Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch

I'm done waiting for Ohio State's offense to show up. Every week I wonder if the Buckeyes offense I've grown accustomed to finally arrives to pair with an elite defense to transform the Buckeyes into a juggernaut. No more waiting. I know there have been injuries, but I've realized that, injuries or not, this simply isn't the same unit we've seen in the past.

It was Rutgers that convinced me. Ohio State finished with 35 points against the Scarlet Knights on Saturday, but that total was slightly misleading. The Buckeyes finished with only 328 yards of offense (Rutgers had 361), and the final touchdown came after Rutgers turned the ball over on downs at its 17-yard line in the final minutes.

It's not the yardage total or points that solidified things for me, though. It's that the same defensive game plan Rutgers uses to be successful against the lesser Big Ten offenses worked against Ohio State. While this is overly simplistic, at its core, Rutgers plays two deep safeties to keep opponents from getting explosive pass plays.

This strategy often works in the Big Ten because, outside of the big dogs like Ohio State and Michigan, most Big Ten teams don't have the quarterbacks or receivers capable of exploiting it consistently. It worked this year, though.

Ohio State had two pass plays of at least 20 yards against the Knights defense. There was a 22-yard pass to Carnell Tate in the third quarter and a 65-yard pass to TreVeyon Henderson that saw Kyle McCord throw the ball 5 yards to Henderson before the star running back raced 60 yards through the secondary. 

Still, Marvin Harrison Jr., the most talented receiver in the country, was held to 25 yards on four receptions (he did have two touchdowns), while Emeka Egbuka had four catches for 29 yards in his first game back from injury.

This doesn't mean Ohio State is doomed or anything. It isn't. Kyle McCord may not be C.J. Stroud or Justin Fields, but he's still the second-best QB in the Big Ten, at worst, and the Buckeyes have an otherworldly defense. There isn't a team in the country they aren't capable of beating.

All it means is I've come to accept that this is a very different version of the Buckeyes than we've become used to in the Ryan Day era. While I miss watching the Buckeyes roast teams on offense, that's more of a me problem than a Buckeye one.

I want to believe

You can see Drew Allar is taking more deep shots over the last three games, but taking them and hitting them are two different things

Michigan and Penn State square off this weekend in what's easily the biggest game of the weekend in the Big Ten and the biggest test the Wolverines will have faced at any point this season. But how big a test will it truly be?

A few weeks ago, ahead of Penn State's game against Ohio State, I speculated that Penn State was slowly easing Drew Allar along and that the reins might be removed for the showdown with the Buckeyes. I was half-right, but the other half (the one where I was wrong) was very wrong.

After rarely pushing the ball downfield before the Ohio State game, Allar took more shots against Ohio State, and he's continued to do so since. Before that game, Allar averaged 6.1 air yards per attempt. Against Ohio State, he averaged 8.5 while checking in at 8.9 in the three games since, including the Ohio State loss.

The problem was Allar played terribly against Ohio State, and I feel all right saying that because Allar admitted he "sucked" after the game. The good news is that Allar has been better in wins over Indiana and Maryland ... but they are Indiana and Maryland.

Penn State's defense remains outstanding and will present Michigan with more problems than it has faced against anybody else. I'm confident about this. However, if Penn State wants to win this game, Allar must play a lot better than he did against Ohio State and the Nittany Lions offense will have to generate big plays to put points on the board against the Michigan defense that does not allow many explosive plays.

Perhaps at home, in a far less hostile environment, Allar and the Penn State offense will do it. Like I said, I want to believe. I want this game to be competitive because it's far more entertaining. I want to believe.

But I don't.

The Mediocre Seven

One look at the Big Ten West standings is enough to know that nobody in the division is that much better than the others, but let's look a little deeper anyway, shall we? Of the 13 divisional games played between the West's Mediocre Seven, only four have been decided by double-digits. Five have been decided by three points or fewer, with two coming this past Saturday as Iowa beat Northwestern 10-7 and Illinois beat Minnesota 27-26.

The average margin of victory has been 8.8 points per game, but two "blowouts" skew it. Wisconsin beat Purdue 38-17 in Week 4 before the Boilermakers took out their frustration by beating Illinois 44-19 the following week. If you remove those two games, the average margin of victory has been 6.3 points in the other 11 games.

Oh, and you know how Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz could've kept his job if Iowa found a way to score 25 points per game? Well, the rest of the division's offensive coordinators are lucky they don't have similar clauses in their contracts because nobody in the division averages 25 points per game. Wisconsin's 23.56 points per game is the highest mark in the division. 

Selective memory of the week

I wrote about how impressive Matt Rhule's first season at Nebraska has been in this column a few weeks ago, and nothing I said then has changed. Not even after a 20-17 loss to a Michigan State team desperate to finish the season. That said, this is a lame quote from Rhule in his Monday press conference. You can't say you own your record and then immediately follow it up with excuses as to why you've lost some of those games.

It wasn't Michigan stealing signs or the referees getting a review "wrong" that has led to your team turning the ball over 22 times. That's more than any other team in the country. Your turnover margin of -12 is a little better, ranking 131st instead of 133rd.

Saturday's 20-17 loss to Michigan State? Maybe it isn't a loss if the Huskers don't turn the ball over three times in the game. One could argue that you've been lucky because those 22 turnovers you've committed could've been a lot more. Nebraska has lost 12 fumbles on the season, but it's fumbled 26 times.

Perhaps doing a better job keeping the ball in your own hands would lead to fewer instances of the outcome of your games being placed in the hands of others.

Gut reads of the week

Every week I pick every Big Ten game against the spread based on nothing but my gut reaction to the number. No digging into numbers, just vibes, baby. I even track my record to embarrass myself publicly. Odds via SportsLine consensus.

Michigan at Penn State: I probably made my thoughts on this game pretty clear earlier in the column. It's impossible to remove the controversy surrounding Michigan from the equation because, even if you don't believe the possibility of Michigan knowing its opponents signals is what's ultimately led to Michigan destroying everybody (and I don't), the controversy hanging over the team's head has to have some kind of impact. Plus, not only is this the strongest team the Wolverines will have faced this season, it's also an incredibly hostile environment. But I don't know how much that will matter! Michigan is really freaking good, and I can't get the image of how hapless Penn State's offense looked against Ohio State out of my head. Pick: Michigan -4.5

  • Indiana at Illinois -- Indiana +6
  • Maryland at Nebraska -- Nebraska +1.5
  • Rutgers at Iowa -- Rutgers +2
  • Minnesota at Purdue -- Purdue -1
  • Northwestern at Wisconsin -- Northwestern +11.5
  • Michigan State at Ohio State -- Michigan State +31.5

Last Week: 3-4
OveraLOL: 18-24-1