View From The Fan: In Defense Of The Big Ten

As Big Ten play begins, Ohio State enters a conference that hasn't deserved all the criticism it has received nationally.

Thoughts on Last Week –
Another week, another win, and yet more complaining from Buckeye Nation. The Buckeyes moved to 4-0 for the season with a 38-12 win over the Broncos of Western Michigan. P.J. Fleck had his kids ready to play, and, if not for a few poorly taken penalties, the final score might have been a lot closer. Give the Broncos credit for running right at Ohio State and making them earn their fourth win of the season. I can see Western Michigan being a tough team to beat in the MAC this year.

Cardale Jones got the start, as Urban said he would, and he played until the fourth quarter when the game was all but over. Cardale did some things well, and he did some things poorly, but I think he’s starting to regain that confidence and swagger he had last year during the playoffs. He knows the job is his, and he has a little breathing room before Meyer gives him the hook in favor of J.T. Barrett. His two touchdown passes were well executed, but considering both receivers were wide open, it was hard to miss them.

On the other hand, there were a lot of underthrown passes - including a few almost-certain touchdowns - something we’re unaccustomed to seeing with Jones’ powerful arm. Had he led the receivers on a few deep balls, the score might have been higher for the Buckeyes. I’m a fan who wants the team to play consistently well, not just ride by on a few big plays here and there, so it was great to see Cardale play almost the whole game and get the offense moving in the right direction. It’ll only help his confidence grow, and he’ll continue to develop a better rhythm with his offensive compatriots.

On the defensive side of the ball, this was the first time I really noticed a chink in the Buckeyes’ armor. The Broncos seemed to run at will against them, and they averaged four yards per carry for the game. To me, that’s not a good sign. Wide receiver Daniel Braverman proved to be a matchup nightmare, and he performed a lot like Wes Welker did for Tom Brady and the Patriots. He added 10 catches to increase his season total to 50 catches in four games, which is impressive no matter where you play. Outside of Braverman and Corey Davis, though, the Buckeyes allowed only two catches to other receivers. Unfortunately one of those was a 1-yard touchdown pass that Joey Bosa almost prevented. The defense still played well enough, and Adolphus Washington had a great pick-six on a perfectly read play to help spark his team. I expect the coaches and defense players will have practiced hard this week to correct the missed tackles and assignments that plagued them last week. Hopefully Indiana will see a Buckeyes defense this weekend that closed down opponents in the first three games of the season.

Players of the Game vs Western Michigan
Mike Thomas – Six more catches and another touchdown. He is easily the best receiver on the team right now, and Cardale should probably look for him even more. As the other receivers continue to develop, Thomas should have more opportunities to shine.
Raekwon McMillan and Joshua Perry – They may have been exposed a couple of times on a few running plays, but their combined 29 tackles and two sacks more than made up for it. This defense has been stellar all year, and these two solidifying the middle are a big reason why our back seven is one of the best in the nation.

On Indiana -
Ohio State takes its second road trip of the season up to Bloomington to meet the Hoosiers. I’ve seen the Buckeyes play in Memorial Stadium, and I can assure you there will be a vast contingent of Scarlet and Gray in attendance. Because the Hoosiers enter this game 4-0 for the first time in 25 seasons, we might see more Indiana fans show up than usual hoping for a big upset. Let’s discuss the key factors of this game and what I expect to see as a fan.

I’d venture to say most fans, including myself, look forward to Big Ten play every year. We get a few so-called “easy” games and the occasional test, and then we move into the battering, bruising grind of the Big Ten. The conference as a whole gets disparaged for being weak in comparison to the SEC, Pac-12 or even the Big 12. In recent years that criticism has probably been justified, but the tides are changing, and I believe the Big Ten will once again prove itself a conference to be reckoned with.

Indiana, for example, comes in boasting the leading rusher in the country in Jordan Howard, who’s averaging almost 170 yards per game. They also have a veteran quarterback in Nate Sudfeld. In his two previous games against Ohio State, he is a combined 31/51 pass completions for 301 yards, four TDs and zero interceptions. Sudfeld has proven to be savvy enough to dissect the Buckeyes in the past, and, given the weapons around him this year, I expect him to continue to give the Buckeye defense trouble.

The Hoosier defense, however, is another story. They tend to give up points … a lot of points. So far this season, they’ve given up 32 points per game, which ranks them 97th in the country. They haven’t exactly had a hard row to hoe either, only playing an FCS team, two Conference USA teams, and Wake Forest. The defense will be missing Darius Latham, one of its best defensive linemen, because of a suspension earlier this week for violating team rules. Ohio State should present a big challenge for this defense, and we should see well over 32 points by the Buckeye offense.

