The No. 1 Ohio State Buckeyes have had a bye week to rest up after their dominant, 38-7 win over Wisconsin. With the win, the Buckeyes improved to a perfect 8-0 record -- one of just seven undefeated teams remaining in the FBS. And they’ve gotten the nation’s attention this week, having achieved the top spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff rankings of the season. Now, Ryan Day’s squad looks to stay focused as it prepares to face the Maryland Terrapins in Columbus.
The Terps’ 3-6 record is not particularly surprising, though Maryland posted an impressive, 63-20 win in the team’s week two matchup against then-No. 21 Syracuse. What was particularly exciting for the Terps in the first two games of the season was the high-caliber offense they displayed. In the season opener against Howard, Maryland blanked the Bison 79-0. In fact, after week two, Maryland cracked the AP Top-25, coming in at the No. 21 spot. Unfortunately for the Terps, that momentum stalled in consecutive losses to Temple and Penn State. After defeating Rutgers 48-7, Maryland has posted four-straight losses to Purdue, Indiana, Minnesota and Michigan.
In 2018, Maryland, then under interim head coach Matt Canada, team went 5-7 overall, including 3-6 in conference. The major downside for the Terps was that, like this season, after opening with a win over a ranked Texas team, Maryland closed out the season with a four-game losing streak that kept the team out of contention for a bowl game.
Through eight games, the Buckeyes have shown few points of weakness. As Ohio State works through its remaining conference schedule, all signs point to an Ohio State victory against Maryland Saturday. With Rutgers coming next week ahead of a two-game trial against Penn State and Michigan, the Buckeyes have to stay alert and take care of business.
First, some history…
The history of Ohio State and Maryland has been a brief one, which began in 2014 when the Terps joined the Big Ten. That history has also been consistent, as the Buckeyes have won each of their five matchups against the Terps.
But then there was last year. In 2018, Urban Meyer’s then-No. 9 Ohio State squad squeaked out a 52-51 overtime victory against Matt Canada’s Terps in College Park. The Buckeyes rallied back after being down seven with less than two minutes left in regulation, and quarterback Dwayne Haskins ran in for a five-yard touchdown in overtime to give Ohio State the lead. Maryland responded quickly. After scoring a potentially game tying touchdown in overtime, Canada opted to go for two. The Buckeyes halted the Terps to end the game and prevent a huge upset.
We’re No. 1!
What Ohio State fans have seen all season finally became clear to the rest of the nation with the inaugural College Football Playoff rankings revealed this week. Just seven undefeated teams remain in the FBS, including three in the Big Ten. With such clear strength up and down the conference, and with Ohio State as the reigning leader in the Big Ten, the Buckeyes have become the first non-ACC or SEC team to earn the top spot in the CFP poll (there were no postseason rankings after the 2014 season). It also gives the Big Ten more credibility heading into the now No. 2 vs. No. 3 matchup of LSU vs. Alabama. The playoff committee also seemed to recognize strength of schedule, dropping Clemson to No. 5, which would obviously drop the Tigers out of the playoffs if the bracket were drawn today.
Benefits of the bye
The Buckeyes are coming off their second bye week of the season. Just a few weeks ago, Ohio State had a bye prior to the Buckeyes’ rare, Friday night matchup against Northwestern. On that occasion, Ohio State came out swinging, putting together a 52-3 victory that was never in doubt. Beyond this season, Ohio State has not tended to have trouble with bye weeks, though the data set on losses for the Buckeyes tends to be somewhat thin...because they haven’t lost that much. On the flip side, Maryland is heading into its bye week following its matchup with Ohio State, but has only played three games since its last bye.
When Vegas odds opened up this week, the Buckeyes looked to be the biggest favorite of the week at 44.5 points. That point spread happens to be the largest Maryland has faced since joining the Big Ten. For the Buckeyes, it’s the largest spread of the season, jumping ahead of the 38.5-points they were favored by against Miami (OH) in week four.
It’s certainly a tall order to be expected to beat a conference opponent by more than six touchdowns, but the Buckeyes have proven strong against tough spreads thus far this season. In fact, the only game Ohio State did not beat the spread was in the season opener against Florida Atlantic, a matchup in which the Buckeyes were favored by 27.5 but won by just 24.
About that time Maryland joined the Big Ten…
Along with Rutgers, Maryland joined the Big Ten conference back in 2014. Through five full seasons of football, the Terps have won 13 conference games. Of course, it doesn’t help that Maryland is in the Big Ten East -- meaning the Terps must contend with Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan and Michigan State year in and year out.
A new Day
As if an 8-0 start to his head coaching career wasn’t enough, Ryan Day is making a name for himself both for his on-field success, his penchant for recruiting (Ohio State currently has the No. 14 recruiting class in the nation) and his coaching style which, unfortunately for college football as a whole, is somewhat unique. Rather than focusing on fear of failure or anxiety to motivate players, Day has pushed a much more positive and encouraging mindset -- working to build confidence -- which has proven to be a differentiating and successful factor even in Day’s inaugural season at the helm.
