Four consecutive games with 50-or-more points. A school record four straight games with 500-yards-or-more. A quarterback who passed for over 250 yards, 3 touchdowns, and rushed for another 100 and two scores -- and that was just through the first 40 minutes of the game.
From just about the opening drive -- in which OSU forced a Rutgers three-and-out -- on through the final whistle, the Buckeyes' welcoming of Rutgers to the Big Ten wasn't particularly merciful. The Bucks continued to look like a burgeoning, potential playoff side, where as Rutgers undid much of the good will they'd earned in an upset of Michigan in the Big House two weeks prior. Ohio State accrued well over 500 total yards, while it took garbage time for Rutgers to crack 300.
Though Rutgers played a disciplined, penalty free game, the Buckeyes won the turnover battle -- and each Scarlet Knight turnover seemed magnified by the degree with which Ohio State was playing on both sides of the ball. Kyle Flood's side might not be the afterthought the most cynical of Buckeye backers may have pegged them as when their addition to the Big Ten was first announced, but they looked the negative stereotype for much of Saturday.
3 things we learned
1. J.T. Barrett is a "legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate". Those words belonged to the game's play-by-play announcer, Sean McDonough (and Heisman voter) -- and he uttered them midway through the third quarter. To that point, Barrett was 13-of-20 for 183 yards and 2 TDs through the air plus another 107 yards and 2 rushing TDs on the ground to go along with it. Barrett hurt the Knights repeatedly from every which way possible, and though many OSU faithful likely wanted their peers to hit the brakes when discussing whether or not Barrett was as good as his No. 3 ranking in pass efficiency nationally would lead one to believe, it's getting harder and harder to curb the enthusiasm. Barrett would finish Saturday 19-for-31 for 261 yards and 3 TDs passing to the previously mentioned rushing totals on the ground.
2. The Buckeyes as a team are getting better and better each week. Ohio State has some similarities to last year's Auburn team, who started the season with more questions than answers, but finished the season (admittedly with multiple once-in-a-generational good breaks) as a far more complete team en route to an SEC title and a national title game berth.
Can the Buckeyes put themselves in a similar breath? That remains to be seen. OSU won't be able to sleepwalk when they head to Happy Valley for a prime time game next week and then play host to Illinois a week later, but the Nov. 8 showdown in East Lansing against Michigan State is no longer just a potential Big Ten East divisional title bout, but likely also a conference-wide one.
Many of the factors OSU fans were swearing under their breath after the increasingly confusing week-after-week loss to Virginia Tech seem to be a distant memory. The offensive line seems night and day better, and though the secondary will likely never be a Top 20 one nationally, blips aside, they're demonstrating marked growth under co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash's tutelage as well.
3. The Big Ten is back in the College Football Playoff race as a whole. But don't take our word for it:
By the way, Ohio State might be one of the best four teams in the country.— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) October 18, 2014
ESPN's Brian Bennett shared a similar sentiment:
There will be no undefeated champions from the Pac-12 or the Big 12. Big Ten very much back in business.— Brian Bennett (@BennettESPN) October 18, 2014
Though the Buckeyes legitimately are looking like a stronger and stronger team as each week goes by, and Michigan State shook off some early stumbles to conclusively beat Indiana, the conference as a whole's improved outlook is more the result of what went on elsewhere around the country.
The bad news is that the league's viable candidate pool is cutting half almost instantly when OSU and MSU go toe-to-toe. From there, the onus is on the winner of that game to handle their business. If they do, they'll have as good of a chance as anyone to make their way into, to paraphrase Bill Parcells, "the tournament".