One day after each Ohio State football game, beat reporters Joey Kaufman and Bill Rabinowitz discuss the lasting storylines and other key developments. Their latest back-and-forth follows the Buckeyes’ latest rout, a 73-14 win over Maryland on Saturday
Kaufman: There hadn’t been a whiff of controversy in the first two months of this Ohio State season. That changed Friday morning when the school announced it would sideline star pass rusher Chase Young against the Terrapins while investigating a possible NCAA violation related to a loan he received last year. His absence hung over the team in the 24 hours before kickoff, but it had zero effect on the outcome at Ohio Stadium. The Buckeyes demolished another opponent, and I think they could at least finish undefeated in the regular season, even if Young remains out.
Rabinowitz: There was never a feeling that losing Young would allow Maryland to upset the Buckeyes. I think Young could be out Saturday at Rutgers and you could play quarterback and Ohio State would still win. Can Ohio State beat Penn State and Michigan without Young? Sure. But the Buckeyes don't want to test that proposition. Right now, it's too early to accurately speculate whether they'll have to. Ohio State is hoping for an answer by the end of the week.
Kaufman: If there is any silver lining to Young’s absence, assuming he isn’t out for any extended length of time and it doesn’t become a significant distraction in the locker room, it’s that some of Ohio State’s underclassmen saw extended playing time against Maryland. Freshman Zach Harrison and sophomore Tyreke Smith were the starting defensive ends and each was disruptive. Both are considered the Buckeyes’ next great pass rushers and will likely start next season after the departures of Young, who was already expected to leave early for the NFL, and Jonathon Cooper, who is a senior.
Rabinowitz: The Buckeyes had a season-high seven sacks against Maryland's piecemeal offensive line. DaVon Hamilton has emerged as another difference-maker on the line as an interior rusher with two sacks, as did Smith. Harrison had one. The Buckeyes' starting defense was suffocating. Well into the second quarter, Maryland had 1 yard of total offense. Ohio State wanted to show Maryland it wasn't the same defense the Terrapins ripped through last year when they scored 51 points. Even with a 59-point win, though, there seems little doubt that Ohio State will slip from the top spot in the College Football Playoff ranking because of LSU's win over Alabama.
Kaufman: But I have some doubt, actually. While it’s likely LSU will leapfrog Ohio State for the top spot in the playoff rankings, the selection committee doesn’t have a history of dropping No. 1 teams after wins. It’s something to keep in mind in the lead-up to the Tuesday night release. The only previous instances in which the top team has fallen in the playoff rankings were after it had lost a game. The Buckeyes didn’t lose Saturday; they trounced another opponent. Maybe they’ll be surpassed by the Tigers, who can claim the best win by anyone this season, but I don’t view it as a certainty.
Rabinowitz: Other than bragging rights, there's no significant difference between No. 1 and No. 2. All that matters, of course, is being in the top four in the final CFP rankings. For the Buckeyes, LSU's win is helpful because it puts Alabama's playoff hopes on life support. The Crimson Tide's resume is quite thin because of a lack of quality wins. Assuming LSU wins out, it'll be hard for Ohio State to be No. 1. Penn State's loss to Minnesota will prevent a victory over the Nittany Lions from providing that kind of boost. But No. 2 — and a presumed trip to Arizona with Clemson a likely opponent — would make for a terrific CFP semifinal.
Kaufman: This season lacks enough drama, so I suppose we can manufacture some and keep debating the No. 1 seed for the playoff. Even if Ohio State flip-flops with LSU this week, it’ll still be in the running for the top. Sure, Penn State will drop and won’t be undefeated when it visits Columbus on Nov. 23, but the loss also raises the profile of Minnesota. The Buckeyes will likely play three ranked teams to close the regular season: the Nittany Lions, Michigan and the Golden Gophers, who are the front-runners to emerge in the Big Ten West and possibly meet them in Indianapolis for the Big Ten championship. On the other hand, LSU wouldn’t be scheduled to play another ranked team until the SEC championship game. Plenty of weeks left for movement.
Rabinowitz: It is college football, so chaos is more norm than exception. That's what makes it great. The bottom line is that Ohio State is clearly one of the top four teams in the country. The Buckeyes have shown few weaknesses and will be favored in every game against Big Ten opponents. Ohio State has been on the playoff bubble every year of the CFP's existence. If the Buckeyes play the way they have so far, they won't have to sweat it out on selection Sunday. But it shouldn't be taken for granted that they will. Almost every team has an off day. The Buckeyes hope they can avoid that, or survive if they do.