Ohio State’s stay in second place in the Big Ten pecking order did not last very long. After being dethroned as the class of the Big Ten in last season’s conference championship game by Michigan State, the Buckeyes had to wait until Nov. 8 to get back on top. Naturally, and perhaps fittingly, that opportunity to jump back on top of the Big Ten came at the expense of Michigan State.
For Urban Meyer, Saturday night’s win against Michigan State was his first against a top-15 team since being hired as Ohio State’s coach in 2012. With that proverbial monkey off the back of Meyer now, the focus shifts to getting to the Big Ten championship game. With a head-to-head tiebreaker against Michigan State, Ohio State is two more wins away from clinching a return trip to Indianapolis as division champion. Ohio State is also now the team to beat in the Big Ten.
The success of Ohio State this season has been overshadowed by a Week 2 loss at home to Virginia Tech, but the Buckeyes have shown they are a far superior team than the one that took the field that night against the upset-minded Hokies. Sure, the Virginia Tech loss is not good, and looks worse as the season unfolds, but it is also important to remember the situation then and it should be put into perspective. J.T. Barrett was making just his second start for Ohio State, and it showed. Barrett had just taken over the starting job weeks before when Braxton Miller underwent season-ending surgery before it ever got started. Watching Barrett against Michigan State, you would have thought you were watching a completely different player. In reality, you were.
Barrett threw for 300 yards and three touchdowns against a Michigan State defense often referred to as the best in the Big Ten. Maybe the Spartans defense is lacking a no-fly zone this season, but to do what Barrett did on the road against Michigan State should open some eyes to what he and everyone else at Ohio State is doing. Ezekiel Elliott was a beast running the football (154 yards, two touchdowns) and Devin Smith showed off some wheels with 129 receiving yards and a touchdown.
Ohio State’s 49-37 victory in East Lansing was exactly the kind of victory the Buckeyes needed to re-enter the College Football Playoff discussion in the coming weeks, although it is still a crowded pool Ohio State is now swimming in with one-loss teams at TCU and Baylor in the Big 12, Oregon and Arizona State in the Pac-12, Alabama generating momentum in the SEC and undefeated teams at Mississippi State and Florida State. There may still be a chance for Ohio State to reach the playoff, but the only thing Urban Meyer’s team can focus on now is winning its first outright Big Ten championship since 2009.
Next up? A road trip to a surprisingly good Minnesota. Can the Buckeyes keep things rolling against a Gophers squad coming off a 51-14 win over Iowa?
-By Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB)