COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State’s path to the College Football Playoff isn’t a clear one, but the fact that one exists at all is in part a credit to the mini-transformation the Buckeyes have undergone these past two weeks.
The Buckeyes have at times this season gotten away from the run-first identity that has led to so much success in the Urban Meyer era. Usually Meyer teams at Ohio State run the ball 60-65 percent of the time, but through 9 games in 2017, that number was at 52 percent. A mystifying loss to Iowa seems to have sparked a change, though, because the Buckeyes used the ground game to bulldoze their way through Michigan State and Illinois.
The offensive line looks great, and running back Mike Weber has been a revelation. After an injury-plagued start to the season, 270 of his 545 rushing yards this season have come in the past 2 games. He’s broken off 3 touchdown runs longer than 40 yards in that span.
“Weber is just 100 percent healthy,” Meyer said. “He’s running like a guy that — we were bragging about him all summer and then had the tough injury. But he’s doing very well.”
With Weber and J.K. Dobbins running wild — and the passing game still effective, despite the shift to more runs — Ohio State has looked like a playoff team each of the past two weeks. It might be easy to dismiss Michigan State and Illinois as not the most impressive of wins, but consider how the Buckeyes beat those opponents.
Michigan State came in ranked ahead of Ohio State and left with a 48-3 loss. That beatdown was more impressive than what Notre Dame did to the Spartans in a 38-18 win and certainly better than how Michigan and Penn State fared in losses to Michigan State.
Illinois is an embarrassment, but the Buckeyes somehow made the Illini look even worse. Contrast that with unbeaten No. 5 Wisconsin, which underwhelmed in a 24-10 win against Illinois.
Those two wins gave Ohio State the game it needs. The Buckeyes are the Big Ten East champions, and they’ll play what almost certainly will be an undefeated Wisconsin team in Indianapolis on Dec. 2. If Ohio State can get past Michigan — a prospect that looks increasingly likely — a win over the Badgers could help the Buckeyes make their case as the No. 4 seed in the College Football Playoff.
There would be no question that Ohio State would push past Wisconsin in the rankings if it wins the Big Ten title. By that point, either Auburn or Alabama will have taken a loss in the regular-season finale, and the winner of that game will face Georgia in the SEC Championship Game. It will be difficult — though not impossible — for the SEC to come out of that scenario with two playoff-worthy resumes. Miami and Clemson will play in the ACC Championship Game. The loser of that game probably can’t survive, as Miami’s schedule isn’t strong and Clemson already has a loss. Notre Dame doesn’t play in a conference championship game, and the Pac-12 has all of its teams playing catch up to Ohio State in the rankings.
In short, win and get in is looking increasingly likely for the Buckeyes. It’s not a sure thing even with a pair of wins, and those games are by no means guaranteed victories. But if Ohio State keeps playing at this level, the Buckeyes will pass the eye test with flying colors and also could have the resume to match.
“I love our focus,” Meyer said. “I love the fact the way that we’re practicing and the focus — intent focus is the mantra right now. And I like where we’re at.”