It has been three seasons since the Ohio State Buckeyes last appeared in the College Football Playoff. Painful losses during the 2017 season at Iowa and in '18 at Purdue ensured that the Buckeyes, while talented, would be on the outside looking in at the other playoff participants.
While six games remain in the regular season, Ohio State has been looking very dominant. Averaging 49 points a game, first-year head coach Ryan Day has the Buckeyes undefeated and being discussed as one of the best teams in the nation.
Ohio State is certainly not out of the woods. Several big games remain on the Buckeyes' 2019 schedule, and it will bear watching to see if Day is able to keep his players focused as Ohio State attempts to win its third straight Big Ten championship.
Offensive MVP: QB Justin Fields
It was very tempting to select junior running back J.K. Dobbins, who is averaging over seven yards a carry, totaling 826 rushing yards and six touchdowns so far this season. But this award has to go to Fields, who has been everything Ohio State coaches and fans could have wanted and more. The sophomore has 18 touchdown passes with just one interception with another eight touchdowns on the ground. His 26 total touchdowns tie him for 17th among all FBS teams (with Georgia and Auburn, among others). Not bad for the sophomore who is in his first season as the starter.
Defensive MVP: DE Chase Young
The Ohio State defense is markedly improved from 2018, and the player who is at the forefront of the Buckeye defense is Young. With 8.5 sacks so far in 2019, the junior leads the Big Ten and is second nationally to Boise State's Curtis Weaver (9.0). He's a big reason why Ohio State is third in the nation in both total and scoring defense.
Best Moment of First Half: J.K. Dobbins' Touchdown Run vs. Michigan State
With so many dominant performances by Ohio State, it is challenging to pick one, but Dobbins' long touchdown run Saturday night against Michigan State gets the nod. The Buckeyes were having trouble running the ball against the Spartans and were up by just a touchdown in the second quarter when Dobbins broke free for a 67-yard score that essentially put the game out of reach.
Best Newcomer: WR Garrett Wilson
The true freshman has already displayed a knack for making big plays. Even with only 10 receptions, Wilson has scored three touchdowns, and should only get more opportunities from here out.
Three Things to Watch in the Second Half
So far, Ryan Day has been able to keep Ohio State properly focused on every opponent. With the praise and accolades starting to become more and more prevalent, will Day be able to keep his players' attention on the lofty goals that are still within their grasp?
Ohio State has been able to handle nagging injuries along the offensive and defensive lines, with capable backups and strong depth allowing the Buckeyes to proceed without missing a beat. Will this good fortune in the health department continue as the Buckeyes prepare for the stretch run in October and November?
3. Continued player development
Fields is off to a sensational, Heisman Trophy-worthy start. Ohio State needs to continue getting backup players, such as QBs Chris Chugunov and Gunnar Hoak, into games whenever possible. Fields has only started six games, so he still needs all the experience he can get, but the depth behind Fields is even more inexperienced, and could be called into play if the dual-threat signal-caller were to get hurt.
Ranking the Toughest Remaining Games on the Schedule
1. Oct. 26 Wisconsin
Another undefeated team, the Badgers have been strong running the ball with Heisman Trophy candidate Jonathan Taylor, and smothering on defense. Ohio State had a good test with Michigan State this past Saturday, but Wisconsin may be the most physical team on the schedule.
2. Nov. 23 Penn State
Another undefeated team, Penn State has played Ohio State tough, losing by a single point each of the last two seasons. The Nittany Lions have a tough challenge that precedes their trip to Columbus, with games at Iowa, vs. Michigan, and at Michigan State. Depending on how those go, this matchup in Columbus could determine the Big Ten East.
3. Nov. 30 at Michigan
THE GAME. That Team Up North. While the Wolverines have traditionally been the toughest game on the Ohio State schedule for years, Jim Harbaugh's team is staggering offensively. Perhaps Michigan will get untracked by late November, but for now, this game does not have the same type of anticipation as in preceding years.
4. Oct. 18 at Northwestern
A rare Friday night Big Ten game, Ohio State will make the trip to Evanston for the first time since 2013. Northwestern's offense is among the least productive in the nation but has still played opponents such as Wisconsin and Nebraska tough due to its defense.
5. Nov. 9 Maryland
Last season, Ohio State was able to escape with a 52-51 overtime victory at Maryland. The Terrapins are currently sitting at 3-2, with several games that precede their trip to Columbus in November. Maryland doesn't really want to make this a game that could decide whether it goes bowling this season or not.
6. Nov. 16 at Rutgers
Ohio State has never had a strong challenge from the Scarlet Knights, and this game in mid-November should follow the same pattern. Rutgers has already fired head coach Chris Ash, has just one win, and already has seen players like QB Artur Sitkowski and RB Raheem Blackshear announce they are going to sit out the rest of the season to preserve a year of eligibility.