Every Tuesday, Matt Hayes tackles the 10 hottest topics in the Big Ten …

1. The B1G Story

I don’t want to be the guy who has to point this out, but maybe, just maybe, Ohio State — a Playoff lock in the minds of many — is a product of one of the easiest schedules in the nation.

I know, I know, it’s Scarlet and Gray blasphemy.

It couldn’t have anything to do with this reality: In Ohio State’s biggest game of the season, the Buckeyes struggled to put away an average Notre Dame team in Columbus.

Since then, Notre Dame has lost in South Bend to mighty Marshall (currently 6th in the Sun Belt East Division), and a Stanford team so inept, the idea of firing one of the game’s best coaches (David Shaw) is stupefyingly gaining traction on The Farm.

Meanwhile, there is Ohio State — without hesitation, the No. 1 or No .2 team in the nation. Why, you ask?

Maybe it’s the average margin of victory of — I’m not making this up — 35 points per game.

Maybe it’s elite quarterback CJ Stroud, and 2 tailbacks who could play for any Power 5 school, and a wide receiver corps so deep, losing the best wide receiver in the nation (Jaxon Smith-Njigba) for a majority of the season means nothing.

Maybe it’s new defensive coordinator Jim Knowles, who arrived from Oklahoma State amid glorious fanfare, and has completely changed the way they play defense at Ohio State — which is top 10 in the nation in scoring defense, total defense, 3rd-down efficiency, and opponent long scrimmage plays.

Or maybe it’s — and stay with me here — quarterbacks Drew Pyne and James Blackman (remember him at Florida State?) and Graham Mertz and Evan Simon and Payton Thorne and for the love of all things Iowa, Spencer Petras.

Or it’s — and again, I could be way off here — the combined 25-27 record of Notre Dame, Arkansas State, Toledo, Wisconsin, Rutgers, Michigan State and Iowa, and the combined 5-12 Big Ten record of Ohio State’s conference opponents.

Or it’s — and if I’m wrong, I’m more than happy to admit it — the total offense ranks of Notre Dame (77th in the nation), Arkansas State (103rd), Wisconsin (72nd), Rutgers (113th), Michigan State (104th) and the striking beauty that is Iowa (131st).

Or it just might be the fact that tiny Toledo, first in the MAC West Division and No. 1 your hearts, is the team currently skewing the analytical numbers in Ohio State’s favor.

No team on the Ohio State schedule has more wins than Toledo (5), and no team on the Ohio State schedule has an offense (37 ppg.) remotely close to the efficiency produced by the Rockets.

Toledo, baby.

When the Playoff poll is released next week after Ohio State disposes of Penn State — which has scored 34 combined points in its past 2 games against Big Ten defenses with a pulse — the narrative will be how Knowles has turned around the Ohio State defense, and how the offense continues to overwhelm the deep and tough Big Ten.

And that’s why Ohio State will be No. 1 (or No. 2) in the first CFP poll.

“The challenges are only going to get bigger and bigger for us,” Buckeyes coach Ryan Day said after last weekend’s scrimmage with Iowa.

Challenges? The remainder of the schedule until You Know Who arrives in Columbus on Nov. 26: at Penn State, at Northwestern, Indiana, at Maryland.


2. The eye test

It’s back and in full force with these Buckeyes. You know it, you love it — the one and only “eye test.”

How do you know Ohio State is the No. 1 team in the nation? Because, this year’s CFP selection committee chairman Boo Corrigan will say at least once (and likely more over the course of November) “the eye test.”

We watched them hang 40 on Penn State in Happy Valley during the White Out. I mean, the White Out!”

“We were all thoroughly impressed by how they completely shut down Northwestern on the road.”

“They were impressive in the way they blocked out the noise and got a big win against Indiana.”

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In case that’s not enough, look for these telltale “eye test” signs throughout November:

— “Did what they had to do.”

— “Took care of business.”

— “Conference wins are always difficult.”

Then get back to me when That School Up North shows up.

3. The easy road, The Epilogue

Ohio State is more than likely 1 of the top 4 teams in the nation on talent alone. That assumption isn’t too far off.

But what about TCU? What about a team that has beaten 4 consecutive ranked teams, and if it wins at West Virginia this weekend, will have an exponentially better resume than Ohio State — yet won’t be close the Buckeyes in the first CFP poll.

I get it, TCU controls its fate and if it wins out, it’s in the Playoff. But what if it doesn’t? What if TCU loses once and Ohio State loses once?

Who do you think is going to get a Playoff spot: Ohio State (with or without a Big Ten championship) or TCU (with a Big 12 Championship)?

If you say anything other than Ohio State, you’re being intellectually dishonest.

Should it be held against Ohio State that a schedule rotation and a down cycle for typically tough opponents has created a cakewalk? No — but it should be part of analyzing the big picture.

At the end of the day, Ohio State has bigger issues to attack than Playoff poll votes.

Like continuing its weekly preparation for Michigan.

4. Rock bottom in Iowa City

At the very least, the worst is over. Iowa has dealt with both Michigan and Ohio State (how about that for a schedule “rotation”), and now it’s time to find 3 wins.

