It’s a big week for Ohio State’s two prominent sports teams. The football team plays another installment of the greatest rivalry in all of college football (get real, Iron Bowl). The basketball team jumped into the top ten of the polls as they navigate the (relatively) easy non-conference portion of their schedule. With that in mind, while you’re all out shopping, I’m here hitting on several quick-hitting Buckeye topics of my choice.
The Buckeyes announced that they were wearing all-white uniforms for this year’s game in Ann Arbor. I’m okay with this as a one-time deal, especially given the drastic deviations of uniforms of the Pro Combat variety in recent years’ Michigan games. However, I think the Buckeyes’ look on both home and road is so much more iconic and unique with the gray pants. The Buckeyes chose to honor the 1950 game, known as the “Snow Bowl”, with their uniform choice. I may be in the minority, but in most cases, I don’t like the way white-on-white football uniforms look.
Branching off of that, the USC-UCLA rivalry is one of the better ones in the college game as well. What they’ve done several times, including this season, is have both teams wear their home uniform sets for a “color-on-color” uniform matchup. I would actually like to see this applied to The Game, as I think the OSU scarlet and Michigan blue are the best of each team’s set. When both teams’ colors are vastly different (i.e. red/blue), I don’t see any issue with this.
I’m really glad that the BCS is in its final season. Sure, it’s better overall than the bowls and votes without a title game scenario that we had pre-1998, but the playoff system should improve things drastically. To me, the most important thing is ensuring that a power conference team can’t run the table and get shut out of a title game. A four-team playoff almost certainly accomplishes that, whereas a two-team system has the potential to shut someone out in two straight seasons (yes, the Buckeyes weren’t eligible last season, but the point remains). I could see the field expanding to eight eventually (which would probably capture most of the one-loss teams with a strong case), but I’m OK if it stays at four. It will encourage power conference teams to play tough schedules.
Speaking of tough schedules, Ohio State has not had one. But, the one big game they have on their resume should’ve been ever bigger. If you recall, Wisconsin got screwed by the officials in their loss to Arizona State. Had the Badgers been able to spike the ball and kick the game-winning field goal, Wisconsin would be significantly higher now and would’ve been significantly higher when Ohio State beat them. Having just come off that loss, Wisconsin went from being 18th ranked to being unranked in the Coaches’ poll when the Bucks beat them in Columbus in late September. One computer simulation has Wisconsin currently being 6th and Ohio State being 2nd if that one game’s outcome was flipped. One more thing that is just rotten luck, the combined record of teams that the Buckeyes did not play this regular season in the conference (Minnesota, Nebraska, and Michigan State)? Try 26-7.
There are several contributors on this Ohio State team that are in their final few games, including shutdown corner and NFL draft prospect Bradley Roby, bulldozing back Carlos Hyde, safeties Christian Bryant and C.J. Barnett, and backup quarterback sensation Kenny Guiton. But, there’s a group that has been underrated, undercovered, and underappreciated all season long. It’s the offensive line, which has senior members at every spot except for right tackle. Jack Mewhort, Andrew Norwell, Corey Linsley, and Marcus Hall have been a huge part of what has made Ohio State’s offense go all season long. Just check out the number of starts on the line between those guys: left tackle and captain Mewhort (36, including starts at left and right guard his sophomore season), left guard Norwell (36, including starts at left tackle), center Linsley (23), and right guard Hall (29). All of these guys have moved around the line, and all of them have been part of a healthy and cohesive unit. It’s not easy to block for a scrambler like Braxton Miller, but these guys make it work. While many thought it would be the Brewster, Mike Adams, Shugarts recruiting class that would be the best line to come through Ohio State in decades, it is this group that has performed as good as any offensive line since the 90’s. Reserve linemen sophomore Jacoby Boren, converted defensive lineman fourth-year junior Daryl Baldwin, and freshman Pat Elflein will be some of the next crop to step up and keep the success going with returning right tackle Taylor Decker, who has rebounded a bit from a disappointing start to the season.
So you want a prediction for The Game? Ok, here’s my best shot. Ohio State needs to win this game for obvious reasons, but they really need to look good doing it. Urban Meyer knows that, and this team will be laser-focused on the task at hand. Michigan has some talent, but they’ve really shot themselves in the foot several times this year with silly turnovers, and they can’t run the ball. I think Ohio State will win the turnover battle as Gardner takes chances to try and keep UM in the game. Braxton’s going to need to throw the ball to win this game, but I think he’ll do enough. They’ll focus on not letting Braxton beat them running the ball, so the Bucks may need to get 30+ carries from Carlos Hyde. All of that being said, you never know with a rivalry game, but I’ll take Ohio State in a 38-13 win to setup a top ten battle in the Big Ten title game next week in Indy.
Now, for a bit of basketball. The Buckeyes had a close call this week against Wyoming at home in the Schott. The Cowboys actually led with just under 16 minutes to play as the Bucks allowed 55% shooting in the first half and let Larry Nance Jr. attack the offensive boards with authority (17 points, 10 boards). After allowing 34 points in the first half, Ohio State allowed just 16 points in the second half, and just 8 in the final 15:30 of the game. With Ohio State’s starting five of Craft, Scott, Smith Jr., Ross, and Williams, the scarlet and gray have four plus defenders and two A+ defenders in Craft and Scott.
Which brings me to the one excluded, LaQuinton Ross. He’s struggling quite a bit with just 10-for-44 shooting in 6 games while averaging only 6.2 points. Overall, he just looks disinterested, and his defense is lacking. Without Deshaun Thomas, the Buckeyes have 5 different leading scorers in 5 games (Lenzelle Smith Jr. is the only one whose name appears more than once, two players shared the top number in one game). Ross is not one of those five. Because of that, Smith Jr. 11.6 points per game leads the Buckeyes by a small margin over Shannon Scott (11.4). Someone on this team must emerge to become a 15 or 16 ppg scorer and a consistent offensive option. Without that, the Buckeyes’ defense will have to be elite constantly without hiccups to stay among the Top 10 in the nation.
Shannon Scott’s offense has improved in a big way during this early season. He seems more confident attacking the basket, and he’s shooting 50%, including 7-of-19 from three point range. If Scott forces teams to respect his three point shot, it should open up more driving lanes for him. Ohio State still will undeniably be a team that needs to force up-tempo transition points and force turnovers to supplement a sub-par halfcourt offense. One more worthy of attention is Amir Williams, who seems to have shed that soft style of play for a much more interested, tough style inside. His rebound numbers are way up (8.6 per game), and he’s doing a really fine job of protecting the rim (11 blocks) to supplement the defensive pressure that OSU applies on the perimeter.