It’s difficult to criticize a team that won by 25 points and didn’t allow a touchdown in its last game, but that is the reality for defending national champion Ohio State. The No. 3 Buckeyes (10-0) have won 23 straight but have looked so-so for much of the season, winning many games by two or three scores when many people expected them to win by four or five (or six or seven).
What do we make of the Buckeyes heading into the final two weeks of the regular season?
“Ohio State is a team that I think people look at and realize they have a great deal of talent,” Big Ten Network analyst Howard Griffith said on CBS Sports Radio’s Gio and Jones. “They’ve been kind of in flux a little bit this entire year at the quarterback position, but I think that’s finally starting to shake its way out. I think the one constant has been Ezekiel Elliott. I don’t think they fall out of the top 4. I think they stay at 3 or 4.”
J.T. Barrett was solid but not spectacular in a 28-3 win over Illinois on Saturday, throwing for 150 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He also ran 16 times for 74 yards and a score.
Griffith felt Barrett should have been the starting quarterback entering the season. He feels the same way now.
“I go back all the way to the spring,” he said. “I thought that J.T. Barrett was the guy, but obviously I’m not in practice. I thought it was really clear this offense really goes when you have Barrett there, particularly with the run game. I think what a lot of teams decided to do this year was when they run that read option, they’re going to say, ‘Okay, we’re going to take Ezekiel Elliott out of it. We’ll let (Cardale) Jones run it.’ It’s not as an effective (of an) offense. Yeah, he has a strong arm and he can throw it up, but I think one of the things they were missing was a lot of those big plays downfield. Now, they have the talented receivers, but I don’t think it was just the quarterback. I think there were a lot of areas that weren’t playing as well as they need to, and I think that really all starts upfront.”
Ohio State essentially has a two-game season upcoming. The Buckeyes host one-loss Michigan State this Saturday and play two-loss Michigan in Ann Arbor on Nov. 28. Both the Spartans and Wolverines will be ranked when those games take place, mostly likely in the top 15.
The is a great opportunity for the Buckeyes, who have no margin for error.
Asked about this weekend specifically, Griffith expects Ohio State to win a hard-fought game against Michigan State, but is the Buckeyes’ best football truly ahead of them?
“Well, it has to be, right?” Griffith said. “Otherwise, they’re not going to be in the playoff. They have two huge games coming up over the next two weeks. They’re going to have an opportunity to really, I think, solidify their place. You talk about the competition obviously going to be raised. You can look at their resume, and I think it’s just one of those teams that just passes the eye test. I think when you go into that committee room, they’ll tell you probably just how talented this team really is. Much the way we’ve seen Alabama over the last couple of weeks really hit their stride offensively and defensively, much is going to be expected of this same Ohio State team. Starting this week, they expect this team to really start to look the part. Otherwise, I think they’re going to start to take a hit in the polls.”