It gets boring repeating yourself. It's a lot more fun to be surprised and have to change your mind.
But for Ohio State for most of the last 14 calendar months, I've had a single impression of Urban Meyer's Ohio State Buckeyes: good enough. Not elite, but good enough to consistently beat other non-elite teams. I've repeated that opinion basically every time I've discussed Ohio State, because I haven't had a reason to change my opinion yet.
In 2012, Ohio State beat six top-40 teams: Michigan State, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Michigan, Penn State, and UCF. That's good! The Buckeyes even beat Nebraska by 25 points. But they also beat three teams ranked between 74th and 77th (Indiana, Purdue, California) by a combined 17 points. And they beat UAB (No. 91) by 14. Urban Meyer managed his resources like Bill Snyder, deploying just enough quality to go 12-0. That's worthy of applause, but it wasn't worthy of a preseason No. 2 ranking, complete with first-place votes.
This year began with more of the same. Ohio State was good enough to survive a visit from Wisconsin and eventually pulled away a bit from a decent (though far from spectacular) Iowa team. The Buckeyes emerged victorious from a fight with an overrated (at the time) Northwestern team, and a questionable early result versus Buffalo (a 40-20 win) has looked a little better with each dominant Buffalo performance in the MAC. For most of 2013, Ohio State has once again been good enough, remaining undefeated despite looking in no way on par with the country's most dominant teams -- Alabama, Florida State, Oregon, and Baylor.
Something changed when the first BCS rankings came out. Finally part of the BCS club again after last year's postseason ban, the Buckeyes responded to their No. 4 ranking by … playing like the No. 4 team in the country. All of a sudden, both the team and the marching band are playing at a championship level.
Yes, Penn State is wholly mediocre. Yes, Purdue is probably the worst BCS-conference team in the country this year. But as I've said too many times to count about Boise State through the years, it only somewhat matters who you play. It very much matters how you play, and Ohio State made a mediocre Penn State team look terrible and a terrible Purdue team look like a Division II squad.
Here are the first-half possessions from the last two weeks. (Note: As I always do, I'm counting sack yards as passing yards.)
|7||75||TD||3 for 9||4 for 66|
|3||6||Punt||2 for 6||1 for 0|
|10||88||TD||8 for 86||2 for 2|
|7||52||TD||6 for 32||1 for 20|
|8||60||TD||2 for 12||6 for 48|
|2||45||TD||1 for 39||1 for 6|
|6||84||TD||2 for 30||4 for 54|
|2||49||TD||2 for 49|
|6||36||INT||2 for 6||4 for 30|
|6||62||TD||2 for 13||4 for 49|
|2||21||TD||2 for 21|
|11||80||TD||5 for 25||6 for 55|
|3||9||Punt||3 for 9|
|5||93||TD||3 for 72||2 for 21|
That's 14 possessions, 11 touchdowns. Rushing: 36 for 330 yards. Passing: 42 for 430 yards. That's 77 points at 9.7 yards per play.
Since his return from injury, Braxton Miller has taken just six sacks in 131 pass attempts, a sack rate of 4.6 percent. His sack rate was 19.9 percent as a freshman and 9.6 percent as a sophomore. Since his return, he's also completed 73 percent of his passes at a perfectly decent 8.2 yards per attempt.
Miller can still run, as can Carlos Hyde; Ohio State was No. 1 in Rushing S&P+ heading into this past weekend, and while this week's numbers aren't updated just yet, it's difficult to imagine that changed much. But Ohio State was good on standard downs last year, too; if anything has changed, it's been on passing downs, where Ohio State was quite mediocre in 2012. This year? The Buckeyes rank 13th and are rising. (And here's where I remind you that these numbers are adjusted for opponent.)
Of course, offense hasn't been much of an issue all season. The young defense has been the primary source of consternation.
