Looking at Ohio State’s schedule following its 21-point collapse to Nebraska a week ago, it was conceivable to project that the Buckeyes would be lucky to wind up with a winning record at the end of the 2011 season. But following OSU’s 17-7 win over Illinois Saturday, it may be time to readjust our expectations for this Buckeye bunch.
The Buckeyes have had their name dragged through the mud for the past 10 months — both for their play on the field and misdeeds off of it — but they deserve credit where credit is due. To salvage anything out of this season, OSU knew that an upset win over either Illinois, Wisconsin or Michigan was required and beating the Fighting Illini Saturday served as a reminder to the rest of the Big Ten that yes, this is the same program that has won a share of the past six conference titles.
(Yes, I realize that the Buckeyes didn’t participate in the 2010 season according to the NCAA, but I saw it with my own eyes. It happened.)
OSU’s win Saturday also served as a reminder to both fans and media alike that it’s important not to overreact to OSU’s play over the past few weeks. The Buckeyes had lost two consecutive games for the first time since 2004 heading into last weekend, but it’s also worth noting that both OSU’s losses to Michigan State and Nebraska were winnable games that the Buckeyes let get away. That doesn’t mean that the Buckeyes aren’t deserving of their current 4-3 record, but I’d be remiss not to point out that this team is just a few plays away from being 6-1.
It was far from pretty, as for the second time this season OSU broke its own school record for fewest pass completions in a game, but the Buckeyes also may have finally found an identity on offense. Thanks in part to perhaps its most talented collection of running backs since Antonio Pittman and Beanie Wells carried the ground game in 2006 and to its least talented collection of receivers in recent memory, the only way this OSU team is going to win consistently is with pure Tresselball. It may not be exciting, but I’m sure that fans would rather have a 10-point win where OSU attempts just four passes than a 10-point loss where OSU attempts 30 passes any day.
This isn’t to say that everything is A-OK in Buckeye Nation once again. Coach Luke Fickell still seems indecisive as to whether he wants to continue punishing formerly suspended players Mike Adams and Daniel “Boom” Herron, and the Buckeyes’ toughest test of the season still lies ahead in an Oct. 29 showdown with No. 4 Wisconsin, but heading into a bye week, OSU’s upset over a nationally-ranked opponent couldn’t have come at a better time for the team.
It only takes six wins for a team to qualify for a bowl game and the Buckeyes already have four of them and will likely be favored over upcoming opponents in Indiana, Purdue and Penn State. Seven wins would likely result in a New Year’s Day bowl game for the always-marketable Buckeyes and while it’s been more than a decade since accomplishing that much wasn’t considered a given for OSU, the fact that it even seems attainable should be enough to keep Buckeye fans comfortable through a much needed bye week.