So, it’s been a week since Ohio State throttled Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game.
In an effort to cover that for Buckeye Sports Bulletin and then get back into some semblance of what passes for a normal life during the 36 or so weeks of the year that are not college football season, I haven’t taken the time to get down much about what I thought about that whole thing. I don’t mind giving things some time to sink in, anyway, so I can’t say I went out of my way to sort things out. Because a lot has happened both with Ohio State and some of the programs that are of interest to Ohio State in one way or another.
I certainly did not see that result coming in Indianapolis. I never made an official pick (I rarely do prior to a game), but I felt pretty strongly the Buckeyes were going to come out on the short end against Wisconsin. And lest you think I’m a pessimist, I picked the Buckeyes to be in Indianapolis even after they lost Braxton Miller for the season. Styles make fights, and Wisconsin did some things on both sides of the ball that have given the Buckeyes trouble this season.
What was the reason for my optimism before the season? Well, it had a lot to do with the Big Ten, and the season played out in a way that pretty much confirmed my suspicions of this: Ohio State’s talent level is significantly higher than anyone else’s. This is arguably the 10th season in a row that has been true, and the disparity might be higher than ever. Talent is far from everything when it comes to winning college football games, but it is a great trump card. Overall teams success is affected by age, coaching, health, development and even the occasional bad bounce, but talent is still the No. 1 determining factor in who wins and loses.
Ohio State made Wisconsin look like the Illinois B team, and that was about a month after going to Michigan State and pounding the Spartans despite playing probably only a B+ game.
On paper, the Buckeyes were better than both teams without question, but in each week leading up to each game, I thought the Ohio State was headed toward a loss. Why? Because they are still young and had shown a propensity for making a lot of errors, many unforced. That’s why they almost lost to a badly undermanned Penn State team, and it played a role in Michigan hanging around at Ohio Stadium. They committed a couple of untimely turnovers and made some individual errors at Michigan State to leave the door open for the Spartans, but it was clear MSU could not compete on the outside. Ohio State also out-toughed MSU a year after most of the close plays went the way of Michigan State in their Big Ten Championship Game victory. As it turns out, most of the players who graduated from that great MSU team were replaced by guys who aren’t as good, at least at this point in their careers.
Last year’s result in Indianapolis seemed to set some perceptions on their head for some folks who follow college football, but since then we have learned no new order was established. The Spartans certainly deserved their trophy, but that was the best Michigan State team in decades. They also feasted on Ohio State mistakes and made the plays they needed to when the chips were down. I wouldn’t say they kicked the door down, though, the way the Buckeyes did in East Lansing and Indianapolis this season.
Expect the future of the Big Ten to look a lot like the recent past. Veteran teams at places like Michigan State, Wisconsin and Penn State will be able to challenge Ohio State every couple of seasons, especially if their years with older lineups line up with seasons the Buckeyes are particularly young. Maybe Nebraska will fall into that category, too, but their decision to replace a coach who wins a lot of non-important games with another who hasn’t necessarily even done that does not fill me with optimism for the Cornhuskers, who have a better name brand than Wisconsin or Michigan State but live farther away from any large concentrations of talent.
Of course you probably noticed I left out Michigan. If you’ve only been following college football for a few years, that might make sense to you. If you’ve followed it too long, you might overvalue the program in Ann Arbor, too. In the midst of their longest Big Ten title drought in five decades, it will be interesting to see where the Wolverines go from here.
We’ll get to that tomorrow.