Big Six

Seven games, seven wins.  The Buckeyes have been the fortunate recipients of a schedule with a built-in ramp-up time: Plenty of time to figure out how the offense is best run, plenty of time to beat a few teams who flew in from across the country, plenty of time to beat a couple of in-state teams who are now both 2-4, plenty time to beat a couple of Big Ten non-bowlers.  Seven games used to be an entire season.  This year it amounts to a preseason. 

The Buckeyes being 7-0 and ranked in the top ten (top five!) evokes not-so-distant memories of several years of the nineties, when the Buckeyes were actually expected to be at this point.  It was easy then to predict what would happen.  In those years, Ohio State would get past the Penn State game and it would be "clear sailing until Michigan".  That's not quite the case this time around.

There isn't a team left on the schedule that Ohio State isn't capable of beating, realistically – Michigan and its incredibly average offense included.  At the same time, every one of those teams can beat Ohio State, realistically – Michigan and its incredibly average defense included.  The clear sailing, choppy as it was, is behind the Bucks now.  The hard part is harder than you probably realize.  Consider:

-         Every team left on the schedule – Wisconsin, Penn State, Minnesota, Purdue, Illinois and Michigan – has beaten Ohio State within the past two years.  None of the first seven victims have beaten the Buckeyes in a very long time, if ever (if you're wondering, Indiana beat OSU in Coop's first year – that's how far you have to go back).

-         The easiest road game left, on paper, is at defending champion Illinois.

-         Speaking of road games, the two easiest ones – which were the season's two biggest struggles, have already been played.

It cannot be said enough how favorable the schedule is this year.  A lot of people pointed to 2003 as when Ohio State would challenge for the national title.  Compared to this year, next year's schedule is looking a lot more challenging.  Next year, the Buckeyes play Washington, Bowling Green, NC State, Iowa, at Wisconsin again, at Penn State and at Michigan.  By contrast:

-         Ohio State will not play a ranked team away from Ohio Stadium this year, until the bowl game.

-         Current combined record of all road teams on OSU's schedule: 14-20.

-         Try ranking the Bucks' remaining opponents 1-6.  Adding in the difficulty of playing on the road to Purdue and Illinois, and there's not much difference between one and six.

These last six games not only represent the toughest part of the OSU schedule, but they're also the most valuable in terms of West Coast travel arrangements: Lose to Washington State or Texas Tech, or even at Cincinnati – in August or September – and you're practically forgiven by the pollsters come December.  Lose to Penn State, Minnesota or Michigan in October and November, and you're done.  College football is very much what-have-you-done-for-me-lately, especially when it comes to the national championship, Nebraska's mockery of the BCS last year notwithstanding.

Which brings us to the Wisconsin game – as if we needed any other drama here – which has enough storylines to qualify for sappy Olympic coverage:

-         In 1999, Wisconsin destroyed OSU in Columbus, then danced on the O at midfield.

-         In 2000, OSU beat up Wisconsin in Madison, then lead by team captain and director of etiquette Ken-yon Rambo, returned the favor on their W.

-         Last year, OSU handed a bad Wisconsin team the game, and the dance tradition continued.

-         In the off-season, Brooks Bollinger autographed a picture fit for an OSU football locker room.

-         Ohio State doesn't lose in Madison very often, nor do they lose to the same non-Michigan team in consecutive years frequently.

-         As is the annual tradition, Wisconsin comes into the OSU game off of an embarrassing loss.

-         Maurice Clarett gets to play against a team with at last an average rush defense for the first time in several weeks.

-         OSU has been mediocre at best when playing in the whites.

-         Wisconsin has equally mediocre when playing the bad teams on their schedule, but formidable when playing against name teams.

Every team left on the schedule will give the Bucks their best game of the season.  The team should expect this.  Considering Mike Doss is rooting for Miami to run the table so that the Bucks – should they do the same AND beat the BCS computer – can play the defending champions, it seems they already are.

Happily welcoming back the October butterflies from the mid-nineties at ramzy_bucknuts@yahoo.com

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