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 is most likely to upset Ohio State?
Context: Neither Jami, nor Matt believe that Ohio State will lose a conference game this season, but the following article is simply a thought exercise exploring the alternate timeline in which a B1G loss is inevitable in the Buckeye’s 2021 season.
I like to live in a blissful land where conference losses need not concern Ohio State football fans, but with another season upon us, we have to at least pretend that there are teams in the Big Ten that could upset the Buckeyes.
What is about to follow is not a sentence I ever thought I would type: The conference team most likely to beat OSU is the Indiana Hoosiers.
Certainly there are many variables that could emerge in early games that could change my mind, but as it stands right now, I think Indiana has the ability to give Ohio State hell when the Buckeyes roll into Bloomington on Oct. 23.
Tom Allen’s Hoosiers exposed all the cracks in the Buckeyes’ armor last season, and though OSU dominated early, it ultimately took a last-minute defensive stand for them to hold on for their 42-35 win.
And that was on a sloppy day for the Hoosiers. With two fumbles, a pick-six, and a dropped pass on a crucial fourth-down attempt, the Hoosiers team that nearly unraveled OSU’s season wasn’t even playing its best football.
Of course each season begins anew, with new players and different team chemistry. But Indiana’s returning players came so close to overtaking the Buckeyes last year that they could almost taste victory, and they will surely have something to prove.
It’s also a bit of a rebuilding year for the Buckeyes (though if we’re being honest, their “rebuilding” team is still better than nearly every team in college football, so that shouldn’t concern Buckeye fans too much).
The Indiana matchup comes late enough in the season that the Buckeyes could be firing on all cylinders (though given that their first two games are against Minnesota and Oregon, they realistically need to be firing on all cylinders from Day 1). But especially considering they’ll be coming off a bye week, they should be rested for the Hoosiers.
But they also play Penn State the following week, and Ryan Day will need to make sure his team stays focused on the Hoosiers instead of looking ahead. While focus hasn’t been an issue for Day’s Buckeyes, finishing games — as evidenced by their second-half collapse against the Hoosiers in 2020 — has been.
Assuming Indiana quarterback Michael Penix, Jr. is fully recovered from a knee injury, he certainly poses a threat, and wide receiver Ty Fryfogle, Sr., who had 218 yards against the Buckeyes last year, will be ready to show what the Hoosiers can do.
The IU defense will need to do a better job stopping the run and they’ll certainly have to avoid the miscues of the 2020 game, but if this is a team that lives up to their preseason hype, they are certainly capable of playing with the big boys.
None of this is to say Ohio State will certainly lose to the Hoosiers. The Buckeyes are an objectively better team, and if they play to anywhere close to their full potential, they should have no problem walking away with the win. But if we’re looking at which conference team has the best shot at upsetting the Buckeyes, for me, it’s Indiana.
The Buckeyes will need to play to their potential. If they do that, it should be an easy victory for OSU. But if they let themselves get sloppy or fail to finish the game, we could be looking at an upset in Bloomington.
Look, I love Indiana. I was all aboard the Nine-Windiana train before last year’s schedule got all messed up. I love Michael Penix Jr. I think that he rightly deserves to be considered the top conference quarterback coming into this season (although I think C.J. Stroud will end the season with that honor), but the issue with picking the Hoosiers to upset the Buckeyes is that it is completely dependent on Penix balling out, yet Penix is not exactly dependable when it comes to being on the field.
In his three seasons in Bloomington, he has played a total of 15 games. Now obviously, those numbers are slightly skewed by last season’s pandemic-shortened season, but even then, the IU QB only played in six of his team’s eight games. So while I love the story and will root for John Mellencamp’s favorite team against everyone but the Buckeyes, it’s tough for me to take the leap when the lynchpin to Indiana’s entire upset gameplan is so often out injured.
So, I am going to take my prediction in another direction; rather than essentially due west to the lovely college town of Bloomington, I’m going northwest to the lovely college town of Madison, Wisc.
Now, I’m not a huge fan of Badger QB Graham Mertz, but it’s difficult to argue that head coach Paul Chryst has been increasing the talent level in Madison far beyond what has been seen there previously. And what’s even more important than the improved recruiting is that Chryst is finding the right talent to match what the Badgers want to do on both sides of the ball. Wisconsin has long been a gritty, overachieving team. But with Chryst ratcheting up the recruiting efforts, this team is starting to put some very interesting pieces in place.
Coming into the season, I would guess that Wisky has a top-three defense in the conference, competing with only the Buckeyes and Iowa; unsurprisingly, they have what should be the best linebacking corps in the conference, their defensive backs are also in the discussion, and (as always) their defensive line is solid.
To beat the Buckeyes this year, you are going to have to find a way to keep them from scoring at will. I don’t think that the Badgers have the ability to do that, but they’re gonna have as good of a shot as anyone in the B1G. If they can somehow generate a pass rush against what I believe will be one of the best offensive lines in the country (if not the best offensive line in the country), and if their DBs can bother OSU’s historic receiving corps, they just might have a chance.
And while I think the hype train got a little too far out of the station on Mertz early last season, he’s at worst the fourth best starting QB in the league behind Penix, Stroud, and... maybe Minnesota’s Tanner Morgan if I’m being generous to the Buckeyes’ season-opening opponent.
So, couple a competent quarterback with an always stout offensive line, and they will have the ability to score — albeit in a very one-dimensional fashion.
Like I said before, I don’t actually think that the Badgers would beat the Buckeyes if they had the chance; after all, the only way that they would play this season is in the B1G Championship Game, and you know Ryan Day would have the team ready for that.
Such a matchup would be the fourth time that the two teams have squared off in the conference title game, with the Buckeyes winning the previous three by a combined score of 110-42 (thank you 2014).
So, if the Buckeyes do lose to a conference foe this season, I’m guessing it will be the Badgers, but in all honesty, I don’t think that they will fall to a B1G team; and when they have in the recent past, it’s usually been something flukey and unpredictable, so it would probably end up being Rutgers or some shit like that.
Who has the right answer to today’s question?
This poll is closed