Here are the Ohio State defense's first-half possessions vs. Penn State and Purdue.
|12||64||INT||7 for 27||5 for 37|
|3||13||Punt||1 for 3||2 for 10|
|2||-11||INT||2 for -11|
|3||3||Punt||1 for 5||2 for -2|
|11||64||TD||7 for 30||4 for 34|
|9||30||Punt||4 for 16||5 for 14|
|1||-5||Half||1 for -5|
|2||5||INT FOR TD||1 for 5||1 for 0|
|3||9||Punt||2 for 8||1 for 1|
|7||30||Punt||2 for 11||5 for 19|
|3||4||Punt||1 for 4||2 for 0|
|1||-4||FUMBLE||1 for -4|
|8||31||Punt||7 for 29||1 for 2|
|3||-11||Punt||1 for -1||2 for -10|
|3||-4||Punt||3 for -4|
|7||27||Half||2 for 12||5 for 15|
That's 16 possessions, seven points for the offense, seven points for the defense. Rushing: 37 for 145 yards. Passing: 41 for 100 yards. That's seven points (net points: zero) at 3.1 yards per play.
For the season (not including the Purdue game), Ohio State ranked just 36th in Def. F/+; the Buckeyes have stopped the run pretty well (19th in Rushing S&P+) but have struggled against the pass (63rd in Passing S&P+, 49th in Passing Downs S&P+). Teeing off on Penn State and Purdue doesn't tell us everything we need to know, but the fact is, Ohio State did tee off on Penn State's Christian Hackenberg and Purdue's poor Danny Etling. They brought these two quarterbacks down 10 times in 62 pass attempts, and when Hackenberg or Etling actually completed a pass, they averaged just eight yards per completion. This was complete and total devastation. The options for Penn State and Purdue were either a) run for six to eight yards on first and second down before failing on third down or b) just go ahead and fail on first down.
Again, Penn State and Purdue aren't exactly UCLA and Stanford (Oregon's last and next opponents). But Ohio State has known all along that it is doomed to terrible computer rankings because of an awful schedule. While the Buckeyes wait to see if a couple of the fantastic teams above them lose, all they can do is look the part. And for the first time since Meyer moved to Columbus, they truly are.
Good enough is fine; after all, it's good enough. But Ohio State has begun to look great. Can they keep it up over the next month? And does it even matter?
Ohio State schedule
|Buffalo||Sat 08/31||W 40 - 20|
|San Diego St.||Sat 09/07||W 42 - 7|
|@ California||Sat 09/14||W 52 - 34|
|Florida A&M||Sat 09/21||W 76 - 0|
|Wisconsin||Sat 09/28||W 31 - 24|
|@ Northwestern||Sat 10/05||W 40 - 30|
|Iowa||Sat 10/19||W 34 - 24|
|Penn St.||Sat 10/26||W 63 - 14|
|@ Purdue||Sat 11/02||W 56 - 0|
|@ Illinois||Sat 11/16||TBA|
|@ Michigan||Sat 11/30||TBA|
Five other thoughts from the weekend
1. "We want Bama."
For anything Ohio State does to matter, two of the top three -- Alabama, Florida State, and Oregon -- must lose. Oregon has a rough schedule ahead of it, but Florida State just cleared its second hurdle. Well, "hurdle."
Florida State once again struggled to run the ball against quality competition, but when Jameis Winston is your quarterback, that only matters so much. He made tough throws and mostly good decisions, and Miami's offense couldn't keep up, eventually faltering (as it is wont to do in the second half), turning the ball over a couple of times and losing the script entirely. Last week I said Florida State was a huge favorite over the Hurricanes for a reason; on Saturday night, it turned out they should have been an even bigger favorite. Florida State 41, Miami 14.
This really is a Florida State team with realized talent across the board. The 'Noles are as athletic as ever (that's never really been a problem in Tallahassee), but the new assistants have taken hold quickly, and ... well, Winston is just awesome.
