Numerous observers (sheepishly raises hand) left the Big Ten dead playoff-wise after the first couple of weeks of the season. Thanks to the last couple of weeks, that conference in general and Ohio State specifically are right back in the conversation.
After jumping out to a 35-7 halftime lead, the Buckeyes kept their foot on Rutgers’ throat en route to a 56-17 win over the Scarlet Knights in Columbus. Since the inexplicable home loss to Virginia Tech in Week 2, OSU has been on a roll as it has outscored its four opponents (RU, Maryland, Cincinnati and Kent State) by the combined score of 238-69.
Even as OSU’s margin of victory was 39 points, the game wasn’t nearly that close against a team that was 5-1 coming in.
The Buckeyes scored on seven of its 10 drives that didn’t involve the end of halves — one ended in a punt, one a fourth-quarter fumble and the other a turnover on downs. They outgained the Scarlet Knights 587-345, tying a school record for most consecutive 500-yard games in school history in the process with four in a row (1998 team).
Once again, the play of J.T. Barrett has a growing number of people wondering if there will be a quarterback controversy when a healthy Braxton Miller returns in 2015.
In a little over three quarters worth of work, Barrett produced 361 yards of total offense (354 passing, 107 rushing) and five total touchdowns (three passing, two rushing). The redshirt freshman led the team in rushing as well.
In the loss to the Hokies, Barrett threw three interceptions and a touchdowns; in the last four games, his TD-to-INT ratio is a stellar 17-1. Throwing in rushing scores, and he’s produced 20 touchdowns and no turnovers in that span.
With the win, the 13th-ranked Buckeyes improved to 6-1 on the season. OSU has two more games (at 4-2 Penn State in primetime, home against 3-4 Illinois) before getting to what will be the biggest game of the season for both the teams and the conference: the Nov. 8 trip to East Lansing to take on Big Ten title game nemesis Michigan State.
If both teams continue winning between now and then — MSU only has to get past the sinking ship that is big brother Michigan at home — it will set up a matchup of squads that will most likely be ranked inside of the Top 10 of the major polls at kickoff. The winner of that game would then have the inside track on the East Division’s spot in the league championship game. It would also, with no offense intended toward Nebraska, leave the winner as what would likely be the conference’s lone hope for a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff.
And, courtesy of the October chaos and its two high-profile team rebounding from early-season losses, the Big Ten can once again realistically talk playoffs, even if some would still consider a spot at that exclusive table a long-shot.