Everybody knows that one of the best parts of being a sports fan is debating and dissecting the most (and least) important questions in the sporting world with your friends. So, we’re bringing that to the pages of LGHL with our favorite head-to-head column: You’re Nuts.
In You’re Nuts, two LGHL staff members will take differing sides of one question and argue their opinions passionately. Then, in the end, it’s up to you to determine who’s right and who’s nuts.
This week’s topic: Who is Ohio State’s toughest remaining opponent?
Josh’s Take: Purdue!? (Not really)
If you believe that the Buckeyes are “fixed”, then you may not see a difficult game on the rest of the regular season schedule. If you think that they beat a smoke-and-mirrors fraud of a team in Rutgers, then you would likely argue that all of Ohio State’s remaining games are potential losses. As things currently stand, I find myself caught somewhere in the middle.
Penn State is cooking, and they are without a doubt Ohio State’s toughest opponent during the month of October. Mike Yurcich seems to have finally figured out Sean Clifford, and the defense has rebounded nicely from a substandard 2020 season. They are one of two Big Ten teams currently in the top-5, and since Ohio State is not guaranteed to play Iowa, I was tempted to go with the Nittany Lions here.
I was only tempted briefly, because November presents a month-long gauntlet for the Buckeyes. It kicks off (literally and figuratively) with a trip to Nebraska, against a resurgent Cornhuskers team. After blowing out Northwestern, it is clear to anybody with a set of eyes that Nebraska is finally back. I expect them to be ranked by Nov. 6th, and big-game hunting for a program-saving victory over the Buckeyes… unfortunately for the Huskers, it won’t happen this year.
The schedule does not let up after that. Michigan State and TTUN are currently a combined 10-0, and Ohio State will get them in back-to-back weeks to close out the regular season. Kudos to Mel Tucker for the turnaround in East Lansing. The Spartans are led by RB Kenneth Walker III and 46 transfers from all over the country, and fully-deserving of a top-10 ranking. Sparty has been a thorn in OSU’s side from time to time, but they will fall short in 2021.
So it all comes down to TTUN, right? Jim Harbaugh, noted quarterback guru, has struck gold x2! Cade McNamara vs. J.J. McCarthy is similar to Alex Smith vs. Patrick Mahomes in many ways, so it’s just a matter of when Harbaugh feels like McCarthy is ready to revolutionize college football. On top of having too many talented QB’s to choose from, the Wolverines have held a who’s who of offensive juggernauts to less than 13 points per game. The Rivalry always means more, especially to the boys up north, so this has to be the obvious choice… doesn’t it?
Wrong! I did not forget about Ohio State’s November matchup with Purdue, because I was saving them for last. The Boilermakers have already defeated one OSU this season, taking down the Oregon State Beavers on opening weekend. They followed that up with a shutout (shutout!) of Connecticut, and a near-upset of perennial CFP contender Notre Dame. Their record has slipped to 3-2 since, due to a couple of really entertaining slugfests with Illinois and Minnesota. Despite the record, Jeff Brohm’s team will be looking for a repeat of 2018.
All-Big Ten wide receiver David Bell will give Buckeye fans nightmares, reminiscent of the ones that followed Purdue’s 2018 upset. He is a legitimate NFL prospect and could have a huge day against this Ohio State defense, unless what we’ve seen the last couple weeks is for real. OSU has not faced a WR of his caliber yet, and won’t, until Jahan Dotson of PSU comes to Columbus. Bell might be the best WR in the Big Ten, which is saying a lot.
While the Purdue offense typically relies on its air attack, they have added a reliable running game in 2021. After averaging less than 90 rushing yards per game in 2019 and 2020, the Boilermakers are currently averaging a robust 90.2...... Okay, joke’s up.
I can’t do this anymore. David Bell is a hell of a WR, and George Karlaftis is wrecking ball on defense. Nothing against Purdue, but I wanted to see how many Twitter comments this piece will get from readers who stopped somewhere around the 400 word mark. October and November won’t be a cakewalk, but THE most difficult remaining game for the Buckeyes is THE game.
I think TTUN is a viable threat this year. Whoever is back there at quarterback has looked capable, and that’s an improvement over what we’ve seen in recent seasons. They also have a stable of running backs, and Ohio State hasn’t exactly shut down the running game. The Wolverines have struggled to score with the Buckeyes recently, but it seems like they have figured some things out on that side of the ball.
On defense, the Wolverines are always going to (and have had) talent, but Urban Meyer and Ryan Day found ways to expose weaknesses for the last handful of years. Day might to the same again this year, but he will have to do so against a real-life, living, breathing defensive coordinator. Don Brown appeared past his prime during the end of his tenure as Harbaugh’s DC, so the head coach poached from his brother (the best coach in the family) and brought in Mike Macdonald. The teenage whiz kid is a first-time play caller, but his team is currently sixth in the country in points allowed per game.