What can we expect out of the Buckeyes this week? After Tim Beck was involved in more of the play-calling duties last week, the Buckeye offense seemed to have a better rhythm to it at times. As the transition continues, I think we’ll see the players getting to the line faster, and the up-tempo offense we have become accustomed to will take off. I hope Urban and the staff put together a game plan that will feature the offensive playmakers more. Curtis Samuel has proven to have next-level speed, and he continues to shine in his play-making abilities despite limited touches. In my opinion, we need to get him, Braxton Miller, Dontre Wilson and Jalin Marshall the ball in space to make big things happen. If we can stretch the field with those guys, the middle will be wide open for Ezekiel Elliott to run free.

Cardale also needs to get back to the ball he was playing late last year. He has the arm strength to make the big plays down the field, but every time he throws one deep, the receivers have to stop and play defensive back to stop the ball from being intercepted. If he leads his receivers like he did Devin Smith last year, the Buckeyes’ point totals will drastically improve. I expect to see a heavy dose of Zeke this weekend, as well as the speed guys getting the ball to create big plays on the outside. Cardale will be better this week, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few more mistakes as he gets his groove back.

As for the defense, I think we’ll see a lot of keying on the run. The front seven needs to prove last week’s poor performance was a fluke, and they’re capable of stopping the big runs from gashing the middle of the field. Indiana has a pretty balanced offense, but when you have the leading rusher in America on your team, you’re obviously going to run the ball. Last year Tevin Coleman shredded our defense for 228 yards and three touchdowns, so Indiana is more than capable of running the ball successfully. With the back four of Ohio State playing about as well as they can, I’m hoping we can blanket their receivers pretty well and sell out for the run. Indiana will get some points on the board, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this game is still close at halftime. The Buckeye defense will get another defensive touchdown to help seal up the game in the second half, and Ohio State will move to 5-0 and on to Maryland.

Prediction: Ohio State 45 – Indiana 21

Musings –
The Buckeyes enter Big Ten play this week, as does most of the conference, so I want to talk about the Big Ten having five teams ranked in the AP top 25, with a couple of teams lurking just below. All the polls agree the top two spots belong to teams from the Big Ten, prime real estate usually occupied by the SEC. Right now the SEC has seven teams ranked in the top 25; the Big Ten, Pac-12 and Big-12 have five each; and the ACC has two. Notre Dame, which insists on remaining Independent during football season, takes the remaining ranked position. As you can see, the Big Ten is right in the middle when it comes to ranked teams, but fans and media alike continue to underestimate the conference and argue it isn’t as strong top-to-bottom as the SEC.

I agree that overall, we are not as deep as other conferences, but to say the Big Ten doesn’t have the talent to line up and compete with teams from other conferences is just flat out wrong. Last year’s bowl season proves Big Ten teams can beat the top teams from other conferences in the nation. Yes, Rutgers, Purdue and Maryland aren’t exactly tearing up the stat sheets, but even the mighty SEC has teams like Vanderbilt, Arkansas and Kentucky that underperform. With the recent hires of big-name coaches at Penn State, Michigan and Nebraska, along with returning coaches like Pat Fitzgerald, Jerry Kill, Mark Dantonio and Urban Meyer, the Big Ten is starting to push itself back into the national spotlight. There are a lot of traditions and pride in these programs, and with the right people in charge, the recruiting efforts, as well as the overall talent of the teams, will continue to improve. I think we will see the reemergence of the Big Ten in the next few years.

Do I think the Big Ten is the best conference in the country? No. Do I think things are turning around and moving in the right direction? Yes. By continuing to recruit at a high level, schedule other nonconference Power Five games, hire big-name coaches and pay assistants more money, the Big Ten will hopefully continue to be at the forefront of college football for the next decade.

A Fan’s Top 4 –
1.) Ohio State – Still at the top and will continue to ride up there until someone can dethrone them. As much as the team has struggled early this year, they are ahead of where they were last season, and we all know how that ended.
2.) UCLA – Even after being plagued by injuries, they still went into Arizona and throttled them. Josh Rosen and Paul Perkins continue to impress, and if they keep playing at this level, their names will appear on some Heisman ballots. Arizona State travels to LA this week in a game that had early season Pac-12 ramifications; now Arizona State looks to play the upset card.
3.) Ole Miss – Only 27 points against Vandy? I guess they were still coming down from the high of beating Alabama for the second straight year. Chad Kelly had his worst game so far this season, but he’s still directing the offense very efficiently. Should be a good matchup against Florida this week in a battle of Top 25 teams.
4.) Michigan State – A 13-point fourth quarter made Sparty's win vs. Central Michigan look more lopsided than it really was. Connor Cook threw the ball only 19 times, and the running game averaged five yards per carry yet struggled to put points on the board. Another week and another devastating injury for the Spartans as they lose Jack Conklin.

A Fan’s Heisman Ballot –
1.) Leonard Fournette
2.) Nick Chubb
3.) Chad Kelly
4.) Trevone Boykin

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