First, Ohio State was amazing. They torched Bowling Green, Tulsa, Oklahoma and Rutgers, and looked to be on the fast track to greatness, a Big Ten title, and a playoff bid.
Then, Ohio State looked bad. Their offense sputtered against Indiana and Northwestern in underwhelming wins, and then so badly against Penn State that they actually lost. Forget a playoff bid, a New Year’s Six bowl looked unlikely, as a young Buckeye team would surely take another L or two.
And now...Ohio State looks amazing again. Virtually everything clicked last weekend against Nebraska, a top-ten ranked Nebraska, mind you, as Ohio State’s passing game found a rhythm, their offensive line provided deep protection, and a ball-hawking secondary scored twice. When the dust settled, the Buckeyes won 62-3. They never punted. And now, a nation looks towards the Michigan game with greater anticipation than they have in years.
But, of course, Ohio State isn’t playing Michigan this weekend. We promise. We double checked.
They’re playing Maryland. They’re not as good as Michigan. They aren’t as good as Nebraska. According to S&P+, they aren’t even as good as Indiana. But that doesn’t mean this game isn’t important, or that it can’t tell us anything about the Buckeyes, or the Terps.
Let’s dig into this a little bit.
Ohio State’s biggest advantages
Ohio State has better players. I’m not saying this to be glib or trite here. But recruiting matters, and even though Maryland has recruited a little better than you probably thought without checking the charts, Ohio State has a massive talent advantage at virtually every position. Per the 247 Talent Composite rankings, the Buckeyes have the fourth most talented roster in college football, trailing only Alabama, USC and LSU. Maryland clocks in at 37th, with 11 blue chip players on their roster. Ohio State has 58. That’s a big difference.
You’ll see that difference manifested at nearly every position group on Saturday. That isn’t to say that Maryland’s players aren’t good, or that they don’t have anybody who could play for Ohio State. But, and this is especially true when it comes to depth, Ohio State is bringing out guys that are a little bit bigger, a little bit faster, and a little bit more skilled. Even if the Buckeyes don’t execute quite as well as Maryland tomorrow, that talent advantage gives them a cushion.
The Buckeyes should be able to run the dang ball. Ohio State should be able to run, at least a little bit, on virtually everybody, and the have. They are 3rd in Rushing S&P+, after all. But they should have especially strong results against Maryland, who is near the very bottom of the country in rushing defense, ranking 127th in S&P+. The Buckeyes may not necessarily be able to break out multiple 30 yard runs, but five, six, seven yard gains, from Mike Weber, or Curtis Samuel, or others, should be on the table. Right now, Maryland allows five-yard carries on 41.6% of opponent runs. That’s bananas.
That keeps Ohio State on schedule, and makes their passing game tick. If the Buckeyes aren’t able to feed Weber (even coming off an injury) and company, something went wrong.
This isn’t much of a home field advantage. I’m not saying this to be mean, or to troll Maryland fans. But I live near College Park. I’m going to walk to this football game. And there are a lot of Ohio State fans who live in DC and in the Maryland and Virginia suburbs. In the best of cases, Maryland football doesn’t command a terrifying home field advantage, and these aren’t the best of circumstances. Every road trip has challenges, but nobody will confuse College Park with Madison or Happy Valley.
Maryland’s biggest advantages
They too, can run the dang ball. Ohio State should enjoy some success on the ground, but that doesn’t mean Maryland can’t either. The Terps have two successful, young running backs who are both explosive, and efficient. Ohio State’s defensive line is much athletic than Maryland’s offensive line, but their backs, especially Lorenzo Harrison, are capable of stringing together highlight yards and separation if they can get to the second level. Don’t expect the same kind of dominance that Ohio State showed against Nebraska.
What have they got to lose? Even if they somehow lose out (which is unlikely, since the Terps close the season against Rutgers), this season is already a success for Maryland. They’ve cut down on the turnovers, found some young playmakers, won five games, and established a recruiting foothold for the future. If they can grab an upset, they’re promised a bowl game. The expectations and pressure will all be on Ohio State. If the Terps can get a lucky break early in the game to engage their crowd, who knows what will happen?
Will Likely is still on this team. Statistically, Maryland’s secondary isn’t great. And he hasn’t had the monster year on special teams that he did last year. But Will Likely still plays for Maryland, and if you keep kicking the ball to him, he’s...well...probable to eventually pop a big play. Ohio State didn’t punt against Nebraska. They have a great special teams unit, late game field goals notwithstanding, but better to not test that, if possible.
#well actually he has a torn ACL so just forget everything I said.
F/+ Projection: Ohio State 42, Maryland 15
Win Probability: Ohio State 94%
Ohio State is probably going to win this game. They should. They have a huge advantage at quarterback, a massive one in the secondary, a mismatch with their running game, while headed into a tepid road environment. But weird things happen in football, and teams with lesser topline talent, like Northwestern, played Ohio State very tough.
The Terps are capable of beating Ohio State if the Buckeyes turn the ball over and come out flat. But even if that happens for a half, I’d still expect the Bucks to take care of business, before turning their attention to the state up north.