That’s it, just 3 wins from Northwestern, at Purdue, Wisconsin, at Minnesota, Nebraska. But that would also be the worst possible thing to happen to the Iowa program.

Because 3 wins means a bowl game, and another win there against an average team gives Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz the ability to channel his inner Col. Nathan R. Jessup and proclaim you need me on that wall — and it comes with my son, Brian, as offensive coordinator.

If the Hawkeyes don’t have a winning record for the first time since 2012 and only the 2nd time in 2 decades, the pressure to replace Brian Ferentz as OC — or at least hire a qualified quarterbacks coach to help him — will increase.

Maybe the best way to explain this is by using the tried and true example of Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights have used 3 quarterbacks this season who have completed less than 50 percent of their passes and have a TD/INT ratio of 7/8.

Rutgers struggles on a weekly basis to string together first downs, much less score points — and Rutgers is averaging more than 100 yards per game than Iowa.

5. The Weekly 5

Five picks against the spread, brought to you by our friends at FanDuel:

  • Ohio State (-14.5) at Penn State
  • Illinois at Nebraska (+7.5)
  • Northwestern (+10.5) at Iowa
  • Michigan State at Michigan (-21.5)
  • Rutgers at Minnesota (-13)

Last week: 3-2

Season:  19-21.

6. Your tape is your resume

An NFL scout analyzes a draft-eligible Big Ten player. This week: Nebraska WR Trey Palmer.

“He never really had the opportunity to be the No. 1 receiver at LSU. Always behind someone. The move (to Nebraska) was big for his development, and for his ability to show he can handle being a No. 1. He can run, but he doesn’t have that suddenness, doesn’t quickly get to top end. He has good size and sticks those intermediate (routes) where he’s walling off a defender. He has those big, strong hands that he uses on 50-50 balls. He has clearly improved his (draft) stock this season.”

7. Powered Up

This week’s Power Poll, and one big thing: most underrated player.

1. Ohio State: TB Miyan Williams. Same guy, same strong production as 2021. Just more opportunity in 2022.

2. Michigan: WR Cornelius Johnson. Legit deep threat will get more work as the season progresses — and Michigan needs the pass game.

3. Penn State: TE Brenton Strange. Has developed into a solid receiving option out of necessity.

4. Illinois: WR Pat Bryant. Long and dynamic, would have much bigger numbers with more emphasis on pass game.

5. Wisconsin: CB Jay Shaw. UCLA transfer is tough and active, and has developed into Badgers’ most consistent corner.

6. Purdue: TB Devin Mockobee. Former 2-star recruit quickly becoming one of the Big Ten’s best freshmen.

7. Maryland: TE Corey Dyches. After a solid 2021, he has developed into more of an intermediate and deep threat in 2022.

8. Minnesota: S Jordan Howden. The 5th-year senior is a physical presence run support, and solid in coverage.

9. Iowa: TE Sam LaPorta. Despite disastrous offense, LaPorta — a legit Day 2 pick in the NFL Draft — has been the one consistent factor.

10. Michigan State: WR Keon Coleman. Jayden Reed gets the attention, but Coleman has had the better season.

11. Nebraska: DE Garrett Nelson. A rare in-state signee, Nelson has been the ideal Husker: works hard, physical, productive.

12. Rutgers: WR Sean Ryan. Struggling quarterbacks can’t get him the ball, but he’s dangerous when targeted (18.6 ypc.)

13. Indiana: WR Cam Camper. Junior college transfer has been biggest (and most productive) surprise of the season.

14. Northwestern: RB Evan Hull. Looking for a bright spot in a miserable season? It’s Hull and his hard, punishing running.

8. Ask and you shall receive

Matt: Why no love for Illinois? Get on the bandwagon, there won’t be room in November. — Cindy Dempsey, Milwaukee.


Let’s see where this thing turns in November. Frankly, the Illini have played no one — but that doesn’t mean what Bret Bielema has accomplished in 2 short years should be ignored.

The Illini are terrific defensively, and they get just enough on offense from the best player no one outside of the Big Ten knows (RB Chase Brown) to keep churning out wins.

Here’s the problem: Illinois is still likely 3 games away from gaining national respect. They should win at Nebraska, and they should beat Michigan State in Champaign.

Neither of those wins will do much to move the needle, simply because both teams are in down cycles. Illinois is expected to win.

Then Purdue arrives on Nov. 12, and a win over the Boilers not only opens eyes — it more than likely looks up the West Division and a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game. How about that for Illini love?

9. Numbers

140.29. Penn State gave up 418 yards rushing to Michigan 2 weeks ago, and more than 100 yards to Minnesota TB Mo Ibrahim — despite the Gophers’ inability to throw consistently.

Here comes Ohio State, and TBs TreVeyon Henderson and Williams. They’re healthy, the offensive line is healthy and Pen State’s rush defense is in for another long game.

The Lions’ 140.29 rushing yards per game allowed average is going to take another big hit.

10. Quote to note

Michigan State coach Mel Tucker: “Whether you want to call it circle the wagons or bunker mentality or take them to the mattresses, us against the world or whatever you want to call it, it is what it is. Nothing’s changed.”