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Why is this news?: Ohio State is perfectly positioned for another championship run

Plus, women’s tennis wins its first national championship in program history, what is wrong with Ohio State’s kicking game and the odds the Buckeyes will win the Big Ten East.

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"I expect us to play Ohio State football. We have to stay aggressive and hopefully come out with a Big Ten championship. But we have to play better to beat Michigan State. They are the top of the conference, too."

-Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett, via Steve Greenberg, Chicago-Sun Times

Haters will continue to hate on the Ohio State Buckeyes, who, despite remaining one of five undefeated teams in the FBS, have successively dropped out of the No. 1 spot in the AP and Coaches polls. The initial College Football Playoff rankings two weeks ago had Ohio State in the No. 3 spot behind undefeated Clemson and LSU, with one-loss Alabama jumping Ohio State with a win over the (LSU) Tigers last week.

And yet, Ohio State is still in prime position to win another title. With losses by four top-ten teams Saturday, Michigan State is sitting at No. 9 in the AP Poll. Michigan is at the No. 14 spot. And Iowa, who would be the likely representative from the Big Ten West in the conference championship game, is the No. 6 team.

The new College Football Playoff rankings will come out tomorrow, and it is likely that Ohio State will remain in the No 3 spot behind Clemson and Alabama. Michigan State’s loss last week to Nebraska doesn’t do much for Ohio State, who could have used the resume boost of an undefeated top-ten team to impress voters. But, if the Buckeyes remain undefeated through the projected Michigan State-Michigan-Iowa gauntlet, they would have three quality wins to close out the season.

Ohio State has faced what has been, by most standards, an easy schedule to get to the 10-0 mark, even facing trouble against such foes as Northern Illinois and Indiana. The quarterback controversy remains ever so. The offensive line has underperformed, despite big numbers from Ezekiel Elliott. But, unlike all the other teams in the Big Ten (Iowa being the exception), the Buckeyes have won in spite of their issues. Teams like Nebraska, who has been utterly woeful for the duration of the season, showed up to spoil the likes of Minnesota and Michigan State, but Ohio State, even with the giant target on their backs all season, has remained perfect.

"That Ohio State was making a kicking change in the 10th game of the season should’ve been reason enough for concern. The fact that Nuerenberger missed was a reminder how important it could be."

-Bill Landis, Cleveland.com

Ohio State has one of the most outstanding punters in the nation in Cameron Johnston. He is the No. 10-ranked punter in the NCAA, with an average of 44.8 yards per punt on 46 punts in 2015, and had four punts downed inside the 20 yard line Saturday. Returner Jalin Marshall sits at the number five spot in punt returns nationally, with 293 yards this season. Of his 22 returns, six have gone for 20 or more yards. Unfortunately, those special teams strengths have not extended to the kicking game.

Head coach Urban Meyer decided to make a change this week, benching fifth-year senior Jack Willoughby in favor of sophomore Sean Nuerenberger for field goal attempts. Nuerenberger was 13-of-20 on field goal attempts last season as the starter, and 89-of-89 on extra points. Willoughby, a graduate transfer from Duke, was 7-of-11 on field goal attempts this season. Leading up to the Illinois game, he was also 45-or-45 on extra point attempts. Willoughby then went on to miss two field goal attempts against Minnesota last week. Unfortunately, even after the switch, Nuerenberger was also 0-for-2 on field goal Saturday against Illinois, despite making all four extra points for the Buckeyes. One of the missed attempts was a 24-yard chip shot. Overall, Ohio State is now 7-of-12 on field goal attempts on the season.

While missed field goals have not posed an actual game-determining problem to this point for Ohio State, the missed opportunities could cause issues down the road against better teams in the post-season. The remaining schedule for the Buckeyes runs through Michigan State, Michigan, a shot in the Big Ten Championship and, assuming victories in all, the College Football Playoff. While Meyer opted to go for it on fourth-and-11 Saturday with Barrett at the helm, such plays are unlikely to work against stout defenses like Alabama, and field goals must be made. Points left on the field from this point forward will not be an option.

"I think I played some pretty good tennis. The first match was a little rusty but I got into it after that and just kept going from there, being aggressive and playing my game."

-Ohio State freshman Francesca Di Lorenzo, via The Ohio State University

With a win at the National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships Sunday, freshman Francesca Di Lorenzo earned the first national title in the history of Ohio State women’s tennis. Di Lorenzo defeated singles players from Fresno State, North Carolina, Virginia, Miami and Clemson in succession to claim the title. She earned a wild-card spot to make it into the tournament after going 4-1 on the season, with all five matches at the Intercollegiate Tennis Association All-American Championships in October. In that tournament, Di Lorenzo defeated four ranked players in her first collegiate tournament.

Di Lorenzo is one of two freshman on the women’s roster for the Buckeyes, and was a top recruit coming out of high school in New Albany. She was rated as the top newcomer in college tennis by the ITA coming into the season.

The doubles team of junior Miho Kowase and sophomore Anna Sanford also made the tournament, winning in the first round over a doubles pair from Nevada before falling in the round of 16 to Kentucky, the tournament’s No. 3 seed. Kowase and Sanford had earned their way into the tournament with a win at the ITA Midwest Regional, which was the first regional victory in team history.

The championships, hosted by the ITA and U.S. Tennis Association, was held in Flushing, N.Y. this year, and included tournaments of 32 singles players and 20 doubles teams. The last time Ohio State players made the tournament was from 2005-2007, when they had hosted the tournament in Columbus and received host wildcard spots. With the conclusion of the tournament this year, the Buckeyes have closed out their fall schedule, and will open spring play back up in January.

As we enter the last two weeks of the regular season, four teams remain in contention for the Big Ten East title: Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan and Penn State. All four teams will be in contention against each other to conclude the season, with Ohio State facing Michigan State at home before travelling to Michigan in its regular season finale, while Michigan State will battle Penn State on the road to end its season.

Ohio State remains the only undefeated team in the Big Ten East, with a 6-0 conference record. Michigan State and Michigan are both sitting at 6-1, Michigan State having lost to Nebraska and Michigan losing to Michigan State. Penn State, at 4-2, has losses to Ohio State and Northwestern.

So what does this mean for each of the teams involved?

  • Ohio State controls its own destiny. Win, and they’re in.
  • Michigan State, with one loss, also controls its own destiny, but that means beating Ohio State on the road next week.
  • Michigan needs to win out, and also needs a loss from Michigan State.
  • Penn State, in a long shot, needs to win out, and also needs Ohio State to lose both of its games.

According to Massey ratings, Ohio State has a 66.8 percent shot at winning the Big Ten East, though those odds drop to 54.6 percent per the S&P+. Michigan has the next highest odds, with 17.3 percent and 31.9 percent in the Massey and S&P+, respectively. Michigan State hasn’t been given much of a shot to beat Ohio State, resulting in 15.4 percent odds in Massey and 12.0 percent in S&P+. And then there is Penn State, who came in with a whopping 0.5 percent in Massey. However, the S&P+ is much more favorable to the Nittany Lions, tripling their odds to 1.5 percent.

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