The Big Ten is arguably the best conference in college football in 2016, and if that’s the case, Ohio State could make a case as the best team in the nation. Certainly, Ohio State is the cream of the crop in the Big Ten.
Of course, the actual title of top team in the nation currently resides in Tuscaloosa with Nick Saban and Alabama (at least according to the AP Top 25), but OSU is right on the Crimson Tide’s heels. Just a few days after heading into Norman and defeating the No. 14 Oklahoma Sooners, 45-24, Urban Meyer’s team has moved up a spot from No. 3 to No. 2 in the AP Poll.
If the two teams met today it would likely be a toss-up, though it is worth noting that the last time OSU and Alabama met, Meyer came away with a 42-35 victory in the 2015 Sugar Bowl (part of the College Football Playoff). Ohio State went on to win the national championship, becoming the first CFP winner.
Speaking of championships, the 2016 Buckeyes certainly look like a championship team. Beating Oklahoma on the road is no small task, especially when you consider that the game was Ohio State’s first road game of the year. With games against BGSU and Tulsa to start the season, frankly, that game against the Sooners was OSU’s first real test of the year.
Ohio State passed with flying colors.
Offensively, the Buckeyes put up 443 yards, 291 coming on the ground. Freshman running back Mike Weber led the way for OSU with 123 yards on 18 attempts, while junior Curtis Samuel rushed for 98 yards on 11 carries. Quarterback J.T. Barrett added 74 yards of his own on the ground, and speaking of OSU’s signal-caller, he was extremely efficient through the air.
Barrett completed 14-of-20 passes for 152 yards and four touchdowns. All four of those touchdowns were to sophomore receiver Noah Brown, including this play of the year candidate:
— Ohio State Daily (@OhioStateDaily) September 18, 2016
Through three games so far this season, the Buckeyes currently lead the Big Ten in points per game with 56.7. OSU’s rival, Michigan, is 2nd in that category with 53.0 points per game.
Ohio State leads the Big Ten in total points with 170 (Michigan is second with 159) and in fact, that’s one of the best marks in college football. Only Louisville (195) and Texas Tech (183) have put up more points this season.
OSU’s offense has been very impressive at times in 2016, but it’s the defense that is really carrying the team, and it’s the defense that already looks like a championship unit.
The Buckeye defense didn’t allow a very good Oklahoma running attack a touchdown this past weekend, and that same defense also picked off quarterback Baker Mayfield two times. One of those interceptions was taken to the end zone by sophomore linebacker Jerome Baker. The other came from cornerback Marshon Lattimore, which was his third interception of the season.
Jerome Baker, touchdown maker. https://t.co/VvVWT1azjS
— Eleven Warriors (@11W) September 18, 2016
Ohio State’s defense has been so good this season that it has taken an interception to the house in every game so far.
The Buckeyes have nine interceptions as a team and four touchdowns off interceptions. Their defense leads the Big Ten with only 12.3 points given up per game (Wisconsin is second with 13.7) and they’re second in the Big Ten in yards given up per game at 278.3. In passes defended, OSU’s elite secondary leads the Big Ten with 24 and 15 broken up. The Buckeyes have seven sacks, which is pretty average in the conference, but they do lead the Big Ten in turnover margin at three per game.
Most of the numbers point to Ohio State being the Big Ten’s best team so far, but it’s not as if the Buckeyes won’t be challenged.
Of course, against Oklahoma we saw that OSU is up to even the toughest of challenges, but it’s well worth noting that Michigan (No. 4), Michigan State (No. 8), Wisconsin (No. 11) and Nebraska (No. 20) are all also in the AP Top 25.
It’s also worth keeping in mind that all four of the aforementioned Big Ten programs are on Ohio State’s schedule.
“I think there are going to be more surface in the top 25,” Meyer told David Jablonski of the Dayton Daily News, speaking about the Big Ten. “I think our conference is very strong, and our division has to be one of the strongest, if not the strongest, in college football.”
Yes, Ohio State will have its work cut out for it if it wants to make it back to the CFP, but perhaps no Big Ten team is as equipped to do it as Meyer’s. He has an elite defense, a quarterback who has been around the block a few times, and playmakers galore on all sides of the ball. He also has his own expertise to rely on. Outside of Saban, there aren’t many other coaches with the championship experience Meyer possesses. He knows how lead a team through a tough season and he certainly knows how to win big games.
The Buckeyes will undoubtedly be put to the test in a very tough Big Ten, but this program knows a thing or two about acing the big moments.
Especially when juxtaposed with a Top 25 Iowa team that fell to FCS North Dakota State this weekend — or even Michigan State and Michigan, which both struggled at times in Week 3 with their respective opponents — there’s no team better suited to represent the Big Ten this season than Ohio State.