Ranked second by Athlon Sports heading into the 2017 college football season, the Ohio State Buckeyes were soundly defeated by Oklahoma 31-16 in week two, leaving their College Football Playoff chances in a precarious position. In order for Ohio State to get back into the playoff discussion, the Buckeyes will need to win out over the remainder of their schedule.
Since the week two loss, Ohio State has slowly but surely focused upon improving, week by week. Granted, the opponents have not been among the most challenging, but head coach Urban Meyer has continually worked on improving the passing game, shoring up the secondary, and working in talented reserves. Ever since losing to Oklahoma, the Buckeyes have outscored their opponents 210-42, for an average game score of 52-10.
Here is a quick look behind and ahead as Ohio State gears up for the second half of their 2017 schedule.
Offensive MVP: QB J.T. Barrett
A lightning rod of criticism for Ohio State fans, the reality is Barrett's play as both a passer and runner are essential to the strong performance of the Buckeyes' offense. Is Barrett as accomplished as a passer as other quarterbacks around the nation? No. While not possessing the strongest of arms or the quickest of legs, Barrett is capably piloting the Ohio State offense, having already scored 19 touchdowns at this point in the season, averaging 304 yards of total offense per game. Barrett has already set just about every meaningful record in program history, and continues to pad his statistics that may be almost impossible to break as the Buckeyes embark on the second half of the season.
Defensive MVP: DE Nick Bosa
A true sophomore, Bosa (above, right) is wreaking havoc on opposing teams, leading the Buckeyes with 10 tackles for a loss, and is tied for the team lead in sacks with four with Tyquan Lewis. Bosa has started three games, rotating with other stellar defensive linemen on the Ohio State roster. Look for Bosa's role on the defensive line to be expanded as the Buckeyes begin their stretch run in Big Ten play.
Best Moment of First Half: Parris Campbell's Speed on Full Display vs. UNLV
Campbell is currently leading the team in all-purpose yardage, as a wide receiver, kick returner, and on the occasional run plays. While still progressing as a dependable receiver, Campbell's explosive speed make him one of the most dangerous offensive weapons within the Ohio State arsenal. Just ask UNLV.
Best Newcomer: RB J.K. Dobbins
Dobbins is a true freshman who enrolled early. The talk of the coaching staff throughout the summer, Dobbins demonstrated the hype was justified with 181 rushing yards in the season opener at Indiana. While Mike Weber and Antonio Williams also have been called upon to share the workload in the backfield, Dobbins is the starting RB and should remain so for the duration of the season.
Biggest Surprise: Play of the Ohio State Secondary
While Ohio State fans wondered how the secondary would survive the loss of three starters to the NFL, most believed, or at least hoped, that the Buckeyes would be able to quickly reload with the talented reserves that had been recruited over the last few seasons. Indiana came out firing in the season opener, throwing for 420 yards and three touchdowns. The defense did record two interceptions against the Hoosiers, but Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield had no problem in the week two victory in Columbus, throwing for 386 yards and three touchdowns. Ohio State's young defensive backs have improved since week two, but big tests remain on the schedule. Will this secondary respond to the challenge?
Three Things to Watch in the Second Half
1. Improvement in the Secondary
As stated above, the secondary was torched in the first two weeks by Indiana and Oklahoma. Better performances followed against Army, UNLV, Rutgers and Maryland, but none of those teams were known for their potent passing attacks. The real tests have yet to come, as the Buckeyes enter the heart of their Big Ten schedule.
2. Improvement in the Passing Game
While J.T. Barrett has improved since the week two loss, questions remain about the effectiveness of the downfield passing game. The aforementioned Parris Campbell has shown the ability to take a short pass, and turn it into a long gain. Will other players emerge as dependable vertical threats?
3. Improvement on Special Teams
Urban Meyer has lamented the play of the special teams units. The most glaring breakdown was on display during the win over Maryland. The Terrapins erturned a kickoff for a touchdown and blocked a field goal while the Buckeyes botched a PAT and missed another field goal. While Ohio State still won that game comfortably, 62-14, these are the kinds of mistakes that can be the difference between a win or a loss in a close contest.
Ranking the Toughest Remaining Games on the Schedule
1. Oct. 28 Penn State
This is the game that everyone in the B1G has had circled for months. Currently undefeated, Penn State is the type of offensive juggernaut that could be difficult for Ohio State to slow down, with Heisman Trophy candidate Saquon Barkley leading the way for the Nittany Lions. If the Buckeyes win this one, they should be in the driver's seat to win the East Division.
2. Nov. 25 at Michigan
THE GAME. Every Ohio State and Michigan fan knows that this rivalry game has often been the key to a successful season, if not determining the eventual winner of the Big Ten. Now a divisional matchup, look for this game to once again be a factor in the conference, at minimum.
3. Nov. 4 at Iowa
While a kickoff time has not yet been established, it would not be a surprise if this game ends up under the lights at Kinnick Stadium. Ohio State has not played at Iowa since 2010, a 20-17 victory. The last time the Hawkeyes beat the Buckeyes at home was back in 2004. Strange things have happened to ranked teams when playing at Iowa in November. (Just ask Michigan.)
4. Nov. 11 Michigan State
The Spartans have been the greatest nemesis of the Buckeyes ever since Urban Meyer became Ohio State's head coach in 2012. Michigan State ruined Ohio State's undefeated seasons in 2013 and '15, and came close to upsetting the Buckeyes last season in East Lansing. Michigan State's victory over Michigan is only serving notice that the Spartans will be a tough opponent come November for the Buckeyes.
5. Oct. 14 at Nebraska
The first trip to Lincoln for the Buckeyes since the 2011 season, they need to be on upset alert against an opponent with its back up against the wall. Nebraska head coach Mike Riley is under close scrutiny by the fan base and the administration. Nothing would improve Riley's job situation better than an upset of Ohio State.
6. Nov. 21 Illinois
The last game of the home schedule, the Buckeyes will look to send out their senior class on a winning note. While Illinois is slowly improving under head coach Lovie Smith, the Fighting Illini may not be able to keep pace from a talent standpoint, especially with so much riding on this game for the seniors.