As impressive as unbeaten Penn State has been, rolling through its first seven football games, Ohio State has been even more dominant in the Big Ten this season.
The Buckeyes’ only hiccup came in the second week of the season in a matchup of Top 5 teams with a non-conference opponent, and Urban Meyers’ players have done an outstanding job of putting that 31-16 home loss to Oklahoma in the rearview mirror.
That’s the game, of course, when Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield planted the OU flag in the middle of the field at Ohio Stadium. Because of the play it received on social media, Mayfield’s actions created a divisive, spirited debate among college football fans that led the Sooners quarterback to issue an apology for disrespecting the Buckeyes.
In hindsight, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer probably should be thanking Mayfield. After bouncing back with a 38-7 win over Army the next week, the Buckeyes (6-1, 4-0) haven’t scored fewer than 54 points, including three Big Ten contests.
Other than sleep-walking through the first half of a season-opening 49-21 win over Indiana, Meyer’s team has been unstoppable in conference action. In their four conference games, the Buckeyes have outscored their opponents 55.75 to 12.25.
Throw out that IU score, the margin of victory has been even more impressive, 58.0 to 9.3. They were so dominant in the last three games that Meyer is partly concerned that his team may have been hurt by being off last week.
“… When you’re playing very well, you’d like to keep rolling,” said Meyer. “So actually on Thursday we played a game. It was in shells, but we played 55, 60 plays out here, because I want to make sure we keep going in this game mode.”
If there are questions about the Buckeyes, they revolve around the fact that Meyer’s team has routed four conference teams that have are a combined 5-11 in the Big Ten.
While James Franklin’s Nittany Lions (7-0, 4-0) are unbeaten, they did have to pull out a 21-19 victory at Iowa five weeks ago with Trace McSorely finding Juwan Johnson for a 7-yard touchdown pass on the final play of the game.
The Nittany Lions also have gotten better over the last month, even exceeding expectations by making quick work of Michigan last week, pounding the Wolverines 42-13.
Heisman frontrunner Saquan Barkley set the tone for Penn State, rushing for 108 yards and two touchdowns and catching three passes for 53 yards, including a 42-yard pass where he showed amazing concentration as he bobbled the ball twice before reaching the end zone.
“He’s the best all-purpose guy we’ve probably faced in probably, maybe my career,” said Meyer. “He’s obviously a great running back. But they do a good job using him and creating matchup issues.”
On the flip side Franklin’s defense will have to deal with another Heisman candidate in quarterback J.T. Barrett, who has thrown 21 touchdown passes with just one interception this season. Franklin joked that Barrett has been playing for Ohio State for 16 or 17 years.
“(He’s) one of the most successful quarterbacks in Big-Ten history and nationally. I mean you got to just completely respect everything that that guy’s been able to do in his career,” said Franklin. “He can beat you with his arm, he can beat you with his mind.”
If Penn State pulls out the win, it will continue what has to be the toughest three-game stretch of any team, traveling next week to Michigan State.
Meanwhile, the Buckeyes also have challenges ahead with road games at Iowa and Michigan remaining and a home game with the Spartans
IN THE SPOTLIGHT
All times Central
Rutgers at Michigan, Saturday 11 a.m. CT, BTN
Wisconsin at Illinois, Saturday 11 a.m. CT, ESPN
Michigan State at Northwestern, Saturday 2:30 p.m. CT, ESPN
Indiana at Maryland, Saturday 2:30 p.m. CT, BTN
Penn State at Ohio State, Saturday 2:30 p.m. CT, FOX
Minnesota at Iowa, Saturday 5:30 p.m., FSI
Nebraska at Purdue, 6:30 p.m., BTN
- Penn State (7-0, 4-0): Last Week – W, Michigan, 42-13. The Impact – James Franklin’s team has yet to allow a point in the first quarter, outscoring teams 90-0 through seven games. That streak likely ends Saturday at Ohio State, which is averaging 47.3 points per game.
