The question crept into my mind at some point on Saturday afternoon, sometime between Ohio State’s fifth and sixth touchdowns of the first half against Michigan State: Was anyone on Michigan watching this?

I know Michigan players and coaches were getting ready for their own game against Maryland, but you know how easy it is to take a peek at the phone and see a couple highlights, especially since their game didn’t kick off until 3:30 p.m. By about 1:30 p.m., Ohio State had a 42-0 lead and looked every bit as infallible as 2020 Alabama and 2019 LSU. It was one of those things where you just couldn’t look away. There was so much hype and buildup to No. 4 Ohio State’s showdown with No. 7 Michigan State, and the Buckeyes hit the Spartans with a Mack Truck. Gulp.

Then Michigan took the field later that afternoon at Maryland, and I wondered the same thing: Was anyone on Ohio State watching this?

Not to throw around the College Football Playoff Committee’s talking points, but Michigan really is one of the most complete teams in the country. The Wolverines excelled in all 3 phases of the game, they made highlight reel plays all over the field (with unheralded players) and just dominated a potential bowl team in its home stadium.

If you’ve watched the Wolverines this year, you know this isn’t the same old Michigan. Plunk them into the Pac-12, the ACC or the Big 12, and I think they are winning that league and going to the CFP. But because they play in the Big Ten East, the road to the CFP goes through Ohio State.

That’s what is at stake this Saturday in Ann Arbor. The Game should be a doozy with both of these teams playing some of the best football in the country.

No. 4 Ohio State 56, No. 7 Michigan State 7. I don’t envy the coach who has to devise a game plan to stop Ohio State. Where would you even start? Your only chance is to hope that CJ Stroud is just a little off on some throws, like he was against Nebraska, but that hasn’t happened much at all lately.

For the second straight week, Ohio State scored touchdowns on its first 6 drives of the game. In this one, the Buckeyes actually found the end zone on all 7 first-half possessions. It was an offensive clinic. Stroud had twice as many TD passes (6) as incompletions (3), just a dazzling display that has him firmly in the Heisman Trophy discussion. With the firepower he has in Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson and Jaxon Smith-Njigba, this is now to be expected.

That’s an unrealistic expectation, but when holding 1 or 2 of those guys under 100 yards is cause for celebration, then yeah, the bar is high for Stroud. In his first year starting, though, he has been held under 300 yards just 3 times and held to fewer than 4 TD passes just 4 times. Some of it is Ryan Day’s offense and some of it is the weapons, but a lot of it is that Stroud is really, really good.

On another note, this was an important showing for Ohio State. Even though it has the second-best point differential in college football, the Buckeyes didn’t really have any big wins. That’s why coming into this week, I  personally would’ve ranked Cincinnati above Ohio State, since it won at No. 8 Notre Dame. But the way Ohio State put the pedal to the metal from the opening possession and didn’t let up against a top-10 team was just the kind of performance that should turn skeptics into believers. And I think that played a little into Ohio State continuing to attack downfield, even as it built a comfortable lead.

If Oregon wouldn’t have lost to Utah on Saturday, it would’ve created all kinds of interesting discussions about whether the Buckeyes should jump the Ducks. Ohio State is obviously the better team, but all of that is irrelevant with Oregon now having 2 losses.

I imagine CFP commissioner Gary Barta poured himself a nice drink on Saturday afternoon. “See?” he must’ve been thinking. “I told you guys about Michigan State.” He wasn’t watching the game, of course, but he was looking at the box score. And that box score was every bit as ugly as the game.

That said, I don’t think Michigan State was overrated or that Mel Tucker is overpaid. And I don’t think this changes the long-term outlook for the program. The Spartans (9-2, 6-2) obviously haven’t resembled anything remotely close to a top-10 team twice in the last 3 weeks, but that happens sometimes over the course of a 12-game season, especially on the road against conference opponents. Was anyone beating Ohio State on this day? I think not.

This game said more about the state of college football than Michigan State itself. Georgia, Alabama and Ohio State are accumulating talent at a ridiculous level, and the gap between those 3 programs and everyone else is as wide as the windows Stroud is throwing into. When those teams are clicking on a given day, there’s nothing an opponent can do.

That said, Michigan State has to adjust. The pass defense is dead last in the country by a wide margin, allowing nearly 340 yards per game. The last time the Spartans held a team under 350 passing yards was over a month ago against Indiana. It puts this Michigan State offense in a near-impossible position. It shouldn’t have to score 40 points to win. And when the defense can’t get a single stop in a half, that takes out Heisman contender Kenneth Walker III. He had just 6 carries for 25 yards because the Spartans were down so much so quick.

Payton Thorne (14-of-36 for 158 yards) has to be better, yes, but the standard can’t be “Score on every possession.” No one outside of Ohio State can meet that.

This was a reminder that for all of the well-deserved praise this year for Tucker, he still has work to do. The gap is significant; Ohio State has more blue-chip recruits on its bench than Michigan State has on its entire roster. The Spartans need more depth. They need much more speed on defense.

This was a humbling day, for sure, but it doesn’t have to define Michigan State’s season. With a game against Penn State at home this Saturday, the Spartans have a chance for a double-digit win season and a spot in a New Year’s Six Bowl.

