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.
Today’s Question: Which Big Ten team presents the biggest challenge to Ohio State making the College Football Playoffs?
Context: Earlier this week, in Gene and Josh’s “You’re Nuts” article, they debated who Ohio State’s “toughest remaining opponent” is. That, of course, is not the same thing as the question that we are discussing today, as we dive into the Buckeyes’ biggest challenge to making the CFP. Now, you might think that this is a distinction without a difference, but there are more factors that go into the playoff discussion: Style-matchups, how much time does Ohio State have to continue to develop before the game, opponents before/after the game, etc.
So, as you can clearly see that these are two completely different, only tangentially related, topics and no, Matt didn’t overlook Monday’s “You’re Nuts” when suggesting a topic idea to Jami. Whatever, leave me alone. You should read both anyway.
Jami’s Take: Penn State
Perhaps Matt and I should have waited until next week to speculate on this answer given that the teams we’ve chosen are matching up this weekend. Then again, where’s the fun in that? With that said, check back with us next week to see whether we’ve had to retract our whole line of thinking because we got excited.
With four Big Ten teams currently ranked in the top ten and a lot of season left to play, Ohio State’s nearly-annual trip to the college football playoffs is facing more conference threats than usual.
While Iowa is currently the highest-ranked Big Ten team, sitting pretty at No. 3, Penn State is nipping at the Nittany Lions’ heels at No. 4, and I believe it’s ultimately Penn State who will pose the biggest threat to the Buckeyes’ playoff appearance.
None of this is to say Iowa isn’t a remarkable team this year. But the first problem for Iowa lies in the scheduling. Penn State has the bigger chance to derail the Buckeyes’ CFP dreams precisely because they don’t have to wait for the Big Ten Championship to do it.
If Penn State beats OSU or ultimately finishes with a better record in the East Division than the Buckeyes, the Nittany Lions could be rematching Iowa in a Big Ten Championship game, which would toss Matt’s otherwise well-crafted argument right out the window.
Still, scheduling technicalities feel like low-hanging fruit, so let’s put those aside for a moment and actually dive into why Penn State could derail OSU’s playoff hopes on the field.
This Penn State squad is a high-caliber football program this year, and when the Buckeyes take the field to play them, it will need to be the dominant Buckeye team that played Rutgers that shows up, rather than the one who played Oregon a few weeks earlier, especially on defense.
I’m confident in the offense with quarterback C.J. Stroud at the helm. He looked so calm and collected against Rutgers, and he’ll be a force to be reckoned with if he keeps that up consistently. In many regards, he already was a force to be reckoned with, even with some mistakes in the first few games as he settled in.
But Penn State’s defense has been playing exceptionally well, so Stroud will need to be on fire. If the Nittany Lions are able to contain the Buckeyes, it could be a battle of the defenses.
This worries me.
OSU’s defense has been inconsistent at best. They looked much better against Rutgers, giving up one big play early, but there will be no room for error against Penn State. Penn State’s quarterback Sean Clifford seems to have come into his own this season and looked particularly good against Auburn. He will absolutely capitalize on any opportunities the defense gives him.
OSU already has a loss, so this team cannot afford a second one if they have any hope of making the playoffs. The loss was non-conference though, so winning this game is a big step for either team in their quest to take the Big Ten East. It’s entirely possible that this game could be one of the deciding factors in who will go to the Big Ten Championship (though don’t write off Michigan or Michigan State, either).
While I think ultimately the Buckeyes will beat Penn State, as they seem to have found their stride, it is the Nittany Lions who I believe have the best chance to come into Columbus and dash their playoff dreams. If the Buckeyes drop the game to Penn State on Oct. 30, they can plan to watch the playoffs from their couches.
Matt’s Take: Iowa
Jami’s right, we will have a lot more information to answer this question in almost exactly 72 hours from when this article goes live (if not before), but for now, in my mind, the two teams that we selected are basically the same team. Sturdy defenses, suspect offenses. So you’ve gotta get into the nitty gritty differentiate between them.
There are definitely some reasons that I could have gone with the Nits — less time for OSU to get accustomed to its newly reconfigured defense, less time for C.J. Stroud to continue to develop as a starting quarterback, the inherent rivalry between the Big Ten East foes, etc.
But, like I said, there is very little daylight between these two teams for me, so, what I did was turn to the numbers to see which team did the things that could potentially hurt the Buckeyes more.
When Ohio State is on defense, through five weeks, they’ve been nearly equally statistically bad against the pass and the run — although I would caveat that those numbers are skewed for many reasons, not the least of which is how quickly the Buckeyes score on offense.
However, Iowa and Penn State are almost identical in terms of rushing offense (PSU- 132.6 ypg, Iowa- 126.0 ypg), so factoring a little bit of discrepancy in for opponents, and we’ll call that a draw. In terms of the passing game, Penn State is considerably better in terms of a yards per game average (286.8 vs. 199.0), so I’ll give Jami that point. However, on the flip side, Iowa is averaging more than a field goal more on the scoreboard that the Nits are this season (33.2 vs. 30.0). So, I think that when Ohio State is on defense, this is a push.
But the thing is, neither of these offenses will really scare anyone, including Ohio State’s still gelling defense. Where things get interesting is when the Buckeyes have the ball, and they bring their top-rated offense to the field. Ohio State not only leads the nation in terms of total offense (555.6 ypg) and yards per play (8.57), but they are fourth in scoring offense (45.0 ppg) and eighth in passing offense (336.2 ypg). Additionally, the latest SP+ rankings have the Buckeyes as the best offense as well.
So, my question is which of these two impressively stout defenses would give OSU’s prolific offense the most trouble? And, friends, I had to go with the Hawkeyes, and I’m gonna tell you why.
The Buckeyes are tied for second nationally when it comes to offensive plays of 20 yards or more with 38. Just in the Big Ten, OSU leads the league with 35 rushes of 10+ yards, and they are second with 63 passing plays of 10+ yards and are first on passes of 20+ (28). Despite Stroud not yet having found the same deep-ball success that Justin Fields did during his time in Columbus, the cornucopia of offensive weapons have allowed the Buckeyes to strike from literally anywhere on the field.
Therefore, if a team is going to shut down the OSU offense, they’re going to need to prevent chunk plays, and the Hawkeyes are second in the conference allowing only 43 plays of 10+ yards, while the Nits are sixth with 54. When we start breaking that down, Iowa has only allowed 11 rushes of 10+ yards and none of them — literally zero — have gone for 20+. Penn State on the other hand has given up 18 10+ yard runs. In the air, Kirk Ferentz’s defense is third in the B1G allowing only 32 10+ yard passing plays. Admittedly, PSU isn’t that far behind with 36.
Furthermore, Iowa is allowing 24.4 fewer yards per game on the ground than the Nits, and given the evolution of TreVeyon Henderson and how much I expect him to be a part of the offense moving forward, that could be a big factor.
Throwing out some other stats, the Hawkeyes average a full sack more per game than PSU and double their turnover margin (2.4 per game for Iowa vs. 1.2 for PSU; thank Maryland for that stat).
So, while it is a bit like splitting hairs, I’m going with the defense that I think does more of what it will take to stop Ohio State’s offense, and that is Iowa. Not to mention that should the Buckeyes and Hawkeyes play, it will be in Indianapolis, while the Penn State game will be in the friendly confines of The Horseshoe. Though the dome that Peyton built is kind of like OSU’s second home, there’s nothing like being with 102,780 of the best damn fans in the land to tilt things in the Buckeyes’ favor.
Who has the right answer to today’s question?
This poll is closed
Jami: Penn State