Cus Words: Midseason outlook for Ohio State and the Big Ten

Long overdue for a blog entry here.

I haven’t been lacking thoughts, but I have had trouble having the discipline to sit down and map them all out and try to make them legible.

The middle of the Ohio State football season is as good a time as any to take a minute to reflect and then look forward, right?

  • Football is a funny game because there are so few data points compared to any of the other team sports. The practice/play ratio is all out of whack compared to basketball, hockey and especially baseball. But, hey, scarcity is just one of the factors that make it the most popular sport in the country by a wide margin. I mention this only because Ohio State has already ridden quite a rollercoaster in just six games this season, and we’re still left to guess at this point whether or not the good things we’ve seen are more reliable than the bad.
  • I understand the handwringing in the fanbase after the way the Buckeyes started, but I always felt it went a little far. The Big Ten was never that much in doubt even if the playoff was (still is since there is no margin for error), and the last couple of weeks have reaffirmed my position on that.
  • Ohio State kicked the stuffing out of overmatched-but-possibly-competent Rutgers and Maryland teams, which is surely a step up from the first three weeks when there was real reason to wonder just what the Buckeyes’ ceiling was.
  • Of course, they still play in a league where the same question is always looming over everyone else. What is the ceiling of Ohio State’s Big Ten bros? Probably lower than people voting in the polls think, as Purdue showed us by crushing Iowa last weekend.
  • Ohio State seems to be in great position at this point. The Buckeyes’ six-game second half of the season should feature plenty of challenges but none that are insurmountable or close to it. That’s better than a cakewalk for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is impressing the CFP committee but also the fan base.
  • The Buckeyes aren’t perfect, but their challengers for the throne in the Big Ten all have fatal flaws. Michigan can’t throw, Penn State can’t run or throw downfield and I’m just not sold on Michigan State. (If it comes to that eventually, Iowa can’t score.)
  • The Spartans are less talented than Maryland and just about on par with Indiana according to 247Sports, so it looks like Mel Tucker’s got some work to do before the Spartans are real contenders. His quarterback, Payton Thorne, has gotten solid marks from Pro Football Focus so far this season, though, and running back Kenneth Walker and receiver Jalen Nailor are legitimate weapons.

  • This week’s Ohio State opponent, Indiana, has myriad problems. Major disappointment at the quarterback position has gotten most of the publicity, but the Hoosiers’ offensive line also hasn’t played up to recent standards. Indiana also is dealing with some untimely injuries, but who isn’t?
  • The Penn State defense is certainly the No. 1 obstacle to an Ohio State Big Ten East title. The Nittany Lions have a stout front seven and a competitive secondary, so they will make the Buckeyes earn it next weekend. The visitors won’t have much margin for error, though, on offense — especially if quarterback Sean Clifford is out or less than 100 percent.
  • Beyond that, Nebraska and Purdue are kind of hard to figure. If you strip away the record, the Cornhuskers actually have a lot of positives — talented veteran quarterback, solid offensive line, good defense — but they are 3-5 for a reason. Something is just missing in Lincoln under Scott Frost, whose roster is 23rd in the 247Sports Talent Composite but prone to mistakes that cost the Huskers games.
  • Purdue showed it has some firepower in upsetting Iowa, but the Boilermakers can’t run the ball and their offensive line has not shown much so far. Defensively, Purdue does have good numbers and a star in end George Karlaftis, so we’ll keep an eye on them as their visit to Ohio Stadium approaches.
  • The biggest question for Ohio State heading into the second half is probably still the defensive line. The linebackers have some limitations, but they look to be at least stable there. The secondary has been better since the staff started mixing coverages, and that group should get better with experience. “Stable” isn’t enough for the OSU defensive line, though. That group should be dominant (which would of course help the linebackers and the secondary). There are some signs it could meet expectations the last three games, but we’ll see if that continues.
  • Throughout the defense, some time to heal up bumps and bruises could do a world of good. That’s been an underlying issue all year — underlying because the coaching staff refused to talk about it until more recently, which has the unfortunate side effect of causing people (myself included) to assume some guys who aren’t producing just aren’t good.
  • Secret health issues have a positive side effect, too, though and that is letting some promising true freshmen see the field early and often. Despite the success of guys like Denzel Burke, Tyleik Williams and J.T. Tuimolau, Ryan Day seems intent on making sure some of the veterans who haven’t broken through yet aren’t left behind. That seems like a sound strategy as first-year players are liable to wear down as the season goes on, and sometimes it just pays to have bodies hardened by two or three years of college football to rely on down the stretch.

About the Author