No. 3 Oregon's squad is tremendous, perhaps the best that has ever resided in Eugene, but I struggle to think of the Ducks as better than the third-best team in the country right now. If Oregon wins out, it's perhaps likely that the Ducks will pass Florida State in the BCS standings. But wow, is it tough thinking about this Florida State team missing out on the title game if it wins out. There are three insanely good teams atop the BCS standings; hopefully one of them loses so we don't finish the BCS era with one of its biggest what-ifs. The odds are still in favor of an upset loss to one of these teams, but the eyeballs are skeptical of that at this point.
And yes, Noles fans chanted "we want Bama."
2. Well done, Mizzou.
Missouri's offense came out in a bit of a funk against Tennessee, and any Mizzou fans paranoid about a letdown following last weekend's crushing overtime loss to South Carolina had to be a little more paranoid late in the first quarter. But after gaining 18 yards in their first eight plays, the Tigers went TD-punt-FG-TD-TD in building a 24-3 halftime lead.
After starting the game 0-for-4, Maty Mauk completed 12 of his final 21 passes while taking no sacks or picks and rushing for 114 yards; Mizzou's three-headed running back monster combined for 179 yards on 31 carries, Tennessee backs averaged 2.9 yards per carry, and Mizzou dominated in the trenches. It's funny how much better you are at avoiding letdowns when your lines play really well.
If No. 8 Missouri beats Kentucky and South Carolina beats Florida as planned, the Tigers will head to Oxford on November 23 needing to either split vs. Ole Miss and Texas A&M (if Georgia wins out and finishes 6-2 in conference) or sweep (if Georgia doesn't). Lots of work still to be done, but 8-1 is still pretty damn impressive right about now.
3. Arizona State and USC are almost certainly ranked too highly in the F/+ rankings...
...at sixth and 10th, respectively. I'm not going to convince you that those rankings are totally legit, at least not yet.
But let's just say the Sun Devils and Trojans probably aren't going to move down much in this week's updated rankings after their performances. Both teams looked pretty fantastic in disposing of Washington State and Oregon State, respectively, in weeknight road trips.
Jonathan Daniel, Getty
4. You confuse me, Notre Dame.
Brian Kelly's Irish were clearly dealt a bad blow before the season even started, losing quarterback Everett Golson to academics issues over the summer. So it was pretty much assured that the Irish, while good, weren't going to be making a second run at the BCS title game. Still ... they have confused me greatly this season.
Pretend for a moment that Arizona State and USC are indeed top-10 teams. Notre Dame beat them both. The Irish also handed Michigan State its only loss. Oh yeah, and they lost to Michigan (F/+ No. 33), got thumped by Oklahoma (No. 29) at home, and beat Navy (No. 79) and Purdue (No. 108) by a combined 11 points. Nothing about this team's performance makes sense this year.
The only thing that perhaps does make sense is that, in such non-sensical fashion, Notre Dame is 7-2 and quite possibly on its way toward a BCS bowl bid. (Well, with games remaining vs. BYU and Stanford, maybe not. Watch Notre Dame lose to Pittsburgh then beat both the Cougars and the Cardinal.)
5. It feels like we've been working toward this coming weekend for a month now.
First of all, how do we get both Oregon-Stanford and Oklahoma-Baylor on Thursday night ... and then Louisville-UConn on Friday? College football could have owned the entire three-day period.
Regardless, what a weekend we have coming up. These last two to three weeks have just been the undercard for the action that takes place on November 7 and 9. The two Thursday night games and LSU-Alabama are the obvious headliners, but the story lines are deep everywhere you look, from Virginia Tech-Miami likely deciding the ACC Coastal, to UCLA's tricky trip to Arizona, to Arizona State's tricky trip to Utah, to a Houston-UCF game that could throw the AAC into chaos (but probably won't), to Nebraska-Michigan (shut up, it's still a fun helmet game), to an underrated BYU-Wisconsin matchup, to the Saturday night silliness that will be Fresno State-Wyoming, to, of course (drum roll, please), the return of mid-week MACtion.
The stakes drop after the big three games, but a) those three games are absolutely enormous, and b) there is a lot of fun to be had. November isn't going to wait long to become November, in other words.
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