Rapp Around: A Path To 12-0
October 29, 2012
So how about this little 6-pack: Ohio State, Alabama, Oregon, Kansas State, Louisville and Notre Dame.
Those are the remaining undefeated teams in major college football. A team from the Big Ten, SEC, Pac-12, Big 12, Big East and an independent.
Ohio State is the only one of the bunch sitting at 9-0; the rest are 8-0.
After dumping Penn State in a raucous State College atmosphere on Saturday, the Buckeyes inched up to No. 6 in The Associated Press poll, ahead of No. 12 Louisville, but trailing the other undefeated teams and No. 5 LSU (7-1).
Normally, OSU fans would be griping about the lack of respect, but this is anything but a normal year.
For starters, Ohio State cannot play in a postseason game because of NCAA sanctions. Second, anyone who has watched this odyssey unfold week by week and seen the Urban Meyer era essentially has been made up of nine flawed performances but nine wins would agree the Buckeyes have not yet returned to the absolute elite.
And third – and this is the most important point – it seems most are reaching a point of shock and disbelief that the Buckeyes are even in this position.
Wide receivers coach Zach Smith admitted Monday standing before a room full of reporters that he never even thought 9-0 and a top-10 ranking was possible much less in the cards based on all the work the coaches and players faced in the spring.
Meyer also doesn’t have much of an explanation – and is still quick to point out OSU’s litany of deficiencies.
But the coaches and the players have sensed a bubbling effect on this team. Simply put, they don’t want to lose, even refuse to lose, and remain confident they can overcome adversity and produce plays in winning time.
That’s a powerful animal to stop. And the fangs are out at Halloween – just the right time.
The Buckeyes, the only undefeated team in conference play at 5-0, are heavily favored to keep it going this Saturday (3:30 p.m. Eastern, ESPN) vs. hapless Illinois (2-6, 0-4). After that they will benefit from a well-deserved off week and presumably welcome back senior co-captain and valuable outside linebacker Etienne Sabino before traveling to Wisconsin.
That game is daunting, especially considering how the Buckeyes wrecked a magical season for the Badgers in Columbus last year and also considering superstar running back Montee Ball is back to form.
Still, a 10-0 Ohio State likely would be favored in Madison and certainly would stand a chance to escape with victory No. 11 if the Buckeyes play as well in key moments as they did at Michigan State and Penn State.
In the most recent road tester, OSU overcame early mistakes and missed opportunities to break a 7-7 halftime score with three third-quarter touchdowns.
One of them was by sophomore linebacker and leading tackler Ryan Shazier, as he picked off a Matt McGloin pass and darted 17 yards for the opening points of the second half. Shazier wore No. 48 instead of his normal No. 10 to honor a high school friend who had passed away from muscular dystrophy earlier in the week, former Plantation (Fla.) HS team manager Gary Curtis.
The Big Ten’s leading passer, McGloin finished with 327 yards via the air but clearly didn’t enjoy himself. The Buckeyes broke up several of his passes, sacked him four times and kept him from leading the offense to paydirt until the fourth quarter.
Meanwhile, OSU quarterback Braxton Miller shook off a shaky start to ramble for more than 100 yards rushing for the sixth time this season and go over 1,000 yards on the ground in just nine games. The only other Big Ten QBs to amass 1,000-yard rushing seasons are the great Antwaan Randle El of Indiana, who did so in 2000, and current Michigan signal caller Denard Robinson, who has pulled the feat each of the last two years.
Miller capped consecutive third-quarter drives with 1-yard scoring runs – one in truly spectacular fashion – and also iced the win with a 72-yard strike to receiver Jake Stoneburner. That backbreaking score came with 6:11 to play and provided a commanding 35-16 lead. It also set in hard to a crowd of 107,000 hoping the Nittany Lions could capture their sixth straight win and signal there reluctance to leave the landscape of Big Ten contention.
That was not mundane game with ho-hum circumstances. The Lions and their fans were treating it as their personal Super Bowl, but the Buckeyes again found the winning formula and showed that, despite their shortcomings, they are indeed a tough out.
So barring a total collapse this weekend and seeing there is enough evidence on the table that the Buckeyes can survive on the road against a league team with more a traditional makeup and personnel, it stands to reason that OSU could be starting at a shot at 12-0 with – who else? – Michigan coming to town on Nov. 24.
Just think about that for a moment. Ohio State could be in the top five of the polls at that point and on the brink of a statement that would have to make the college football world stop and take notice. No, the Buckeyes cannot win the crystal football this season and, no, it doesn’t look like there is much chance they can foil the AP poll process, either.
But 12-0 is pretty rarified air, especially for a team and a program that believes there are more rungs to climb, better football ahead.
Consider the following:
* Meyer already is just the third Ohio State head coach to rattle off this many wins to begin his tenure here.
Carroll Widdoes took over the job in 1944 when the sport and just about everything else was way off kilter because of World War II. Widdoes went 9-0 that year with Les Horvath capturing the Heisman Trophy and won his first three games the following year for a record 12-0 start. Meyer’s mentor, Earle Bruce, followed a 28-year run by Woody Hayes with an 11-0 regular season in 1979. OSU lost by a point to USC in the 1980 Rose Bowl.
* OSU has enjoyed just 14 winning streaks of 10 or more consecutive victories in school history.
* The Buckeyes have put together an undefeated regular season just nine times since World War I (1944, ’54, ’61, ’68, ’70, ’73, ’75, ’79, 2002) and just one since the Woody era – the amazing 14-0 season of 2002 that was capped off with a BCS national championship.
It’s doubtful anyone will treasure this season in the same way the do the one of 10 years ago, but it’s still worth noting that Jim Tressel squad is best remembered as one that manufactured wins with toughness, smarts and clutch play.
This year’s version just doesn’t seem worthy of being in the conversation with other great Ohio State teams, especially considering the Buckeyes currently rank 102nd in the nation in pass defense and 107th in passing offense. With so much premium being put on the passing attack these days, that’s hard to believe that a team could rank that low in those categories and not be saddled with a loss by now.
It’s probably also a minor miracle that the Buckeyes are even ranked sixth in the country given the public’s clear mistrust of OSU’s “excellence.”
Still, the only team to be 9-0 almost certainly is going to be the first to 10-0 and the Buckeyes have shown a resiliency that is all-too-absent in today’s college football. Plus, they have a qualified star in Miller, who remains on most every Heisman short list, and a defense, even with all its issues, that features at least four starters who are a lock to play in the NFL – linemen John Simon and Johnathan Hankins, Shazier, and cornerback Bradley Roby.
Simon and Hankins are on lists for a few national awards and Roby was just named as a national semifinalist for the coveted Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back. Shazier easily leads the Buckeyes with 84 total tackles and is among the nation’s leaders in that category.
Plus, tailback Carlos Hyde, despite missing nearly three games this year because of a knee injury and playing second fiddle to Miller in the run game, is now the Big Ten’s fifth-leading rusher with 600 yards and 10 TDs.
The offensive line has performed higher than expectations and has held up even though there is a glaring lack of depth, and four of the five starters are slated to be back next season. So are Miller, Hyde the wide receivers and tight ends.
The development of all that talent has brought the Buckeyes to head-spinning heights nationally and also could lead to even higher expectations for next season.
Even an 11-1 season could be enough to catapult Ohio State into preseason No. 1-type consciousness heading into 2013.
Obviously that is not the agenda right now. And there is more work to do. But it’s safe the say the Urban Meyer era s off to an eye-opening start.