B1G 5: Sure, Ohio State has a path to Playoff, but does it have a Playoff team?
1. The B1G story
We saw it play out against Minnesota, but ignored it because Ohio State does what it always does: It gets better.
Only this time, the Buckeyes didn’t.
This time the Ohio State defense that looked average against a one-dimensional Minnesota offense looked downright putrid against Oregon. And now, it must be said.
There’s a problem in Columbus, and it’s not just on defense. And it might just lead to – hold onto your (buckeye) nuts, Brutus – more losses.
“We have to learn from this, we have to grow from this,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “There’s still a lot of football left.”
Before we delve deeper, that’s the reality they’re holding onto at Ohio State: win out, and they’re likely a lock for the College Football Playoff.
But winning out with this team, and these specific players in critical roles, doesn’t look as inevitable as it once did. It’s easy to point to a defense that gave up more than 500 yards against Oregon, and only stopped the Minnesota run game when tailback Mo Ibrahim was injured late in the third quarter with the game still in doubt.
The truth, everyone, is more damaging — a reality every team but Alabama faces year after year.
Players who replace elite, program-defining players, don’t always produce the same way.
Blame Kerry Coombs and his relative inexperience coordinating defenses. Blame the scheme, and players out of position and taking bad angles.
Because after all those machinations, great players win big games.
Chase Young isn’t coming off the edge. Nor are the Bosa brothers.
Dre’Mont Jones, Adolphus Washington and Michael Bennett aren’t disrupting the interior, setting up Raekwon McMillan and Darron Lee to clean up everything.
Malik Hooker isn’t bringing juice from the safety spot.
Frankly, Justin Fields isn’t dropping dimes or making critical 3rd-down scramble throws/runs, either.
“They’re as vulnerable as they’ve been in 10 years,” a Big Ten defensive coordinator told me. “The well isn’t always full.”
This is the dangerous spot we all fall into. Because Team A was great one year, it must mean Team A will be great again.
We assume, despite clear evidence to the contrary, that young players will play like veterans, and veterans who have reached the mountaintop will play with motivation — and not with one careful eye on the NFL.
Ohio State is not the same team from the 2020 season, a season that, frankly, was based on one game: the win over Clemson.
One game where a supremely talented team full of motivation from a loss to Clemson the year before in the CFP semifinals, played its best game of the season and rolled Clemson like few have in the Dabo Swinney era.
Because other than that game, what exactly did Ohio State show last season to make anyone think losing 12 starters – including an elite talent at quarterback – would translate into anything other than a year of adjustment?
There are three new starting linebackers. There’s no twitch athlete off the edge. End Jack Sawyer, the No. 1 high school defensive prospect in 2021, has played in one game and doesn’t have a tackle.
Despite what you hear – and what Alabama shows year after year – it’s not just plug and play.
When Urban Meyer was coach, the defensive line was everything. Your team, Meyer would say over and over (and still does now in the NFL), is only as good as your defensive line.
In 2 games, Ohio State has 2 sacks and 6 quarterback pressures. It should come as no surprise then, that the Buckeyes have zero interceptions and have forced 2 measly turnovers in 2 games.
A defense that replaced a majority of its front seven has all of 5 tackles for loss in 2 games. In previous years, it took 2 quarters to get 5 tackles for loss.
All of this doesn’t mean Ohio State can’t make the Playoff, but it absolutely means anyone who thinks the Buckeyes will automatically run off 11 straight wins to reach the CFP hasn’t taken an honest, hard look at this team.
Everyone goes through transition seasons. This one could still end with a Big Ten championship.
Any win beyond that, and Day and his staff will have gotten more out of this team than they probably should.
2. The lure of L.A.
The USC job is open, and that means 1 of the best 3 jobs in college football might be too tempting to turn down for Penn State coach James Franklin.
Franklin grew up in Pennsylvania, and along with Bill O’Brien, helped resurrect a program deep in dysfunction. He won the Big Ten in 2016, and prior to last year’s bizarre COVID season, was averaging 9 wins a season and won 11 games 3 times.
He’s one of the best coaches in the game, and is a proven program-builder at both the lowest level of FBS (Vanderbilt) and the highest (Penn State).
