The beauty of college football is that we learn eye-opening things each week—especially early in the season. We are surprised by developments that change the whole way we think about things that we took for granted.
Take Ohio State, for example. Ryan Day had never lost a regular-season game, including the Big Ten conference championship. So we assumed that would not change, even when potentially dangerous Oregon came calling at the Horseshoe.
That all changed. In a hurry.
A quarterback hurry, come to think of it, is what the Buckeyes’ defensive line could not manage. For all of its vaunted recruiting, Ohio State did not have D linemen who could get to Oregon quarterback Anthony Brown, a Jersey Guy/Boston College refugee who led the Ducks to a 42-35 shocker over the Buckeyes.
All of a sudden, Ohio State, which dropped to No. 9 in the AP poll, has a lot of work to do on defense.
The knee-jerk reaction is that Iowa, which shot up to No. 5, becomes the frontrunner in the Big Ten. Kudos to the Hawkeyes, who turned in an impressive 27-17 win at Iowa State. Iowa’s defense has been nothing short of spectacular in wins at Ames and against what was supposed to be a potent Indiana offense.
How good is Iowa? Better than the Buckeyes? Let them play a few more games, please.
Meanwhile, Ohio State defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs is in the crosshairs after taking a licking on Saturday from Oregon offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead, the former Mississippi State head coach and Penn State OC. The spotlight will be on Coombs, 60, a longtime Buckeyes assistant, to fix what looks like a broken unit. And of course, the pressure is on Ryan Day to make sure Coombs, or someone on his staff, shores up the defense.
As beatable as Ohio State looked against Oregon, it’s a bit early to draw too many conclusions. This is the first time Day has faced this magnitude of adversity in his meteoric, but brief career. His quarterback, C.J. Stroud (shown above), was playing in his second collegiate game. He will get better. And Day figures to do some major adjusting to that porous defense.
The Buckeye team that was outplayed by Oregon will look very different if it faces Iowa in the Big Ten championship game in December.
The combination of Ohio State’s recruiting and coaching makes it a little early to write off the Buckeyes. Remember 2014, when they were surprised at home early by Virginia Tech and went on to win the national championship?
Perception can be a strange thing in college football.
Given the Pac-12’s very limited success at securing College Football Playoff berths, and the Big Ten’s very limited CFP access beyond Ohio State, it’s very understandable to wonder if this Ducks-Buckeyes showdown was a virtual playoff elimination game.
The answer is a qualified “no.’’ The Buckeyes have survived worse setbacks to become a playoff team.
And while Oregon might have had a tougher road with a loss, a defeat at Ohio State in September would have made the Ducks’ playoff path more difficult, but not impossible.
One quality early-season loss should not be a playoff deal-breaker.
Clemson, despite its 10-3 loss to Georgia last week, is hardly out of the playoff picture.
The path is now narrower. A second loss is not acceptable—for Clemson or Ohio State.
But these things have a way of working themselves out. When it comes to Power 5 conferences, the unbeaten and one-loss teams tend to be few and far between. Few enough that they lighten the selection committee’s load.
For all of the excruciating statistical analysis, in most years it’s pretty simple. Take the unbeaten and one-loss teams—and there’s your playoff.
All of that said, Ohio State has much more immediate problems to solve. The first, of course, is to figure out a way to play stouter defense—especially upfront.