Locksley and loaded
Maybe not so much. Maryland head coach Mike Locksley came to College Park after spending three seasons at Alabama, most recently as offensive coordinator. Prior to his time in Tuscaloosa, however, Locksley had several stints with the Terps, including as interim head coach in 2015. An outstanding recruiter, Locksley was part of the coaching staff that earned the commitment of local product Dwayne Haskins before the quarterback decommitted after the firing of then-Maryland head coach Randy Edsell. Obviously Haskins went to Ohio State and the rest is history. But look out for Locksley to be able to bring on outstanding talent for the Terps in years to come.
Chase-ing the Heisman
ICYMI no purely defensive player has ever won the Heisman. Michigan’s Charles Woodson came the closest, but despite being an outstanding defensive back, Woodson also turned heads as a return man and, on occasion, receiver. Now, defensive end Chase Young is getting nods as one of the frontrunners for the Heisman Trophy. Young leads the nation with 13.5 total sacks, including 12 solo.
Or...Fields-ing the Heisman?
While Young has finally started to get the national attention he deserves when it comes to the nation’s top college football award, quarterback Justin Fields has continued to play at an extraordinary level with the eyes of the college football award upon him all season. Fields is fourth in the nation in passing efficiency, and has thrown for 24 touchdowns and given up one single pick all season.
Putting it all on the line
Running back J.K. Dobbins has rightfully earned a lot of attention for what’s looking to be a career season. But credit has to go to the offensive line. Despite being an area of concern heading into 2019 -- given the loss of most of last year’s line -- the young unit has gelled tremendously. Anchored at tackle by veterans Thayer Munford and Brandon Browning, the line’s biggest test has been to remain healthy as the Buckeyes careen toward Penn State and Michigan to conclude the regular season.
Dobbins himself is now fourth in the nation in rushing yards with 1110 on the season. The junior running back needs just 293 yards in the remaining four regular season games (plus a bowl matchup) to beat his career high at Ohio State, which he set in 2017 with 1,403 rushing yards.
Another No. 1 ranking
Ohio State has the top scoring defense in the nation, giving up just 7.9 points per game. Most recently, the Buckeyes gave up just three points on the road against Northwestern and seven to Wisconsin at home. While Northwestern’s offensive woes might not be all that surprising, Wisconsin had been averaging just under 40 points per game when they came to Columbus, making Ohio State’s trouncing all the more impressive.
The next great DB
In addition to Young, one of the players leading the way on the Ohio State defense is Jeffrey Okudah. The junior cornerback is anchoring the Ohio State secondary, and looks very much to be the next in line in a series of defensive backs which have earned the Ohio State program the reputation of “DBU.” Okudah has had three picks and a forced fumble already this season, and his performance has earned him a spot on the Jim Thorpe Award watch list.
The return of McFarland
One of the biggest headaches for Ohio State fans in last year’s matchup against Maryland came from running back Anthony McFarland Jr. In that game, McFarland rushed for 298 yards and two touchdowns. Despite the now-sophomore suffering a high-ankle sprain earlier this season, McFarland has rushed for 438 yards and seven touchdowns this season. He looks to be the biggest threat for the Terps offense -- and the key piece for Young and company to contain.
Scoring offense vs. scoring defense
If there was a matchup that could so clearly illustrate just how many points Ohio State can score Saturday, this might be it. The Terps are 13th in the Big Ten in both scoring defense and total defense. Meanwhile, Ohio State is tops in the conference in scoring offense (third nationally) and total offense. Even more impressive for Ohio State, when faced with much tougher scoring defenses like Wisconsin, the Buckeyes have still managed to drop 38 points.
On the surface, there doesn’t seem to be much doubt as to the outcome of this matchup. Ohio State is among the best teams in the nation in total offense and defense. Heisman candidates grace both sides of the ball. Only Florida Atlantic managed to score more than 20 points this season. And the Buckeyes have scored more than 30 points in every matchup. Through eight games, Ohio State hardly seems to have been tested, including most recently during a total dismantling of Wisconsin.
Maryland, meanwhile, has won just a single game in conference play this season -- and that single win came over Rutgers. The Terps are on a four-game losing streak, having fallen last week to Michigan in College Park.
Ohio State is favored by 43.5 points in Saturday’s matchup. While it’s the largest spread the Terps have faced since joining the Big Ten (and they’ve generally been on the wrong side of spreads in that time), the number seems about right. The game is at home for the Buckeyes and Saturday looks cold and clear in Columbus.
The Buckeyes simply have too many weapons on offense for the Terps to defend against, while Maryland has yet to play a good team close. Of course, last year’s matchup was a little too close for comfort. The Buckeyes have two more games before facing Penn State and Michigan to close the season. They can’t be caught sleeping.
Overall, the Buckeyes enter the weekend as the top team in the nation. It would seem nothing can stand in their way.