He’d recruit the southern California area – 1 of the 3 richest areas for recruits in the country – better than anyone at USC since Pete Carroll left after the 2009 season.
Franklin has been pursued by numerous major jobs since he arrived at Penn State in 2014, but has stayed because he believes he can win a national title in State College. His 2016 team beat Ohio State and won the Big Ten – yet still finished behind the Buckeyes in the College Football Playoff.
Franklin was furious about the snub, and furious seven months later when he brought players to Big Ten Media Days and Penn State’s table was placed next to the Big Ten Network live remote setup. The noise and commotion from the live show overshadowed Penn State’s time at the event, and both Franklin and the players had problems communicating – selling themselves and the program – a year after winning the conference title.
He has a championship-ready team this season, and the addition of offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich has already paid off with the play of QB Sean Clifford and the overall offensive efficiency. Another big season will only make Franklin more in demand, from both USC and other potential jobs (see: LSU).
3. Tag, you’re it
Get ready to embrace all things Tagovailoa again. Taulia, Tua’s younger brother and Alabama transfer, has taken a significant step in Year 2 as a starter at Maryland.
“The future looks good for us,” Maryland coach Mike Locksley said.
Here’s why: Since the beginning of last season, Tagovailoa has thrown for 1,617 yards and trails only Matt Corral (Ole Miss), Kedon Slovis (USC), Sam Howell (UNC) and Spener Rattler (Oklahoma) in yards passing from Power 5 quarterbacks.
The Terps have games at Illinois and against Kent State before a critical 3-game stretch that will dictate the season: Iowa, at Ohio State, at Minnesota.
Tagovailoa already has thrown for 6 TDs and 0 INTs, and 606 yards. His numbers across the board are significantly better than 2020, including a completion percentage of 76.2 and 9.6 yards per attempt.
Alabama and Maryland are worlds apart, but Taulia is beginning to play a lot like Tua did with the Tide. The better he plays, the better chance for Maryland to navigate that brutal three-game stretch.
4. Powered Up
This week’s Power Poll, and one big thing: biggest surprise after Week 2.
1. Iowa: Hawkeyes have 476 total yards in 2 games. And haven’t come close to losing.
2. Penn State: Yurcich has QB Sean Clifford playing like the 2019 version of himself.
3. Ohio State: The Buckeyes are 123rd in the nation in rush defense, giving up a whopping 236 ypg.
4. Wisconsin: Graham Mertz first 2 games of 2020: 7 TDs, 0 INTs; first 2 in 2021: 0 TDs, 2 INTs.
5. Maryland: A possession receiver last season, Dontay Demus caught a TD for a school-record 6th straight game. It’s the longest current streak in the Big Ten.
6. Indiana: After leading the Big Ten in interceptions last season (17), IU has 0 in 2 games.
7. Michigan: Averaged 131.5 rushing yards a game in 2020 (95th in the nation); averaging 339 yards in 2021 (4th in the nation).
8. Michigan State: QB Payton Thorne’s 5 passing TDs are more than half of Rocky Lombardi’s 2020 season total (9).
9. Minnesota: QB Tanner Morgan’s trendline in passing yards per game: 2019 (250.2 ypg.), 2020 (196.3), 2021 (158).
10. Purdue: Purdue’s scoring defense, 2020 (29.8 ppg.); Purdue’s scoring defense, 2021 under new coordinator Brad Lambert (10.5).
11. Rutgers: Scarlet Knights have forced 8 turnovers in 2 games, after forcing 19 in 9 games in 2020.
12. Northwestern: For those complaining about the defensive regression: total defense in 2020 (341.2 ypg.) and 2021 (340) are nearly identical.
13. Illinois: Since the breakthrough win against Nebraska to begin the season, Illini has lost to UTSA and Virginia by a combined 79-44.
14. Nebraska: Huskers are a respectable No. 21 in the nation in total offense (513.70, and No. 58 in total defense (325.7) – until this week’s game at Oklahoma.
5. The Weekly Five
Five picks against the spread.
- Michigan State (+6.5) at Miami
- Nebraska at Oklahoma (-23)
- Cincinnati (-3) at Indiana
- Purdue at Notre Dame (-7)
- Northwestern (-3) at Duke
Last week: 2-3.