COLUMBUS, Ohio — The offense is still too run dependent, the defense is thin and inconsistent and the level of competition thus far ranks somewhere between shaky and awful.
In a strange but important development, the Ohio State Buckeyes are also the nation’s only 10-0 team. It’s hard to be much better than that.
The bowl-banned Buckeyes don’t play again for two weeks, and they certainly could use the rest. They’ll enter their closing stretch unbeaten and still trending upward, a team that’s fixed some things, found some strengths and avoided losing almost as much as it’s crafted victories.
Ohio State is ineligible for the BCS standings and Coaches poll, but when the new Associated Press poll comes out Sunday it’s likely Ohio State will be in the top five.
Polls are for arguing, and such a ranking will certainly be worth arguing. But there’s no arguing with 10-0 and the results new coach Urban Meyer and his players have delivered.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to have some top-five teams in the past,” Meyer said after beating Illinois 52-22 on Saturday. “This team probably has more holes than those other ones. However, there have been some great performances.
“Today’s performance, that was a top five.”
Illinois wasn’t equipped to put up much of a fight Saturday — and didn’t. Ohio State steamrolled the 2-7 Illini, and it really wasn’t that close. The Buckeyes had the game’s best player in quarterback Braxton Miller, dominated the line of scrimmage, rushed for 330 yards and kept Illinois under 100 yards passing while laying a constant beating on Illini quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase.
Ohio State isn’t just finding success but maybe learning how to handle it. Meyer won’t be any less of a lunatic in three practices next week while getting his key guys some rest, and his pedal-to-floor approach will keep this team locked in. Whatever distraction the bowl ban might have become has been taken care of by this whole not losing thing, and the Buckeyes are playing like they’re having a lot of fun.
“When you just control the line of scrimmage, that’s when good things happen,” Meyer said.
Miller continues to dazzle. Perhaps no Buckeye needs a weekend off worse than Miller, but he keeps answering every bell. He put up 299 more yards of offense (226 passing, 73 rushing) on Saturday and is tied for the Big Ten lead in rushing touchdowns with 13. He’s not going to win the Heisman unless Collin Klein slips, but he might be sitting on the stage in New York.
While it’s Miller’s potential that’s probably scariest for the Big Ten, his athleticism gives the Buckeyes a different dimension. Carlos Hyde ran for three more touchdowns Saturday, but it’s Miller that drives everything. Meyer keeps talking about Miller becoming a better, more polished passer, and that’s a work in progress. Much of this particular team is.
With 10 wins in 10 tries, progress is good.
“We’re going to keep grinding and keep pushing (his passing) because at some point we have to be a balanced team,” Meyer said. “We’re not there yet.”
The Buckeyes are playing pressure-free, too. Finally, they blew somebody out who they were supposed to blow out, but the Buckeyes have kept the same demeanor, maintained a quiet confidence and delivered in the biggest moments. Meyer is going to keep nitpicking things like “silly penalties,” and the next two games would be a really bad time for the Buckeyes’ bad tackling habits to reappear.
The moments get even bigger Nov. 17 at limping but dangerous Wisconsin and back here the following week for the rival game with Michigan. It’s a game that won’t be for all the Roses because of the bowl ban, but it’s going to be one that has plenty of meaning.
Ohio State can’t look ahead to a bowl game. At 10-0, though, it can look ahead to a wild, memorable finish.