On Sunday, the Buckeyes fell all the way to #4 on the AP Poll, despite a resounding victory, a development that sent many Buckeye fans into despair, or looking for a convenient media conspiracy theory. Despite the fact that the AP poll is set up just like the scoring structure of Whose Line is it Anyway? (i.e it doesn't matter), and that it's just after Week Freakin' Two, any sign of potential Buckeye Disrespect is a potential cause for alarm
You don't need to join Tom Herman in MENSA to figure the reason for the dip. We knew that Ohio State's early schedule slate wasn't going to be strong, but things couldn't have gone much worse in the early going. We thought that Buffalo should contend for a bowl bid, and maybe they will, but they've given up 110 points in two games and outside of a certain Mr.Mack, have generally looked terrible. San Diego State, a team that was thought to be an 8 win caliber squad, has looked WORSE than terrible, and got the doors blown off by both OSU's backup QB, and an FCS team. Cal has looked feisty at times, but gave up 553 yards to Portland State and nearly lost. We don't need to waste any digital ink over Ohio State's final non-conference opponent. When asked, a pool of 100 Ohioans couldn't determine if FAMU was a university, or a famous aquatic performer. Few are going to be impressed with anything Ohio State does in these next two weeks, even if they win by 35 both times.
That's the bad news, but hey, that's pretty much dead horse territory. The good news? Help may be on the way. The much maligned Big Ten may not quite be so bad as the prognosticators thought.
Sure, we're only two weeks in, so everything needs a helping serving of salt, but no matter what kind of data you prefer, you can find some promising results. As a conference, the Big Ten is 21-3, including wins over teams from the ACC, The American, Notre Dame and MWC. Sure, that number has been padded by some FCS squads (although I hear teams are losing to those guys nowadays) and lower level MAC fruit, but wins are wins. Even the perceived bottom feeders of the conference are getting in on the fun.
Advanced stats tell promising stories for several Big Ten teams as well. Three league squads make the F+ top 10 rankings, as Ohio State grabs the 10th spot, Wisconsin the 5th, and Michigan State (no, seriously) comes in at #3. Another three, Penn State, Michigan and Nebraska, crack the top 30 (21, 26 and 29 respectively). While Bill Connelly probably doesn't believe the Spartans are the 3rd best team in the country (they're ranked so high because of a statistically *dominant* defense, which makes up for the fact somehow that their offense is ranked #125), having half the league, and four Buckeye opponents ranked so highly can only help the squad's prestige should they continue to be undefeated.
That's to say nothing of Northwestern, who has beaten two BCS conference squads and enjoys a Top 25 ranking in any poll you want, or Indiana, who may score 40 points in every league game or die trying, or even Illinois, yes, that Illinois, who just beat a good Cincinnati team and could be at least *feisty* for the rest of the season.
So what does this mean? It means, as of right now, there isn't a reason to worry. Baring an unforeseen collapse, Ohio State is still going to play against at least three really good football teams this regular season (Wisconsin, Northwestern and Michigan), and if they win all of those, they'll get another really good game in the Big Ten Title game. Depending on how you feel about Penn State, maybe that's five really good games over the year. That's more than some of the other potential title contenders can say, even though a few of them have picked up a major scalp early (hello Clemson). It means that unlike other teams, if Ohio State continues to take care of their business, their fate shouldn't rest in the hands of SIDs. Worrying too much about pole position in mid September is a waste of perfectly good mental energy.
There are more chances for big wins this weekend. Illinois gets Washington in front of a mostly pro-Illinois crowd in Chicago. Penn State gets UCF. Iowa gets Iowa State. Wisconsin travels west to Arizona State. Purdue gets Notre Dame and well..LOL, okay, guess we can't get 'em all. You know what I mean though.
I wrote a few weeks ago that a strong Ohio State season might help single-handedly change the perception of the league. That's still true, but so far, it looks like a few other schools have the potential to make that change without the Buckeye's help. For the fans of the Scarlet and Gray, that couldn't be better news. If we're lucky, help is on the way.