Thus, over the course of this series of articles, I'll analyze in-depth the state of the Ohio State Buckeyes football program: where it is at now, both on offense and defense; where it may be at the end of the season; where it will be next year; and, finally, some of the possibilities in between.
Sit back and strap in as I attempt to uncover the real state of football at The Ohio State University.
First off, let me state that I'm a Buckeye fan, and I know Buckeye football. That said, don't expect this series to be solely about how great the Buckeyes are.
Heck, I might even surprise you a little bit.
The Buckeyes' No. 1 ranking is the result of the craziest college football season that I've seen in my 21 years. Who would have thought that each team in the preseason Top 10 would have at least one loss by Week Seven?
This raises the question of whether the Buckeyes even deserve the No. 1 ranking. Most would say no. Some would say yes.
And the smart ones would say it's too early to tell.
Personally, I'll reserve my judgment for another day—and a more opinion-based article.
However, whether one believes the Bucks deserve it or not, they are No. 1. And they've managed to get there by simply not losing.
Every argument about OSU comes back to their strength of schedule, which isn't comparable to that of most teams in the national championship race—and won't be.
Right now, the mostly untested team sits at 7-0, having outscored opponents 250-46.
Here's a review of the season thus far:
Week 1: OSU (#11) vs Youngstown St. (W, 38-6)
The opener against Youngstown went as expected, really. The Bucks showed some rust with nine penalties, but eventually wore the opponent down. Youngstown's record right now stands at 5-2.
Week Two exhibited a fairly less-impressive Buckeye team, particularly the offense which committed five turnovers (3 FUM, 2 INT). It may have turned out to be a much closer game if it weren't for the defense's excellent effort. Without delving too deep into the numbers, a couple of stats are notable. The D made the Zips punt a total of 14 times in the game, gave up a total of three first downs (two on the first drive), and forced 12 consecutive three-and-out series. Akron now stands with a record of 3-4.
Week 3: OSU (#10) vs Washington (W, 33-14)
The first half-way decent opponent OSU faced, the Huskies still couldn't find enough offensive fortitude to put an "L" in the Bucks' record. The OSU rushing game really came together nicely with a total of 263 yards on the ground, led by two strong backs—Chris Wells (24 carries, 135 yards) and Brandon Saine (9, 83). Now Washington stands with record of 2-4.
But check out the Huskies' other losses: UCLA (44-31), No. 1 USC (27-24), and No. 14 Arizona St. (44-20)—not too unimpressive, and almost knocking off the then-No. 1 USC. Where was the press on that?
Week 4: OSU (#8) vs Northwestern (W, 58-7)
This was a breakout week, showing the familiar, balanced, Tressel-driven offense: 205 passing yards and 191 rushing yards, for a total of 396 yards.
An emerging star at WR, Brian Robiskie really showed up with 89 yards and three touchdowns. The guy looked about as impressive as any Ted Ginn performance I've seen (note "about"). Wells' performance was notable as well, with 12 carries totaling 100 yards (8.9 avg.). And it would be a crime to not mention the guy who has so far proved to be an efficient replacement to No. 10—Todd Boeckman (11/14, 179 yards, 4 TD).
I don't want to get into a whole bunch of defensive stats, because in most games they are pretty staggering. But I have to mention Northwestern's 33 rush attempts for a total of zero yards. That's impressive no matter who you are playing.
Northwestern now stands at 4-3, with a notable win over Michigan State.
Week 5: OSU (#8) vs Minnesota (W, 30-7)
For the first time in the season, the Buckeye offense carried just as big a load, if not bigger, than the defense. This game showed some vulnerability in the OSU pass defense, as the Gophers put up 232 passing yards. However, the "D" figured out a way to keep all that passing yardage in between the end zones, allowing only seven points. Minnesota now stands at 1-6.
Week 6: OSU (#4) vs Purdue (#23) (W, 23-7)
The Bucks' faced their first ranked opponent and largest test to date in Purdue at West Lafayette. The Bucks unveiled a pretty impressive WR core in Robiskie, Ray Small and Brian Hartline, who all had comparable numbers. Boeckman threw three interceptions, two of which were more like long punts, pinning the Boilermakers inside their own 10 each time. The defense continued its dominance, allowing just 4 yards rushing.
This could have been argued as the Buckeyes' first quality win. But Purdue's performance in Week Seven—losing to Michigan 48-21—sort of discredited that notion. (Or was it just a resurgent Michigan team?) Purdue now stands 5-2.
Week 7: OSU (#3) vs Kent State (W, 48-3)
What can I say? OSU's sixth ho-hum opponent out of seven. Honestly, as much as I like to see the Buckeyes win, even I hate playing all these terrible teams. In my opinion, it is really the only argument that fuels those who think OSU shouldn't be No. 1. Tentatively, I have to sort of agree. Anyway it was a blowout, as expected. Kent St. is now 3-4.
To date, the combined record of OSU's opponents is 23-25 (.479), which is unimpressive. It seems sort of like a joke that after seven weeks, Purdue was the highest quality opponent—and they let Michigan put up 48 points on their way to their second loss. This could be attributed to Michigan's resurgence, or possibly a hangover from the previous week's loss. Either way, OSU hasn't faced a formidable opponent yet.
That being said, Ohio State has taken care of business week in and week out, which is more than I can say for some teams. But admittedly, an LSU loss to Kentucky would be more realistic than an OSU loss to any teams it has played to date. This opinion is based solely on respect for LSU's talent and Kentucky's strength and heart.
Being ranked No. 1 with a clear national title shot if they run the table, OSU will determine its own destiny from here. Clearly this will depend on a rebuilt Buckeye offense and a lights-out defense, each of which I'll taker a closer look at in Part Two and Three of this series.
My Take on the Buckeyes
Honestly, I can't say we are great. I can't say we aren't great. The teams we've played aren't good teams (with maybe Purdue as an exception). But we've beaten each pretty convincingly like any No. 1-ranked team should do to far inferior opponents.
If not for USC's one loss, I'd be inclined to think they would still be ranked No. 1. The games against our one common opponent went two different ways for the Bucks and the Trojans. In fact, USC almost lost to Washington (27-24), while OSU had complete control in their 33-14 win.
So my point is, if USC hadn't lost to Stanford, they would have the No. 1 rank, with maybe some opposition. The Buckeyes haven't lost and have the No. 1 rank with huge opposition. Now, why would USC be a "better" No. 1 considering each of our performances against Washington?
Right now, OSU has a stellar defense, but some can argue this has been helped by the quality of opponents we've played. The offense is not as good as last year's, but the defense can make up for more mistakes on the other side of the ball. More than I can remember this year our "D" has bailed the offense out.
So here is where the Buckeyes stand right now: They've played seven largely unimpressive teams. The games they have played, they have had complete control. The defense—namely the secondary and D-line—is the difference on this year's team. The offense is sufficient to get the job done most of the time, while falling back on a lights-out "D" when they can't. And Ohio State has five quality opponents left to face:
Michigan St. (5-2), Penn St. (5-2), Wisconsin (5-2), Illinois (5-2), and Michigan (5-2)—a combined record of 25-10 (.714).
Will they win all five?
The way this year is going, I'd be hard-pressed to say yes. Penn State and Michigan will be by far our biggest challenges. As far as I'm concerned, playing at the Valley is always scary for OSU, and Ann Harbor should be just as unwelcoming.