The 2019 college football regular season is halfway in the books for the Ohio State Buckeyes, and it couldn’t have gone much better.
Ohio State entered the season with general optimism around the country, albeit cautious optimism, as Ryan Day entered his first season as the head of the program and Justin Fields adjusted to life as the starting quarterback of a college football giant.
In addition to turnover at the two most scrutinized positions in the sport, Day also overhauled nearly his entire defensive coaching staff following a disastrous season by the defense in 2018.
Indeed, questions were aplenty as Ohio State prepared to kick off the season against Florida Atlantic on Aug. 31.
Six games and six victories later, cautious optimism and the wait-and-see approach have turned into effusive national praise as Ohio State has stated its claim to being the best team in the country through six weeks.
Ohio State, tied for third in this week’s AP Poll, is clicking in every facet, from an offense that is averaging 49 points and 535 yards per game to a defense that is allowing just under nine points and 234 yards per game.
Perhaps the best indication of the Buckeyes’ domination might be found in the lone remaining question surrounding the team; when will they be tested in the regular season? Or will there even be a test?
Many thought that test would come last weekend when Michigan State and its always-stingy defense came to town. And for a quarter, that appeared to be the case.
But as they have every week, the Buckeyes wore down the opponent, allowing their superior talent to shine through to the tune of 529 yards of total offense — 323 of which came on the ground — while the defense allowed just 10 points.
Questions about any remaining team’s ability to test Ohio State are by no means an indictment on the quality of opponent it will see along the road to what the program hopes is a third-straight appearance in the Big Ten Championship.
As the Buckeyes enjoy the first of their two bye weeks this week, the Oct. 26 meeting with eighth-ranked Wisconsin looms large not just for Ohio State, but the entire College Football Playoff landscape.
Despite coming into the season with little fanfare, Penn State has quietly moved into the top 10 and the peripheral of the playoff discussion. Ohio State will host the Nittany Lions on Nov. 23, an unfortunate quirk to its schedule as it comes the week before the Buckeyes head to Ann Arbor to take on Michigan in the annual rendition of The Game.
Before any of those games are played, Ohio State must first demonstrate it’s capable of avoiding the inexplicable road loss to a Big Ten West team that has cost the team a shot at a national championship in each of the past two seasons; Ohio State travels to Northwestern (1-4) next week for a Friday night matchup in Evanston.
Day has said in the past he viewed the schedule in “chunks,” with the two bye weeks breaking down the 12-game schedule into six, two, and four-game stretches. Having survived the first and longest chunk of the three unscathed, the Buckeyes can feel good about how they’ve handled themselves thus far as they use the downtime to get healthy before entering the meat of their schedule.
Logic suggests this Ohio State team is going to be tested for four quarters at some point this season. But perhaps their truest test will prove to be how they continue to handle resounding victories and the heaping praise that only gets louder with each performance as they attempt to focus on the task at hand.
Only time will tell if the tests are, indeed, still yet to come. For now, however, the focus is on getting healthy and preparing for Northwestern.
Day’s meticulous approach to each and every week appears to have filtered down to his team, and his insistence on staying in the moment and continuing to grind suggests his team won’t get caught looking ahead, even if everyone outside the program is doing just that.
As Day’s predecessor used to say, the best part about going 6-0 is the chance to go 7-0. Northwestern — not Wisconsin, Penn State, or Michigan — stands in the way of Ohio State doing just that.