- Ohio State (6-1, 4-0):Last Week – Idle. The Impact – Buckeyes had an extra week to prepare for the Big Ten’s biggest game of season outside of the league championship contest. J.T. Barrett has thrown for 21 TDs with just one interception and is averaging 313.9 yards of total offense per game.
- Wisconsin (7-0, 4-0):Last Week – W, Maryland, 48-13. The Impact – Jonathan Taylor matched the fewest games – seven – for a freshman to surpass 1,000 yards rushing, putting him good company with players like Emmitt Smith, Marshall Faulk and Adrian Peterson. His 158.9 yards per game is third nationally.
- Michigan State (6-1, 4-0):Last Week – W, Indiana, 17-9. The Impact – Spartans don’t do anything easy, forced to score two touchdowns in final six minutes at home to beat IU. Mark Dantonio’s team has won its four league games by an average score of 19.5 to 14.0.
- Northwestern (4-3, 2-2): Last Week – W, Iowa, 17-10. The Impact – Hunter Niswander’s 80-yard punt flipped momentum to help Pat Fitzgerald’s team even its Big Ten record after four league games. They are second in conference, 15th nationally, in red zone offense.
6. Iowa (4-3, 1-3): Last Week – L, at Northwestern, 17-10. The Impact – Held to a field goal in second half by Northwestern, Hawkeyes have lost three conference games by seven or fewer points. Iowa is last in league in red zone offense, scoring TDs only 60 percent of time.
7. Michigan (5-2, 2-2):Last Week – L, at Penn State, 42-13. The Impact – Wolverines were overwhelmed by Nittany Lions, allowing 506 yards and were beaten by 29 points just year after defeating Penn State by 39. The 68-point swing knocked Michigan from AP Top 25.
8. Indiana (3-4, 0-4):Last Week – L, at Michigan State, 17-9. The Impact – Hoosiers have had misfortune of playing its first four Big Ten teams against ranked teams. If nothing else, the stretch run should be much easier for Tom Allen’s squad.
9. Purdue (3-4, 1-3):Last Week – L, at Rutgers, 14-12. The Impact – Boilermakers need an offensive infusion, having been held to combined 21 points last two weeks. Jeff Brohm’s squad still can reach bowl game by winning three of final five games.
10. Minnesota (4-3, 1-3): Last Week – W, Illinois, 24-17. The Impact – Gophers ran 55 of 70 plays, racking up 292 yards rushing as Kobe McCrary (153) and Rodney Smith (103) shared the load in getting first conference win.
11. Nebraska (3-4, 2-2):Last Week – Idle. The Impact –Stanley Morgan Jr. is on track to one of ‘Huskers’ best seasons with 33 catches for 540 yards, but he’s reached end zone only six times. Mike Riley’s team hasn’t topped 17 points in last two games.
12. Maryland (3-4, 1-3): Last Week – L, at Wisconsin, 38-13. The Impact – Terps still have yet to play their toughest stretch of schedule but already have staked claim to league’s worst defense, ranking last in scoring defense (36.7 ppg) and total defense (439.1 ypg.).
13. Rutgers (3-4, 2-2): Last Week – W, Purdue, 14-12. The Impact – Don’t look now but Scarlet Knights are no longer cellar dwellers, having won two consecutive Big 10 games. No one would have predicted that, but another reality check arrives Saturday at Michigan.
14. Illinois (2-5, 0-4): Last Week – L, at Minnesota, 24-17. The Impact – With 14 freshmen starters, Illini are still experiencing growing pains but did score 10 points off turnovers against Gophers. Lovie Smith isn’t feeling the love in Champagne.
(All times Central; projected winners in bold caps)
Rutgers at MICHIGAN
WISCONSIN at Illinois
Michigan State at NORTHWESTERN
INDIANA at Maryland
Penn State at OHIO STATE
Minnesota at IOWA
Nebraska at PURDUE
Last Week: 5-1
Note: Each week during the college football season, I’ll be updating how things are unfolding in the Big Ten by Wednesday, the SEC by Thursday and ACC by Friday. I covered teams in each of the conferences during my 41 years as a sports journalist and I’m not ready to give it up in retirement.