Usually if the Buckeyes are 10-0 (usually?), that means it's Michigan week. That is when you fill the fallout shelter beneath your basement with canned goods, plenty of beer, and a television that gets ABC so that you can watch the Citrus Bowl (Capital One Bowl?) on January 1. Basically, you prepare yourself for the horrifying inevitable.
This year is a little different. At 10-0, we've seen ten games that, regardless of the final score, all look about the same. Ten wins, highlighted by ten overpowering second halves. The Cincinnati game was no different than Washington State; the Penn State game no different than Northwestern. Teams threaten, the Ohio State defense stops them short, the other guys lose. Ohio State runs the ball, repeatedly. Mike Nugent kicks a field goal or two. Their guys try to run on the Buckeyes in the second half, and then they punt. Chris Gamble moves at a different speed than anyone else on the field. Darrion Scott, Will Smith, David Thompson, Simon Fraser and Tim Anderson get their jerseys torn by offensive linemen who have to resort to cheating (is it cheating if you don't get caught?) to stop them from blowing up passing plays. Ohio State runs the ball, repeatedly. Craig Krenzel protects the lead. Maurice Clarett runs more effectively than anyone on the field, then his arm goes numb. For every ten plays that Michael Jenkins is open (i.e., all of them), he gets the ball thrown to him once or twice. Mike Doss kneecaps a running back at the line of scrimmage. Ohio State runs the ball, repeatedly. Buckeyes win against "another overrated team" and sing Carmen Ohio with the band. Fans complain about a conservative offense that might scare off recruits (more than losing?).
Ohio State hasn't dominated a bad team on the road yet this season, and they have two of the battlers for the coveted Motor City Bowl invitation in their respective backyards in the next couple of weeks (combined records: 7-11). Eleven times these two teams, 2000 champion Purdue (never mind their losing road record) and 2001 champion Illinois (you know the Big Ten is bad when…), have found ways to lose. Ohio State has won more games than the two of them combined. So why are these two games marked as potential landmines? College Football News predicted before the season that OSU would be 10-0 at this point in the season, before losing to both Purdue and Illinois.
History is on their side:
1) No big-time program has a worse reputation for success in November than Ohio State. The Buckeyes have not gone undefeated in November since the Astrotuf at Ohio Stadium was still in decent condition. Check the calendar – it is currently November.
2) Cincinnati and Northwestern definitely aren't going to a bowl. Wisconsin has to battle just to make it to Detroit in December. These three teams took the Buckeyes deep into the fourth quarter this year, all at their home fields. Purdue and Illinois would both beat all-star teams made up of players from these three teams on a neutral field (this baseless prediction was brought to you by Trev Alberts, ESPN college football "analyst")
3) Michigan a) hasn't lost to Ohio State in consecutive years since your family couldn't afford a microwave oven, b) is good enough to be ranked in the BCS standings, c) is a toss-up game annually no matter who the better team is, and d) is an evil conglomerate of brainwashed kinesiology majors programmed to disrupt our lives. Granted, "D" kind of strays from the point of this list, but it's worth mentioning nonetheless.
Oklahoma, Miami and Ohio State are all undefeated, and the national championship game only has room for two teams. That game is on January 3, so I don't see why this is a problem in early November; in September there are a few dozen good undefeated teams and in October there are still a bunch left. Math says that in November there should be fewer, and – surprise – there are. If Ohio State went undefeated in November, it would certainly be a break with recent as well as fairly distant history. Only at that point would BCS rankings matter. Do you care or even remember that Ohio State was ranked #1 in the first BCS poll of November in 1998? It didn't matter then, didn't matter after they lost to a non-bowl team, and definitely didn't matter at the end of the season. You're always aware of Michigan and Penn State on the schedule, but sometimes the not-so-obvious landmines you don't see are the ones that blow up your season.
Usually history is a good indicator of the future. Expect more handoffs and conservative passing plays in the next few weeks. Look for more reliance on special teams and second-half defense. You'll see two close games away from Ohio Stadium and a Buckeye team very cautious about how and where they step. Their goal will be winning with character, poise and brute strength, and not so much on quick slants, flee-flickers and a downfield passing game. And the media, everywhere, will be reminding their viewers, listeners and readers that an undefeated Ohio State is a house of cards come November.
Fundamentally refusing to ever watch the movie Sweet November at firstname.lastname@example.org