation.  At that point, everyone raved about the Wolverines’ offensive efficiency, their tough defense, their talented players like Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr., and their heralded freshmen like Glenn Robinson III and Nik Stauskas.

On January 13, however, Ohio State held the high-flying Michigan offense to 53 points and beat the Wolverines in Columbus.  Since then, the other coaches in the Big Ten — which some people call the best-scouted league in the country — have tried to exploit the weaknesses first exposed by the Buckeyes.  Michigan ended the regular season 25-7 and lost 5 of its last 10 games.  Today Michigan got knocked out of the Big Ten Tournament by Wisconsin, losing 69-58. The Wolverines lost even though they held Wisconsin to only 17 points in the first half.

Michigan fans are depressed, but college basketball is full of ups and downs.  If I were a Michigan fan — and I’m not, of course — I’d be glad that the Wolverines are done with the Big Ten and can focus on the NCAA Tournament.  Michigan has a lot of talent, and if they play teams that don’t play defense like they do in the Big Ten, Michigan could make a run in the Big Dance.  I wouldn’t count them out.

 

The Big Ten At Midpoint

The Big Ten conference season has reached the halfway point.  Two things appear to be true:  the conference is filled with good teams, and the race for the regular season championship is likely to go down to the wire.

So far, the two best teams appear to be Indiana and Michigan.  Indiana leads the Big Ten with an 8-1 record after beating Michigan at Bloomington Saturday night, and Michigan is right behind at 7-2.  Also at 7-2 are Michigan State and Ohio State, and Wisconsin — which has handed Indiana its only conference loss, and at Bloomington, no less — stands one game back at 6-3.  Minnesota has had some surprising stumbles on its way to a 5-4 record, and the Illinois squad that came to the Big Ten schedule 13-1 and then beat the snot out of Ohio State at Assembly Hall has collapsed to a 2-7 conference record.

Indiana and Michigan have been impressive because they appear to be complete teams that have multiple offensive weapons, can play at all kinds of tempos, and pose significant match-up problems for most teams.  Not coincidentally, the Hoosiers and Wolverines feature three of the Big Ten’s best players in Indiana’s Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo and Michigan’s Trey Burke.  The well-rounded nature of Indiana and Michigan distinguish them from the Spartans, Buckeyes, and Badgers, all of which play very tough defense but often struggle at putting the ball into the basket.

Buckeyes fans should be thrilled with a 7-2 record, because this year’s team has some obvious holes.  Deshaun Thomas is the Big Ten’s leading scorer, but he also has been Ohio State’s only reliable offensive weapon.  The other starters — Aaron Craft, Lenzelle Smith Jr., Sam Thompson, and Amir Williams — have had their ups and downs, but each game one of those players steps up and scores enough to keep opposing defenses honest.  The Buckeyes also have the consistent hallmark of a Thad Matta-coached team: they play hard-nosed defense and man up until the shot clock hits zero.  So far, the team also has done what you must do in the Big Ten — win your conference games at home and steal a few of the away games against the beatable teams.

The road gets tougher for Ohio State, starting immediately.  The Buckeyes play at Michigan tomorrow night, where the Wolverines will be looking to avenge their loss at OSU a few weeks ago.  Then, on Sunday, the Buckeyes welcome Indiana to Value City Arena.  By this time next week, we’ll have a better idea of whether this Buckeye team should be put in the contender, or pretender, category.

Will The Sophomores Step Up?

Tonight the Ohio State University men’s basketball team plays its first Big Ten contest of the season.  The Buckeyes take on Nebraska at the Schott.

It will be the start of what promises to be a very challenging Big Ten season.  Michigan is undefeated and ranked second in the land, preseason favorite Indiana has lost only once and is ranked fifth, and Minnesota and Illinois each have lost only once and are ranked ninth and eleventh, respectively — and that list doesn’t even include perennial contenders Michigan State and Wisconsin.  The consensus view of analysts is that the Big Ten is the toughest conference in the country.

What about the Buckeyes?  They are 10-2, but they’ve lost the only two games they’ve played against powerhouse teams, falling to Duke away and Kansas at home.  In both cases, a big problem was shooting the ball.  Ohio State plays solid defense but struggles to knock down shots in their half court offense.  Deshaun Thomas can be counted on to put points on the board, but the team lacks a consistent number two scorer.  Point guard Aaron Craft is a defensive whiz, but he struggles with his outside shot and the lack of Jared Sullinger in the middle has affected his opportunities to drive to the basket.  Guard Lenzelle Smith, Jr. is a hustler but his offensive production is streaky.  Center Evan Ravenel — the only senior on the team — has decent offensive skills but is undersized.

That leaves Buckeye fans looking to members of Ohio State’s heralded sophomore class:  guard Shannon Scott, forwards LaQuinton Ross and Sam Thompson, and center Amir Williams.  All have shown improvement over their performance last year.  Scott seems to be playing with much more confidence, particularly on the offensive end, Thompson has developed a jump shot to go with his awe-inspiring dunks, and Ross has showed signs of having the all-around offensive game that makes Buckeye Nation wonder whether he can become another Deshaun Thomas.  Williams’ progress has been slower.  He doesn’t have a dependable “big man” offensive move, yet, but he is becoming a disruptive force on the defensive end with his shot-blocking abilities.

If Ohio State is going to contend for the Big Ten championship this year — and that’s a big if, with the depth of talent in the conference this year — it will be because these members of the sophomore class step up, contribute on the offensive end, and play tough on the road.  Their first test is tonight.