Hartman: Ohio State saved more than face by blasting Michigan State

Ohio State restored order in the Big Ten East on Saturday afternoon. 

Unfortunately for the 11th-ranked Buckeyes, their 48-3 evisceration of No. 13 Michigan State will probably be too little, too late when it comes to the 2017 national championship. 

I guess they’ll have to settle for saving the program. 

Is that being overdramatic? 


But as we said two weeks ago when the Buckeyes miraculously rallied to beat Penn State — was it only two weeks ago? — narratives are a big part of college football

PHOTOS: Ohio State trounces Michigan State

Ohio State overcame myriad errors to take out the Nittany Lions, leading us to praise their mental fortitude and will to win. 

The sky again was the limit for the Buckeyes, who atoned for their early-season loss to Oklahoma and restored their path to the playoff. 

Then they made some of those same errors and many more in an inexplicable 55-24 loss at Iowa seven days later. 

Just the score of that game was shocking, but if you watched the game, you probably came away thinking it wasn’t even that close. 

The Hawkeyes made the Buckeyes look like a high school team as much as one ranked in the top 10 of college football. 

RELATED: Old problems resurface in stunning loss

That game also put the errors against Penn State in a new light. 

Which one is the real Ohio State team, anyway? 

Coach Urban Meyer faced tougher questions the Monday after the Iowa loss

Of course there were queries about discipline, maturity and the game plan on both sides of the ball. 

But there were also some existential questions. 

He deflected one about the direction of the program but acknowledged there’s at least some chance his team is, um, too talented. 

Wait, what? Isn’t recruiting great players the name of the game in college football? 

Yes, but with that inevitably comes outside pressures — like NFL draft status. 

And when more and more players start spending less than four years in Columbus — whether it’s because they go pro early or transfer out when they get recruited over — what does that do to the soul of a team? 

“I think that's part of life in the big city,” Meyer said Monday. “That when you recruit good players and develop them and they play well there's chances — great chances — that it creates all kinds of issues.” 

Ohio State fans of a certain age are probably more sensitive to this kind of thinking than others. Those who saw John Cooper’s Buckeyes annually romp through September and October in the 1990s only to lose to an inferior team — too often Michigan — and miss a chance at a Big Ten title or greater couldn’t help but endure some uncomfortable flashbacks. 

RELATED: Some perspective on the Penn State win

Cooper, like Meyer, recruited many NFL-quality players and pulled them from high schools across the country. 

In between, Jim Tressel constructed teams that dominated both Michigan and the Big Ten while also tending to have a more significant Ohio flavor. 

No less a college football authority than Kirk Herbstreit (the Centerville native, son of a Buckeye captain and Cooper’s first recruit at Ohio State) broached the topic on ESPN Saturday morning, wondering if there were enough guys on the roster who cared about the Big Ten championship to buy the importance of every game. 

However valid those concerns might have been, the Buckeyes did all they could to alleviate them against Michigan State, a team that has been a thorn in Meyer’s side since he returned to Columbus. 

The Spartans are heading back to East Lansing smarting from their worst loss in series history, and Ohio State could clinch a berth in the Big Ten championship game next week with a win over Illinois and a Michigan loss at Wisconsin. 

Meyer has done a great job recruiting and developing players at Ohio State. No one disputes that. 

But there’s also no doubt winning is hard, and winning programs are fragile. 

READ MORE: 7 things to know about the start of college basketball season

He’s lost control of a major program before (at Florida), and the end of the Coooer era was pretty close to the same thing at Ohio State before Tressel came to the rescue. 

Some concern was reasonable. 

How much? That’s hard to say, but Meyer didn’t deny this was an important win for his team psychologically. 

“I think you know the answer: Of course you needed it,” Meyer said. “And college football, 18- to 22-year-olds, even more than I imagine the NFL, but it's a game of momentum. 

“The browbeatings that take place and all these things, you need these kinds of things. You need a great performance. 

“And they had a great performance.”

So those big-picture worries can be put away… at least for another week or two. 

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