But it reinforced what Barta and the rest of the committee worried about with the Spartans; though this is a very good team that has had a very good season, this is not a complete team. Ohio State exposed that better than anyone has all season.

No. 6 Michigan 59, Maryland 18. Now this is how to precede Michigan’s biggest game in 3 years. This was a well-rounded, dominating performance in which Michigan scored on offense, defense and special teams. Even at home, Michigan will be a heavy underdog on Saturday against Ohio State, but it has as good a chance as any in recent years to beat the Buckeyes.

There were a couple of things worth noting from this one.

For one, Cade McNamara is no longer just a game manager. He earned that label earlier this season as Michigan didn’t seem to trust him much at all to throw the ball downfield. I thought JJ McCarthy would pass him up this season. And even though McCarthy continues to play well when he’s in there, save for a few plays against Michigan State, McNamara has developed into a very good player. He is in complete control and is now at the point where I believe he can go out and win a big game. He is ready for Ohio State. That’s the big takeaway after he completed 75 percent of his passes, averaged 9.3 yards per attempt and had multiple TD passes for the fourth straight game.

The other big takeaway: Holy cow, Donovan Edwards. What a weapon. Maybe Michigan unleashed him a week too soon, or maybe it’s perfect timing, because now Ohio State has to prepare for the 5-star true freshman who has been sparingly used this season.

Edwards broke out in a big way with 10 catches for 170 yards, a Michigan record for a running back. He had just 2 catches all season before Saturday, but he looked very natural catching the ball out of the backfield. It’s just another dynamic for this Michigan offense that already has so many options.

 

No. 15 Wisconsin 35, Nebraska 28. Nebraska’s players deserve all the credit in the world for this effort. They had every reason to mail it in.

Their coaching staff was gutted last week. They are already eliminated from bowl contention. They are banged up. They have been heavily criticized all season, and many of them for longer than that. Most fans have turned their attention to whom Scott Frost will hire as the program’s next offensive coordinator.

And yet, the Nebraska players did exactly what they have all season. They competed. It didn’t result in a win, no, because Braelon Allen is a monster. But perhaps a gutty performance like this can set the tone for the season finale against Iowa (which does look beatable, by the way) and carry into a very important offseason.

Nebraska’s players told you exactly who they are on Saturday. They aren’t winners, not at this point. But in a sport in which the bottom tends to fall out quickly (Florida and Texas are prime examples), Nebraska put forth a gritty performance on the road against the best team in the Big Ten West Division. And that’s worth recognizing and respecting. They clearly take great pride in representing their state.

The unfortunate part for Nebraska is that it continues to make costly mistakes, especially on special teams. The Huskers allowed a touchdown on the opening kickoff. Adrian Martinez had a couple of ill-advised interceptions. But darn, if this team doesn’t continue to fight.

This has to be the best 3-8 team in college football history. All 8 losses are by single digits, and they had a chance in the fourth quarter in all of them.

Nebraska wasn’t playing for anything other than pride on Saturday, but they should return to Lincoln with it intact. There’s a lot of work to be done. Hey Scott, maybe hire a full-time special teams coordinator to shore up these mistakes, and then the players’ effort on days like Saturday will be rewarded.

No. 17 Iowa 33, Illinois 23. Days like this are an Iowa fan’s worst nightmare. The Hawkeyes were terrible on offense, gaining just 255 total yards. Yet they won comfortably, thanks to a kickoff return for a touchdown and an interception return for a score.

Why does an Iowa fan hate this? Because it sends the wrong message. It makes Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz think the the Hawkeyes can win without an explosive offense and instead rely on takeaways and special teams. But we already know that isn’t reliable week to week. On this day against Illinois, it was enough.

Alex Padilla wasn’t near as bad as the numbers (6-of-17 for 83 yards) suggest. There were some drops and plays where he had to throw the ball away because no one was open. The good news, though, is that Tyler Goodson had one of his best games of the season with 132 rushing yards.

Iowa still is alive in the Big Ten West and needs to beat Nebraska with a Wisconsin loss to Minnesota. Both are certainly possible. But would anyone be surprised if Nebraska upset the Hawkeyes if Iowa can’t score on defense?

MVPs

1. QB CJ Stroud (Ohio State)

Stroud was flawless against Michigan State, completing 91.4 percent of his passes and averaging 12.3 yards per attempt. The final line in just 2 1/2 quarters: 32-of-35 for 432 yards and 6 TDs.

2. RB Braelon Allen (Wisconsin)

The 17-year-old had another day to remember with 228 rushing yards and 3 TDs, including the game-winner from 53 yards out. He has 7 straight 100-yard games.

3. QB Christian Veilleux (Penn State)

The freshman came off the bench for the injured Sean Clifford for his first collegiate action, and he led 4 scoring drives in the final 32 minutes of the game to break open a close game against Rutgers. He finished with 235 passing yards and 3 TD passes.

 

4. WR Milton Wright (Purdue)

Wright looked right at home in the Friendly Confines, totaling 8 catches for 213 yards and 3 TDs.

5. RB Donovan Edwards (Michigan)

The true freshman was terrific at Maryland, racking up 10 catches for 170 yards, a Michigan record for running backs. He had a 77-yard TD catch and also set up Michigan’s first TD with a 15-yard catch to the 2.