A lot can change as the season goes on. Conference play is just getting underway, and this is the Big Ten, after all. But at the end of Week 4, Ohio State is playing the best football in the country.
An important distinction needs to be made before the SEC fans jump down my throat (although if you’re an SEC fan here, I do have to ask… are you lost?). I am in no way claiming Ohio State is the best team in the country (they are). I am not claiming they will win the National Championship (they very well could). I am merely saying that at this point in the season, they are playing the most consistently excellent football of any program in the NCAA.
While the Buckeyes have shown consistent improvement since their slow start against Notre Dame in Week 1, other teams in the Top 5 have slowly revealed their weaknesses.
Georgia, the No. 1 team in the country and the team I would argue had been playing the best football in the country up until their Saturday battle against Kent State, allowed 22 points – more than in each of their first three games COMBINED – against an unranked school who was expected to be a blip on the radar. What once seemed like a formidable defense showed it is not completely impenetrable.
No. 2 Alabama looked great this past weekend in their routing of Vanderbilt. But they barely - just barely - eked out a win against Texas two weeks ago. Yes, the same Texas that was upended in an upset by Texas Tech this past weekend. While Nick Saban is no stranger to helping his team bounce back from one game filled with adversity, the Crimson Tide has worthy opponents the next two weeks in Arkansas and Texas A&M. Both teams had close calls of their own this past weekend and will be eager to exploit the holes Alabama revealed last week in an effort to prove themselves.
No. 4 Michigan, our favorite team to hate, had a close call against Maryland this past weekend. This Wolverine team brings to mind the Michigan team of 2017, who failed to meet the high expectations set forth for them. UM will never be a team the Buckeyes can write off entirely, but J.J. McCarthy is his own worst enemy, and they are certainly not playing the best football in the country.
No. 5 Clemson. Do NOT get me started on Clemson. They are not playing Top 5 football, let alone the best football in the country. Certainly they showed resilience in their double OT win this weekend, and that kind of adversity can be good, but they never should have been in double OT with Wake Forest to begin with.
Meanwhile, the Buckeyes’ stats increase. C.J. Stroud’s Heisman campaign is well-underway. The team finds new ways to gel. As other teams are finding their weak spots, the Buckeyes are growing stronger.
They remind me a lot of the 2014 National Championship team. That was a team that ran deep, trusted each other to get things done, and ultimately, by the time playoffs rolled around, were certainly playing better football than even the Alabama team that seemed so formidable at the time. If we can continue on this trajectory, I’m feeling Good about this season. With a capital G.
Now I’m no idiot (OK, sometimes I’m an idiot. But usually not about football). I am well aware that this season is still young. Momentum can shift, injuries can change things, and this team certainly isn’t perfect. While Jim Knowles has whipped the defense into shape in his first year as defensive coordinator, there are still some kinks to be worked out, particularly in the secondary. So this column is not to say that they should get lazy.
I don’t think they will, though. Because the thing about this team is that they are having a tremendous amount of fun, and when you’re playing with that kind of heart, history shows that you tend to get better week after week. I’m excited to see where that heart will take them this season.