Ohio State football is a perennial powerhouse, not just contending for conference titles, but vying alongside blue chip programs such as Alabama, Clemson and Oklahoma for national supremacy.
This year, both the defensive and offensive ends of the ball clicked almost immediately for Ohio State — something that hasn’t happened in recent years. Even special teams have seemed to improve, blocking punts in back-to-back weeks and a field goal the week prior.
But does demolishing small schools warrant arguments for rings and championship trophies this early on?
Since 2014, Ohio State has made sure to include a tough early-season nonconference opponent in order to stand out to the College Football Playoff selection committee. These difficult early opponents served as teachers that taught Ohio State valuable lessons for their season.
In 2014 it was Virginia Tech, whose win over the Buckeyes showed the flaws in Ohio State’s offensive line and quarterback play, as then-redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett finished 9-for-29 passing after being sacked seven times. Ohio State went on to win the national championship, with the offensive line plowing the way for three consecutive 200-yard games against No. 11 Wisconsin, No. 1 Alabama and No. 3 Oregon.
Ohio State learned further lessons during its home-and-away series against Oklahoma in 2016 and 2017, which gave the team early metrics by which it could test its mettle.
This past season it was then-No. 15 TCU, but this year, there’s no teacher in Ohio State’s nonconference schedule, which is comprised of three non-Power Five opponents: Florida Atlantic, Cincinnati and Miami (Ohio), that acted more as scrimmages than real contests.
Throw in a weak conference adversary in Indiana, and Ohio State has racked up 214 points while giving up just 36.
Sure, TCU may have opted out of playing in Columbus in 2019, which would’ve given the Buckeye schedule more gravitas this season, but nonetheless, Ohio State enters Big Ten play having had no test to prove its merit.
Yes, sophomore quarterback Justin Fields’ 880 passing yards and 19 total touchdowns are sensational thus far, but they also feel somewhat expected considering the level of opponent.
Fields hasn’t faced players like Penn State sophomore defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos or Michigan State senior defensive end Kenny Willekes. Granted, the offensive line ought to be able to protect the pocket against these defenders, but Fields hasn’t felt the defensive pressure the Big Ten is known for.
Defensively, the Buckeyes have shown no mercy. Junior defensive end Chase Young — who might be better than the Bosa brothers — and junior cornerback Jeffrey Okudah proved that the Silver Bullets weren’t messing around this year.
Young has already charted an NCAA-leading seven sacks while Okudah’s interception against Miami freshman quarterback Brett Gabbert was the last straw for the already frustrated Redhawks.
But Miami — like Florida Atlantic, Cincinnati and Indiana — is nowhere near the offensive powers that make up the best of the Big Ten. If Ohio State goes all the way into College Football Playoff as some believe it will, what will the game plan be against reigning champion Clemson or Alabama head coach Nick Saban’s horde of offensive playmakers?
All three Ohio State units have worked in unison to produce these high-scoring blowouts, but they have faced no real competition to date. That changes with the three game slate of Nebraska, No. 25 Michigan State and No. 8 Wisconsin on the horizon.