Perhaps the greatest affirmation of Ohio State’s greatness was its vulnerability in Saturday’s game against Penn State.

Just two weeks ago, if you recall, the College Football Playoff committee decided that Penn State was the fourth-best team in the country. And here was Ohio State, fumbling not once, not twice, but three times. One was as its quarterback was about to cross the goal line for a touchdown. The other two, both in the second half, were deep in Buckeye territory and led to a touchdown and field goal for Penn State.

And yet, No. 2. Ohio State never really lost control of its highly anticipated showdown with No. 8 Penn State. To most, these sort of game-changing plays would be enough to undo a body of perfect work unlike any in the country. Especially against a talented team like Penn State. But in a 28-17 win, Ohio State showed once again why this is a different team — unlike any we’ve seen in the BCS/CFP era.

To this point, Ohio State has trailed for just 9:44 of game time. When you consider Ohio State has three wins over teams currently ranked in the selection committee’s top 25 (by a combined 84 points), that simply doesn’t make sense — unless you’re operating from the perspective that this Ohio State team looks like an all-time team.

The Buckeyes will have to be, because they are in the midst of a gauntlet unlike any national title contender has faced. Beginning Saturday, it’s conceivable Ohio State could play five straight top-12 teams. It’s an incomprehensible stretch of football, especially the last three weeks of the regular season that come with no breaks. No national title contender has faced such a grueling stretch, especially at the most crucial point in the season when the margin for error is tiny because of the importance of last impressions.

Ohio State’s lowest-ranked opponent in that five-game period could be this week at No. 12 Michigan. Then in the Big Ten championship — Ohio State clinched a bid with the win over Penn State — the Buckeyes will face either No. 10 Minnesota or No. 12 Wisconsin, with the winner of next week’s game surely moving into the top 10. Then, it’s the two CFP games, assuming that Ohio State makes it that far, of course.

In the BCS/CFP era, there have been only six national title contenders to finish the season with four ranked teams in their last five games: 2017 Alabama, 2016 Alabama, 2013 Auburn, 2012 Alabama, 2008 Florida and 2008 Oklahoma. Alabama in 2016 had No. 16, 15, 4 and 3 in its last five games. The closest to Ohio State’s potential finishing slate for a national champion or runner-up was Alabama’s 2012 season. In their last seven games, the Crimson Tide faced five top-15 opponents.

Speaking of Alabama, it’s interesting to see how the Crimson Tide and the rest of the SEC schedule in contrast to the Big Ten. Alabama always has a cupcake waiting the week before Auburn. (This year, it was Western Carolina. Alabama won 66-3.) Nick Saban obviously believes that’s important to be well-rested before Rivalry Week. So does the rest of the SEC. Auburn played Samford, Kentucky had UT-Martin, Vanderbilt had East Tennessee State and Mississippi State took on Abilene Christian.

The SEC had a well-rested week in preparation for the stretch run, while Ohio State had the biggest game of its season to date. The Big Ten doesn’t have any non-conference games in the final two weeks of the season, meaning that some years this will happen with three stressful games in three weeks. It’s tough for a Big Ten team to navigate that. And that will continue to be the case, as the Big Ten schedule is set through 2025. With nine conference games, there isn’t the wiggle room that the SEC has.

By the way, Ohio State is also striving to be the first team to go unbeaten in nine conference games and win a conference championship game.

As for the game itself, Penn State entered Saturday as the No. 1 team in the country in rushing yards allowed per attempt at just 2.19. Conventional wisdom would have maybe called for attacking Penn State with the arm of Justin Fields, since the Nittany Lions have been vulnerable against the pass and the Ohio State quarterback has been incredibly efficient and productive.

But Ohio State threw conventional wisdom out the window and instead climbed atop J.K. Dobbins’ back. The junior ran 36 times for 157 yards and two touchdowns.

It’s just another reminder that this Ohio State is anything but normal and continues to impress, even while not at its best.

Notebook

A look around the rest of the Big Ten.

College Football Playoff talk

Penn State, obviously, is no longer a CFP contender, meaning the Big Ten has just Ohio State and Minnesota left. The Buckeyes probably still have a loss to give, just like LSU, given how strong each of their resumes are to this point. Minnesota needs to beat Wisconsin and Ohio State to get in.

