With three games down and nine to go, the Ohio State football team enters Big Ten play with a perfect record and a positive outlook for the rest of the season.
The No. 2 Buckeyes bowled over then-No. 14 Oklahoma to round out nonconference play, 45-24. Although the Sooners were the first true test for the Buckeyes in 2016, conference play determines the validity of any top-ranked team and its chances of reaching the College Football Playoff.
After enjoying a day off on Saturday, OSU has shifted focus to the Rutgers Scarlet Knights and their head coach Chris Ash, former co-defensive coordinator for the Buckeyes under OSU coach Urban Meyer from 2014 to 2015.
With a daunting Big Ten schedule ahead, the OSU is doing its best to focus on Rutgers without putting too much thought into the rest of the schedule before the game kicks off.
“It’s so early right now and you better worry about the next game, the next practice, the next game, and not worry about anything else,” Meyer said. “That’s my concern is with all the added publicity, press conferences and everybody being told how good they are, that’s, I really worry about that.”
Combined, the rest of the Big Ten excluding OSU has a record of 31-13 overall, with five undefeated teams. Of those five, the Buckeyes will be facing four of them.
Even with the time off during the bye week and the implications of the rest of the season, the team is focused on the next matchup.
“You come off this big road win and you get a week off. Not necessarily a week off, you get a Saturday off,” said OSU redshirt junior defensive end Tyquan Lewis. “You really get to sit back and watch. I know I watched a little film of myself and the other guys. You get to basically coach yourself and see what you need to do to get better.”
Rutgers will present a familiar scheme to the Buckeyes, due to Ash’s involvement while he coached at OSU. When Greg Schiano arrived to coach the defense, there was much speculation as to how different the defensive approach would be.
Redshirt junior linebacker Chris Worley said the defensive schemes by Ash and Schiano are extremely similar. The only difference is the emphasis on attacking the ball and creating turnovers.
In terms of the team mindset from the players, the beginning of the Big Ten schedule marks the time to buckle down for the rest of the season.
“The Big Ten, that’s the real deal,” Worley said. “(There are) good teams in the Big Ten right now. One of the strongest conferences if not the strongest conference right now.”
Last season, the Buckeyes were 7-1 in Big Ten play, dropping the second-to-last conference game to Michigan State 17-14. The Scarlet and Gray dropped from the top four, and ultimately missed out on the College Football Playoff, which they had won in the previous year.
With a younger, more inexperienced team, the Buckeyes will need the same kind of success in the next nine games that the team enjoyed through the first three to prevent the same fate as last season. Starting out well has given OSU a positive attitude, but the practice and hard work is far from over for the Buckeyes.
“It’s a great league for our players. It just builds confidence especially with a young football team. It builds some confidence but you don’t want it to be false confidence. And that’s where you come back and evaluate what you’ve done,” OSU running backs coach Tony Alford said about the skill of the Big Ten. “Yes, we have done some good things, but we can’t rest on that either. We’ve got a lot of improvement to go.”