Ohio State likely won’t have one difficult matchup the rest of the year — they will have a few. The Big Ten is arguably the best conference in the county, and if the Buckeyes want to make it back to the CFP, they will have to earn every bit of it. I think this year’s version of The Rivalry will be one of the games of the year in college football, but the Bucks can’t sleepwalk to get there.
Gene’s Take: Iowa
Now, right off the bat I have a lot of explaining to do here.
No, you aren’t going crazy — Ohio State does not play Iowa in the regular season this year. If the two Big Ten foes were to meet in 2021, it would have to be in the Big Ten title game. So, why am I picking a team the Buckeyes may not actually end up facing instead of going the easy route and choosing a Penn State or even Michigan State?
Well, for starters, let me just say that I do think the Nittany Lions are going to be a hefty test for Ohio State this season. While the game is in Columbus, Penn State has looked stellar this year en route to a 5-0 record and a No. 4 ranking in the AP Poll. However, that six-point win over Wisconsin in the season opener is not looking so great as the Badgers continue to free fall, and their other big wins over an okay Auburn team and an Indiana that can’t recreate the magic from their 2020 campaign aren’t all too impressive to me. Jahan Dotson is really good and their defense has played well, but I'm still not quite sure how to accurately gauge the Nits coming off their 4-5 season last year with much of the same roster.
Michigan State is another team that has looked great on paper, but is tough to figure out based on their opponents. They have a “ranked” win over a Miami team on the road that we now know is hot garbage, and their two Big Ten victories over Nebraska and Northwestern don't exactly jump off the page. Kenneth Walker III has been tremendous for the Spartans, already racking up 680 yards and eight touchdowns through the team’s 5-0 start, but I'd like to see more from the passing attack against a competent defense. I think Mel Tucker is doing a fantastic job in East Lansing, but I’m not quite ready to put the Buckeyes on upset alert in this matchup just yet.
Then, of course, there’s Michigan. The Wolverines are doing what they do seemingly every season: come out of the gates hot, grab the attention of the national media much in the way that Texas is “back” each year, just to ultimately falter once they get into October and November and play some better teams. Steps one and two are already complete, and step three is now pending. Like the Spartans, Michigan’s ground attack has been their bread and butter, headed by Blake Corum’s 6.2 yards per carry and seven TDs, but I still believe J.J. McCarthy is a better option at QB than Cade McNamara. On top of that, the Wolverines have beaten Ohio State twice in the last two decades, so while this may be a better version of the Maize and Blue, I will believe it when I see it.
I’m going to assume that a lot of the issues that plagued the Buckeyes earlier in the year have been worked on and remedied — if not entirely at least enough to carry them through the regular season. A healthy CJ Stroud surrounding by dynamic playmakers in TreVeyon Henderson, Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson should have no problems putting up points against nearly anyone this year, so if the Matt Barnes-led defense can at least play somewhat competently, I think it could be enough to win the Big Ten. I don't think it is a guarantee by any means that this Ohio State team will 100% go undefeated the remainder of the way, but if things keep trending on the right direction I like their odds.
That is what brings me to a matchup with Iowa in the Big Ten title game. Now, part of me picking them as Ohio State’s toughest opponent the rest of the way is a bit of an apology to fans of the Hawkeyes. In our Hangout in the Holy Land Big Ten preview pod, I was really low on Iowa and did not think they deserved much of the preseason hype they were getting. I am here to say that I was wholly wrong, and I am now a believer in Kirk Ferentz’s crew.
This Iowa defense is impressive. They currently rank seventh in FBS in total defense, allowing just 271.4 total yards per game. They sit at 24th in the nation in passing yards allowed at 184.4 per game, and their 87 rushing yards allowed per game puts them at 11th in the country. What has been really impressive about this Hawkeye defense has been their ability to turn people over, sitting atop college football with a +12 turnover margin with a whopping 12 interceptions and four fumble recoveries — an average of 2.4 takeaways per game!
My concern with this team heading into the season was their offense, and despite an impressive start overall for Iowa, it still hasn’t really had one. They rank 118th out of 130 teams in total offense, averaging 320 yards per game. Spencer Petras is more of a game-manager at quarterback, passing for 943 yards and seven TDs thus far, but to his credit he has done a great job of doing just that and has only thrown one intercepton through five games. Tyler Goodson is a great running back, but hasn’t quite hit his stride yet this season averaging 4.3 yards per carry. Ferentz doesn’t need his offense to do a whole lot with how well the defense has played, but those numbers don't exactly scare you.
We are going to learn a lot about the Big Ten this upcoming weekend when Penn State and Iowa face off at Kinnick Stadium, so maybe my opinions of these teams will change moving forward. But as of right now, I think the Buckeyes and the Hawkeyes would be a really good matchup in the conference title game. It would be a true strength on strength with Ohio State’s offense against Iowa’s defense, and if the OSU defense is still just meh at the end of the year, Iowa could probably do enough to nickel and dime them down the field and put up some points. There are a bunch of hurdles in the way for both of these teams to meet in Indianapolis, but I’ll be looking forward to it if/when it goes down.