Beep, beep, beep.
That sound is me backing up for another look at the Buckeyes, re-examining if they are underperforming as much as many of us think. Is what we see — a team that by Ohio State standards is merely above average, but not exceptional, despite a 9-1 record — really what we are getting?
Or is OSU more like finding that kindergarten painting in a dusty bin: “Hmm, not so bad after all.”
Maybe doing this now is premature analysis, but I don’t think so. The Buckeyes could wow on Saturday at Maryland. And we will know more after next week’s game against Michigan. If OSU upends the Wolverines, the previous 11 games won’t matter much (but getting shellacked by Purdue still counts). If the Buckeyes can knock off UM, which is fourth in the College Football Playoff rankings, they immediately photobomb the playoff picture.
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But Maryland and Michigan might tilt the other way. The Terps could stun Ohio State. Coach Urban Meyer is spinning Maryland as exceptionally talented, with a new starting quarterback in Tyrrell Pigrome, replacing injured Kasim Hill, who is the kind of mobile QB the Buckeyes tend to struggle against.
My prediction is Ohio State comes out on top in College Park. The Buckeyes gained confidence after last week’s win at Michigan State, and just a hunch here, but the WatchStadium story that former assistant coach Zach Smith used a racial slur during an altercation with former receiver Trevon Grimes and Meyer may have covered things up has galvanized the players, a handful of whom tweeted support for Meyer and the program. It’s the old us-against-the-world motivator, or at least us against Brett McMurphy.
Michigan is no Maryland. The Wolverines own the top-ranked defense in the nation, but we’ll address that next week. For now, stick with what we know.
I wrote about this the other day, but strength-of-schedule context is needed when looking at OSU’s 9-1 record. The Big Ten is having an up-and-down season, with Michigan way up, the Buckeyes mostly up, Northwestern surprisingly up and most of the rest of the conference all over the place. Except for Rutgers, which is always down.
Outside the Big Ten, Ohio State is 3-0, with wins against Oregon State, Tulane and TCU, which was ranked at the time before injuries and off-the-field issues scuttled the Horned Frogs’ season. Those wins occurred under fill-in coach Ryan Day while Meyer served his three-game suspension, which muddies the analysis.
Still, Ohio State’s strength of schedule ranks 55th in the Sagarin ratings, good for 12th in the Big Ten. If not sisters of the poor — cue the Gordon Gee goofy quote — the Buckeyes’ opponents are “Brother, can you spare a dime?”
The Buckeyes can’t control opponents’ other outcomes but can clean up against inferior teams on their schedule. Have they? I’ve schemed a method to measure strength of win, where Ohio State gets one point for wins over ranked teams (3), one point for defeating an opponent by more than 14 points (6), one point for scoring more than 49 points (2) and one point for holding a team to less than 14 points (3), but also loses one point for winning by less than 14 points (minus-3) and loses one point for allowing more than 28 points (minus-2).
Any point total of 20 or more qualifies as an exceptional team. Anything 15 to 20 is excellent. Alabama, undefeated and No. 1 in the playoff rankings, has 24 points. Michigan has 17.
Ohio State has nine. Northwestern, which has clinched a spot in the Big Ten championship game, has two. My system does not account for losses, only strength of wins; otherwise, the Buckeyes (a 29-point loss to unranked Purdue) and Wildcats (four losses, including to unranked Duke and Akron) would fare worse.
It’s probably inaccurate to conclude that Ohio State is closer to resembling Northwestern than to Michigan, but the Buckeyes are not close to being elite.
Meyer makes no claim to the contrary, at least not yet, but he does think his team is improving, and acknowledged that fan and media expectations distort reality.
“You go on the road and win by 20 points to a ranked (Michigan State team) … and ‘What happened? What’s the problem?’” Meyer said. “What about this? What about that? I could stand up and say, ‘What are you guys talking about?’ But I get it. I don’t think we played great either at times. It was a great team win, but we’re not where I would like us to be.”
My second-look takeaway: Ohio State is not great and not as good as Michigan, but much better than Maryland. Stay tuned, I think The Game is up for grabs.