What we learned last week:
If Ohio State is going to get much help from the Big Ten in terms of making the BCS Championship Game, it probably is not coming until December.
Michigan’s overtime loss at Penn State on Saturday pretty much assured that as it dropped the Wolverines out of both polls.
Since Penn State isn’t eligible for the coaches poll regardless of its record, a Michigan win would have probably been better for Ohio State’s resume, but I don’t think it made a major impact.
Let’s face it: The way Michigan was playing since edging Notre Dame in week two, few probably expected them to remain undefeated and climb up the polls. Despite being undefeated, the Wolverines were ranked only 16th in the last coaches’ poll after sliding down from a high of No. 12.
While I’ve never been a fan of conference championship games because I think they more often muddle the regular season results than sort them out, this season getting to play in one could be good for Ohio State if it means another ranked team shows up on the schedule. That would not have happened if Michigan remained undefeated until the regular season finale because the Wolverines and Buckeyes both would have already clinched Big Ten Championship Game berths by virtue of tiebreakers (if not outright record).
The Buckeyes will have to beat Michigan in the regular season finale to remain in the BCS title discussion, so playing them a second time a week later doesn’t figure to enhance their resume much if at all.
The better scenario all along for Ohio State involves seeing Nebraska or Michigan State win out to enter the Big Ten title game with only one loss, and that is still on the table.
Both the Cornhuskers and Spartans have one very strong unit and one with major questions, but there have been positive signs for both weak links the past couple of weeks.
Nebraska is ranked 21st in the coaches poll, up three spots after smoking hapless Purdue 44-7, but I think Michigan State is the better all-around team.
The Spartans, who are 27th in coaches’ poll voting this week, beat a much better overall Indiana team fairly handily and piled up 473 total yards in the process. They were strong both on the ground (238 yards) and through the air (235 yards) as quarterback Connor Cook continues to improve since taking over the starting job early in the season.
He was 22 for 33 passing with a pair of touchdowns against the Hoosiers, though he did throw an interception. He also spread the ball around to 11 different teammates, and his receiving corps seems finally to be coming of age after struggling all of last season and early in this one. It should be pointed out, of course, that Indiana annually has one of the worst defenses in the country, but for a time this season Michigan State didn’t look like it could put up those kinds of yards and points against air.
The Spartans also put the clamps on a very good Indiana offense that was leading the Big Ten in total offense (535 yards per game) and pass offense (346.0 ypg.) while trailing only Ohio State in scoring (44.4 points per game). The Hoosiers were held to 351 total yards, including 259 through the air, and fell 16 points short of their season scoring average. Quarterbacks Nate Sudfeld and Tre Roberson combined to complete only 25 of 47 passes with an interception by Roberson.
Obviously playing great defense is nothing new for Michigan State, but the offense was a black hole all of last season and for the first month of this one. It doesn’t have to become an elite scoring unit, just a steady one for the Spartans to win the rest of their regular season games.
Michigan State gets Michigan at home Nov. 2 and has to go to Nebraska on Nov. 16, but the Spartans get a week off in between.
Beyond that, the Buckeyes are going to need help from outside the league, too, as I can’t see them passing Alabama or Oregon if neither of those teams lose, and it seems very likely the winner of this Saturday’s Clemson-Florida State game will pass them this week.
These things have a way of working themselves out every year as rarely do more than two major-conference teams finish the season undefeated, but it is fair to be nervous about how things look now.
What we can expect to learn this week: Who impressed the coaching staff during the bye week.
Urban Meyer prides himself on instilling elements of competition throughout his program, and the extra practice time figures to present a great opportunity for youngsters to work their way up the depth chart, especially after the struggles of the secondary the past two weeks.
Meyer and his staff have recruited lots of talent since arriving in Columbus, but it is mostly still young talent. That hasn’t hindered the defensive line, of course, so I am very interested in seeing if any changes are made in the secondary for the second half of the season.
Iowa’s offense was a punchline last season after the arrival of new coordinator Greg Davis, but the Hawkeyes have looked more competent so far this season. They hang their hat on a downhill running game that should play into the hands of Ohio State’s strength on defense, but it is not outrageous to wonder if first-year starting quarterback Jake Rudock and talented wide receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley could replicate the damage done by Joel Stave and Jared Abbrederis the last time the Buckeyes played at Ohio Stadium if they haven’t shored things up in the secondary.
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