Sunday, 22 November 2015

Flaws exposed as Ohio State comes undone

The Bears aren't the most overrated team in the country. It's actually defending national champion Ohio State, which lost to Michigan State 17-14 at home on Saturday.

Somehow, it took us 12 weeks to figure out the Buckeyes aren't really that good. We weren't the only ones hoodwinked, though. The College Football Playoff selection committee thought so much of the Buckeyes that it ranked them No. 3 in each of the first three top-25 rankings.

ven as Ohio State struggled to put away teams such as Northern Illinois, Indiana and Minnesota, we figured it would kick into gear once it played a game that really mattered. But the Buckeyes didn't, and now it's too late.

Hopefully, it's a valuable lesson for all of us: Last season doesn't (and shouldn't) matter when it comes to picking the four best teams for this season's playoff.

If Ohio State had played anyone of real consequence in the previous three months, we might have been exposed to the warts and boils that were festering behind the facade. What was supposed to be Urban Meyer's next dynasty was dismantled in about four hours Saturday.

After losing to No. 9 Michigan State on Michael Geiger's 41-yard field goal as time expired at the Horseshoe, it took the No. 3 Buckeyes about 30 minutes to completely implode.

Star tailback Ezekiel Elliott announced after the game that he would not return for his senior season in 2016. Backup quarterback Cardale Jones, the hero in OSU's unlikely run to a national championship last season, announced on Twitter that he would not either.

At this point, I'm not even sure it's fair to call the Buckeyes an actual team. They might be more of a loose collection of star players with one foot out the door to the NFL draft.

Don't the Buckeyes have another important game to play next week, as well as a postseason bowl? Talk about slapping Ohio State's biggest tradition right in the face. Elliott and Jones couldn't have waited until after next week's showdown at No. 12 Michigan in "The Game" to announce their future plans? Legendary OSU coach Woody Hayes must be rolling in his grave.

If Michigan State loses to Penn State next week and Ohio State somehow recovers to beat Michigan, the Buckeyes would win the Big Ten East and play in the Big Ten championship game. Isn't that worth playing for?

After losing for the first time in 23 games and suffering their first Big Ten regular-season defeat in Meyer's four seasons at the school, the Buckeyes' world seemed to come to a stunning end.

"It's easy to lead when everything is going well, and you won a bunch of games in a row," Meyer said. "That's not how you judge a team. That's not how you judge character. That's not how you judge a leader. That's how you judge a front-runner."

The Buckeyes sure sounded like front-runners on Saturday. Elliott ripped Ohio State's play calling against the Spartans. He carried the ball 12 times for 33 yards with one touchdown, which were three fewer rushing attempts than quarterback J.T. Barrett had.

"What happened today, it was kind of like a bad, bad dream," Elliott said. "Offense had a rough day, and I'm disappointed. I'm disappointed in the play calling, I'm disappointed in the situations we were put in, and I wish it all played out differently.

"I deserve more than [12] carries. I really do. I can't speak for the playcaller. I don't know what was going on."

Elliott certainly has reason to be frustrated, but voicing his frustrations publicly wasn't the smartest thing to do. On a cold, rainy day in Columbus, the Spartans had to figure the Buckeyes would try to hop on Elliott's back and ride to a victory, as they did at the end of last season. Instead, Elliott seemed to be more of an afterthought in the offense.

The Buckeyes also failed to take many chances in the passing game, as Barrett finished 9-of-16 passing for 46 yards with one touchdown. OSU finished with only 132 yards of offense, the lowest-ever total by a Meyer-coached team, with only five first downs.

How conservative was the play calling? Rarely has a Meyer-coached team taken so few chances on such a big stage.

"No, I was not content," Meyer told reporters postgame when asked about the play calling. "I call a lot of plays anyway, so finger will be pointed right here. And I have to do better. We didn't -- it was very conservative."

There's no question the Buckeyes are only a shell of the team that steamrolled Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon in its final three games of 2014 en route to a national championship. In hindsight, the loss of offensive coordinator Tom Herman, who left to become Houston's head coach, seems to be the biggest blow. The OSU offense has sputtered under the direction of co-offensive coordinators Tim Beck and Ed Warinner.

Coming into this season, the Buckeyes easily looked like the most talented team in the country. They had a handful of All-Americans on both lines, one of the country's best tailbacks and two quarterbacks who could seemingly start anywhere. It seemed the only way they wouldn't make the playoff was if the quarterback battle became a full-blown controversy.

The Buckeyes seemed too good to not have a legitimate chance of repeating. They looked so loaded at quarterback that two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Braxton Miller moved to wide receiver in the offseason. Meyer chose to start Jones at the beginning of the season, but then turned to Barrett in midseason after Jones failed to rekindle the magic he had during the 2014 finish.

However, Barrett couldn't get anything going against Michigan State, a 13-point underdog playing without injured star quarterback Connor Cook.

"For the most part, it was tough sledding throwing the ball," Meyer said. "And it hasn't been a smooth run, really, most of the year."

Now, the Buckeyes look like they're out of the playoff. They'll have to hope the Spartans lose to Penn State and they beat Michigan to have a chance of winning the Big Ten and playing in the Rose Bowl.

"We've just been hit right in the gut," Meyer said.

Some of Ohio State's best players sounded like they were knocked out for good.

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