Oregon’s loss is a devastating blow for the Pac 12’s CFP hopes, as it now needs Utah to win the conference title game. Even if Utah were to win, there’s no guarantee it would get in over a one-loss Ohio State or a one-loss LSU. In fact, the Utes probably wouldn’t as they still don’t have a win over a team in the selection committee’s top 25. And Ohio and LSU, even without a conference title, would have significantly better resumes.

Shea Patterson’s resurgence

Michigan has been staying under the radar since losing to Penn State and thus ending their chances at winning the Big Ten and going to the CFP, but the Wolverines step into the spotlight this week against Ohio State.

One of the under-the-radar developments over the last few weeks has been Shea Patterson’s surge. He’s playing the best ball of his career right now, with nine touchdown passes over the last two weeks against Michigan State and Indiana. No Michigan quarterback had thrown four touchdown passes in consecutive weeks, until Patterson.

Patterson has the fifth-best efficiency rating over the last two weeks, behind guys like Justin Fields and Joe Burrow. This is the type of company most expected Patterson to keep this season, and after a rough start, it’s finally clicking. He missed a few throws against Indiana, sure, but he also dropped a few dimes. And while Indiana traditionally has a bad defense, this year’s group has been solid. Even after Patterson tore it up for 365 yards and five touchdowns, IU still is 25th nationally in passing yards allowed per game at 193.8 and tied for 36th in yards per attempt.

The narrative would completely change on Patterson if he’s able to engineer a win against Ohio State.

Jonathan Taylor’s big finale

If that was it, well, it was a sweet sendoff. In what was likely Jonathan Taylor’s final game at Camp Randall, the star Wisconsin running back did what he always does — run wild.

Taylor racked up 222 yards on 28 attempts, breaking the record for 200-yard games previously held by Ron Dayne, Ricky Williams and Marcus Allen. Taylor is a junior and will likely go pro after this season, though that isn’t set in stone.

Taylor has 12 games for 200 yards in the last three years, and tellingly, Wisconsin is 12-0 in those games. It’s not as if Taylor is just running behind a great offensive line, or that he’s just a product of a great scheme. According to Pro Football Focus, Taylor is second in the country in missed tackles forced with 74 — just behind Boston College’s A.J. Dillon. By the way, Dillon is a great back as well, and he has four 200-yard games the last three years.

How much does Wisconsin lean on Taylor? This was his 25th time in 38 career games over the last three years getting 20-plus carries — the most in the country during that span. And the Badgers are 21-4 in those games. In the 13 games that he hasn’t carried the ball 20 times or more, Wisconsin is 9-4.

The best thing about Taylor is that for as good as he is, he’s clearly team first. It seems like all those guys in the Badger locker room are, but if anyone had license to be a little cocky, it’d be Taylor. And yet there are the stories of him crediting his offensive line for his accomplishments, even rushing to take a picture with them last week before they changed out of their uniforms when he broke Herschel Walker’s FBS record for rushing yards before a player’s senior season.

In his final play, he was the decoy as Mason Stokke ran in the touchdown from a yard out. And to see Taylor jumping around with Stokke in the end zone warms the heart, because you can tell how happy he was for a teammate to get his first touchdown.

Minnesota gets its moment

After furiously campaigning for College GameDay to come for its game against Penn State earlier this season, Minnesota will get its moment in the sun — or maybe the snow. GameDay is officially headed to Minneapolis for the Golden Gophers’ showdown with Wisconsin. The winner goes to the Big Ten championship game against Ohio State.

The Golden Gophers (10-1) have traditionally struggled as a ranked team against another ranked team, as you can see below. But hey, it did beat Penn State earlier this season, and it came pretty close against Iowa.

Minnesota had one of those classic trap games on Saturday — coming off a loss, the game of its season the following week. The good news is that Northwestern just isn’t very good. And the better news is that Rashod Bateman (seven catches for 78 yards and three touchdowns) and Tyler Johnson (seven catches for 125 yards and a touchdown) are really good, as is Tanner Morgan. It was the fourth time this season Morgan has thrown at least three touchdown passes while attempting 23 or fewer passes.

Three Up, Three Down

A look at the best of the rest in the Big Ten.

Up

1. A little redemption for Ronnie Bell

You may remember the moment Ronnie Bell would probably like to forget. Five weeks ago against Penn State, he dropped the potential game-tying touchdown late in the game. He received a ton of hate from some members of the fan base, which prompted a fifth-grade teacher in Michigan to use it as a teaching moment with her students about bullying. The students wrote letters to Bell about not listening to the haters.

