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Irrational Overreactions(?): It’s time to reassess Ohio State’s position in the CFP hunt

Not only was that game ugly, but it was also pretty telling.

Ohio State v Northwestern Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images
Matt Tamanini Matt Tamanini is the co-managing editor of Land-Grant Holy Land having joined the site in 2016.

Ohio State fans live in the extremes, whether good or bad. As they say, we have no chill. So, I am going to give voice to those passionate opinions by running through my completely level-headed, not-at-all over-the-top, 100% unbiased takeaways from Saturday’s 21-7 win over the Northwestern Wildcats.

It’s time to reassess Ohio State’s position in the CFP hunt

The Buckeyes of today looked very much like the Buckeyes of last year; struggling to stop the run and struggling even more to run it themselves. The relative easiness of the first six games of the season — and all of the offseason talk about toughness — lulled us into a false sense of security; a false sense of confidence; a false sense of superiority, not over other teams (although that too), but over the 2021 version of the Ohio State football team.

Has there been improvement in the toughness department? Sure, I suppose, especially on defense, but it has been no where near the level that I think many fans and media members thought it was as recently as 11 this morning.

I think that if we are being honest with ourselves, the more objective amongst us knew this was the case. But it’s so easy to get swept away by the impressive early-season stats when you’re wearing scarlet and gray-colored glasses. But, weather or not (pun intended), today’s victory over Northwestern should force everyone who covers and cares about this team to reasses just how good it actually is and what the expectations should realisticaly be for the rest of the season.

An undefeated Big Ten champion will obviously make the College Football Playoff, but if that does prove to be Ohio State, they would almost certainly enter as — at best — the third most likely team to take home the title. As I’m writing this, Georgia is up 24-6 over Tennessee early in the third quarte, but you have to really question if OSU has the dudes to keep up with either of these teams. We’ll see if Alabama and Clemson are able to beat LSU and Notre Dame respectively tonight, but it just feels like there is a considerable gap between the more well-rounded top tier of college football and where Ohio State actually is at this point in the season.

The Buckeyes might still be a top-four team nationally, but man does it feel like there is an ever-growing chasm between where they are and where we thought they were. And, oh boy, I am not yet emotionally ready to even contemplate the question of who should legitimately be the favorite in the regular season finale. That’s a really troubling question that I’m just not up for broaching today.

Where is the toughness we heard so much about?

I am in no way, shape, or form going to discount how difficult it is to play in the conditions that Ohio State endured at Ryan Field this afternoon. When you are a pass-first offense, no matter how strong-armed your quarterback is (and C.J. Stroud very much is), those types of winds are going to be nearly debilitating.

Of course, that doesn’t excuse all of the passing issues that the Buckeyes had today; the wide receivers dropped at least a half dozen catchable balls and Stroud looked hesitant and gun-shy throughout. But the passing game woes are not what has me most concerned.

Throughtout the entire offseason and all of fall camp, all we heard from the Buckeyes was how they needed to be tough this season, how they were going to redeem themselves along the lines of scrimmage, and how they were taking what happened against Oregon, to a lesser degree Utah, and especially in The Game personally and how they were not going to let is happen again.

Um... not only has it happened again, but it’s happened again three weeks in a row. As I said before, I do think that the defense has made significant and substantive improvements, but have those improvements come in the toughness department? Recent results would indicate otherwise.

As much as I tried to convince myself of the contrary, I don’t know if this is something that can be changed in a single offseason, let alone in the two weeks before OSU’s rivals come to Columbus. I suppose that we just have to hope that the non-toughness-related defensive improvements and the passing game will be enough to get them back in the win column against TTUN — but if you are a prayer-person, maybe start saying some “Hail Marys” and lighting some candels for good weather on Nov. 26.

Quick Thoughts

  • This game will obviously hurt (if not torpedo) Stroud’s Heisman chances, but his 79 yards rushing on six carries should prove that he is willing and able to do whatever is needed to put his team in the best position to win. There are far too many people online who routinely question his (physical and mental) toughness at even the slightest sign of imperfection, but when the passing game was never going to work today, he found other ways to step up and deliver and I think that says a lot about him as a player and a leader.
  • Quarterback runs will apparently never not be kryptonite for the Ohio State defense. In a game in which the threat of passing was negligible, the Buckeyes still struggled to keep Brendan Sullivan contained. Now, I don’t actually think that J.J. McCarthy is a Michael Vick-level runner (he’s only averaging 5.6 yards per carry non-sack adjusted), but he does have the ability to pull it down and given the fact that OSU has historically had no means to stop it, this will almost certainly be a problem in the regular season finale.