WEST LAFAYETTE, IND.– It looks as if Ohio State is beating up on the Big Ten, but that’s actually backward. The truth is this:
The Big Ten is killing Ohio State.
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The Buckeyes can’t win in this conference. They beat Purdue 56-0 Saturday, and this just happened to be one of those moments when a 56-0 win actually is a loss.
Ohio State could have won by whatever score coach Urban Meyer wanted. In fact, it did. But if it had been 90-0, then that would have been seen as bad sportsmanship. At, say, 35-10 it would have been too close against a lousy team.
Really, 56-0 was as good as it gets, other than the fact that opinion will go in two stages: 1) So what? They clobbered a crummy team. And then, 2) What time is Florida State-Miami?
See? They couldn’t win no matter what happened.
“We knew we had to come in and make a statement,’’ tight end Jeff Heuerman said.
But that’s exactly the problem. There is no way to make a statement in the Big Ten. A month ago, Ohio State had its best chance, at Northwestern at night on national TV. It turned out, though, that the Buckeyes were a little sloppy at first and, more so, Northwestern played like a No. 16 team in the NCAA Tournament that had won a round.
The top of the college-football world now is as much about style points as it is about winning. Teams need to look good enough to get votes to get into the BCS title game.
And take a look at the schedule of the seven teams still left in the national-championship race. No. 1 Alabama gets a pass as the undefeated defending national champ.
But No. 2 Oregon will play No. 5 Stanford on Thursday. No. 3 Florida State hosted No. 7 Miami on Saturday. Thursday, No. 5 Baylor faces No. 10 Oklahoma, which is out of the race, but can make a statement anyway.
And Ohio State, which is ranked No. 4? Every time the Buckeyes needed a big play, quarterback Braxton Miller threw to Heuerman, the tight end who was wide open. Miller said they had watched video of Purdue during the week and noticed “how they play too high and forget about the tight end.’’
That’s right, while other national-title contenders are playing top 10 teams, Ohio State was playing one that doesn’t have a win over a major college team this year and doesn’t bother to cover the tight end.
Here’s a detailed look at Saturday’s game:
Actually, Purdue quarterback Danny Etling threw an interception on the second play of the game and Ohio State returned it for a touchdown. Then, Purdue went nowhere on offense, and the punter shanked one for 15 yards. Ohio State turned that into a touchdown.
To describe the rest of the game: Rinse and repeat.
Meyer now has 21 wins in a row to start his tenure at Ohio State. Woody Hayes never won more than 24 in a row. But it is just impossible to know what to make of that.
I’ve been to two Ohio State games this year — at Northwestern and now at Purdue — and both games looked like a dad beating his 10-year old son in a game of one-on-one basketball on the driveway.
The dad could have been Michael Jordan for all we know. Or, not. But that’s the problem. We don’t know. If this were golf, it would be easy enough to judge. Everyone competes against the same course.
But Ohio State games are like the sound of one hand clapping. And sure, it’s fine to point out how well Ohio State hits, but no one is hitting back, which is the test.
Someone asked Meyer if anyone focuses on the national-title run, and he said that that’s the problem with having next week off: It gives players time to read about those things.
Now, Ohio State fans are naturally paranoid for some reason. And when I say that Meyer is one of the best coaches in the country, and that Ohio State is one of the great traditional programs, and the Buckeyes are one of the best teams, that will be seen as hating Ohio State.
So Buckeyes fans think they are being ripped off in the BCS race, kept out of a title game after winning, most likely, 25 straight games.
But it’s not anti-Ohio State bias that has people judging the Buckeyes’ undefeated season as less than, say, Oregon’s. In fact, it’s out of respect for Meyer and Ohio State that the Buckeyes are even No. 4 this late in the year based only on spec.
Lost in all of this is that Meyer has done an incredible job, already taking Ohio State back to dominance in the conference. No one else is even close.
Meyer, tapping into his days as Florida’s coach, is building the program around speed, like an SEC team. He wisely isn’t trying to build a Big Ten champ, but instead a national champ.
At this point, though, it might not be possible to do it from the Big Ten.