Well, Bell finally got that touchdown on Saturday, his first of the season. And after a few rough games after that Penn State game, he is hitting his stride as he tallied a career-best 150 yards last week against Michigan State. The unfortunate part of it all is that if he had caught that pass against Penn State and Michigan went on to win, the Wolverines would be playing Ohio State at home for a spot in the Big Ten championship game and potentially the CFP.

But in the real world, it’s good to see Bell has rebounded from that game and is now an important part in a resurgent Michigan offense. It also seems like Bell is just a good guy.

2. Lamont Wade ties Big Ten record

The Penn State safety was a big reason that the Nittany Lions were even in it, as he tied a Big Ten record with three forced fumbles. He’s the fifth Big Ten player to ever do it, joining Michigan’s Jerry Hartman (1967), Ohio State’s Antoine Winfield (195), Iowa’s Bob Sanders (2003) and Northwestern’s Ifeadi Odenigbo (2014).

3. Iowa’s kicker stays busy

It’s debatable which category this should fall under, as most fans would view it as a negative that their kicker is so busy. And Keith Duncan has been extremely busy for Iowa this season, because the Hawkeyes are terrible at scoring touchdowns. But since college kickers have such a shaky reputation in general, they deserve their props when they prove to be reliable.

Duncan was steady again in Iowa’s win over Illinois. He made four field goals to give him 27 this season — four ahead of Georgia’s Rodrigo Blankenship for the national lead. The junior set the Big Ten single-season record, and he still has two games to go. With the rate Iowa settles for field goals in the red zone (40.5 percent of the time, which is second in the country to only Stanford), Duncan will add to that total.

Down

1. Indiana, maybe forever a basketball school

The question for Indiana football is this: If not now, when?

It was as big of a home game for Indiana as there has been in recent history. The Hoosiers are in the midst of their best season in 25 years and despite hosting one of the bluebloods of college football, their crowd was below average. What more can you ask for than a game against No. 12 Michigan on a Saturday afternoon? Is IU destined to be a basketball school forever? It isn’t as if the basketball team has been any good recently, either.

The announced attendance for Indiana was 43,671. That’s barely more than the 40,084 the Hoosiers got for the game against UConn (one of the worst FBS teams). The number of actual people at both of those games is probably far lower, of course. I understand that attendance generally goes down later in the season because the weather gets worse, and Thanksgiving is coming up, but this is still incredibly disappointing.

Maybe if Allen and company stack several years like this on top of one another, the fans will start coming. We know they care; we see them go nuts for the big basketball games. It’s as if there is this permanent skepticism about the football program, that fans don’t really want to get sucked in only to be let down.

For right now, that’s a shame, because this is as likable of a team as you can ask for. Watching Tom Allen celebrate some of these wins has to bring a smile to your face, even if you’re not an IU fan. Peyton Ramsey should be applauded for sticking with Indiana and not electing to transfer when he didn’t win the starting job in the preseason. The offense is one of the best in the Big Ten; the defense is surprisingly decent.

It’s going to be hard to hold onto Allen if this is as good as it gets as far as fan support.

2. Rutgers strikes out with Schiano

Rutgers is apparently not reuniting with former coach Greg Schiano, who reportedly turned down an eight-year deal worth $32 million, with $25 million guaranteed.

Whether that’s the full story, who knows? Steve Politi, a columnist with The Star-Ledger, is convinced that Rutgers is making excuses and that Schiano’s demands weren’t unreasonable at all. And in the scope of the Big Ten, they definitely aren’t.

The main takeaway here is that Rutgers blew a chance to reunite with basically the only guy who knows how to win there. It will be fascinating to see who takes that job. Playing in the Big Ten East – which is the toughest division in college football, along with the SEC West – with below-average resources is a tremendous challenge.
3. Maryland

What happened to the Terrapins? The feel-good story of the first two weeks of the season keeps getting worse and worse.

Here’s something crazy: Maryland scored 142 points in its first two games this season, and it has 145 in its last nine games. In this six-game losing streak, Maryland has lost every game but one by 26 or more points. During that span, the Terrapins have the second-worst point differential in the country, losing by an average of 35.2 points per game. They’ve been even worse than Rutgers during that span and better than only UMass.