Let me get this out of the way: Coming into the game, I thought the Buckeyes were going to lose Saturday night. Yes, in the ‘Shoe, in Urban’s first home night game with all of the recruits looking on in front of a packed house. I did. I thought that Ohio State’s banged up line-backing corps did not match up well with a very mobile quarterback in Taylor Martinez in tandem with a very shifty and quick running back in Rex Burkhead. For the most part, I was wrong. Martinez was held to 40 yards rushing and aside from Burkhead’s 73-yard run, he too was held in check.
But 63 points!?!? Though I cannot remember the source, there was a comment on Twitter that made me laugh out loud: “After seeing the score, Jim Tressel woke up wondering how in the world Ohio State kicked 21 field goals.”
As hysterical as the comment was, it really made me think about the new era that this program has entered. Good, bad or indifferent, there is no arguing what Tressel did for this university over the past decade but his coaching style is the antithesis of Urban Meyer’s. A fundamentally sound team that was capable of hanging 63 on Nebraska would have never happened under Tressel’s watch. Though under that same watch, the holes in the defense would never happen either. Buckeye Nation is now staring at a very talented and exciting, young team in the face. We all have the joy of watching this team grow up before our eyes, but remember what comes with youth – stupidity. I am not talking about the tweet from Cardale Jones, but taking chances as a football team. So the growing pains will be there and for some of the impatient, it can be quite a roller-coaster complete with pictures at the end.
With great risk, comes great reward and as Andy Staples put it so eloquently in his article following the Buckeyes win in East Lansing “You are completely screwed.” He of course is talking about the Big Ten as a whole and Urban’s innate ability to previously recruit such talented individuals in a conference much superior to the Big Ten.
Looking forward, Meyer may help change the landscape of how the entire B1G conference recruits players. But what does the immediate future hold? This conference is currently led by two undefeated teams (in conference) that are under probation with no chance of participating in the first ever Big Ten Championship game. Can you imagine what it will look like to the rest of the nation if the top schools in their respective conferences cannot take part in a game that they work all year for? You can say that you do not care, but I won’t believe it. The reality is that Ohio State and Penn State are in the same Leaders division and after their meeting in University Park on October 27th, only one will have the chance of being the outright winner in that division. Of course, a lot of things can happen between now and then to disrupt that anyway.
What this says about the current state of the Big Ten is downright embarrassing because of the levels of depth this issue has.
First off, where are the teams that should be stepping up to take advantage of the situations at Ohio State and Penn State? Sure the reality in the Leaders division is not for an Indiana or a Purdue to step forward and assert themselves as any real threat, let alone a perennial force, but what about Wisconsin? This Wisconsin team lost several players but is largely the same group that rolled through the Big Ten last year losing only a couple of heart-breakers to Michigan State and Ohio State in back to back weeks. This year, Wisconsin goes into Oregon State only to lay an egg in a 10-7 game followed by sneaking out a 16-14 win against UTEP, which was then followed by a loss to Nebraska.
So far, that is looking like our representation in the Leaders division. Excited?
Looking at the Legends division does not offer much reassurance with the Iowa Hawkeyes and our hated Wolverines currently leading the pack. The Hawkeyes have already racked up a couple of non-conference losses against Iowa State and Central Michigan with their signature win being against Minnesota last week. I’ll pause while you revel in that for a moment. Done? Great. Michigan at least has had two losses to respectable opponents in Alabama and Notre Dame. While both games were as painful as receiving an inbound call from Pat Shurmer, I have to give them props for the scheduling even if one is (was) a rival.
While the Michigan State Spartans can normally pose some sort of threat on a game to game basis, they are rarely a favorite to win the Big Ten as a whole. With losses to Notre Dame and Ohio State, as well as close games games against Eastern Michigan and Indiana, the team is hardly ready to be a true representative of the conference.
The fact is, we are exactly at the mid-way point in our conference scheduling and a lot can happen going forward. What will not happen is for Ohio State or Penn State to attend the B1G Championship game and that hurts the conference in a time it desperately needs a powerhouse representation. Looking to Penn State as any type of savior in the upcoming several years is not an option for painfully obvious reasons. This conference has won a single BCS National Championship when the Buckeye’s did it against Miami in 2002. That equals the amount of titles as the ACC and Big East currently have in the BCS era. It is also 7 less than the SEC currently has.
As painful as it is to say, the Big Ten needs Brady Hoke and Michigan to be a perennial contender in order for the conference to be relevant again. Wisconsin and Nebraska will certainly have their share of conference titles in the upcoming years, but no teams mean more to their respective conference than The Ohio State Buckeyes and the Michigan Wolverines. Michigan has made a statement with their recruiting and their scheduling; that they will be a force in the very near future and for some time to come. Urban has started this as well, leaning on Gene Smith to schedule night games for higher visibility to West-coast recruits and the results will be no different.
Although, Meyer’s most recent statement was putting up 63 on the Cornhuskers Saturday night with this quote preceding the game after someone asked him about the spate of high-scoring games:
Meyer smiled. “I like a 70 every once in a while,” he said.
*Images courtesy of bleacherreport.com and cornnation.com