COLUMBUS, Ohio — Though Ohio State has lost two regular-season games for the first time in the Urban Meyer era, Buckeye fans still have it as good as ever.
The Buckeyes are heavily favored to pick up a sixth straight win against Michigan on Saturday, which would bring the tally to 15 victories in the last 17 years. The roster is stocked with NFL talent and there’s still a chance at a national championship.
The list of things to celebrate is too long to list in one story, but consider these 10 things a good Thanksgiving reminder of just how great it is to be an Ohio State fan right now.
A College Football Playoff path
Ohio State’s second loss came by 31 points to Iowa, which is as playoff-ruining as it gets — or so it would seem. The Buckeyes rebounded the following week with a resounding 48-3 triumph over No. 12 Michigan State while No. 1 Georgia, No. 3 Notre Dame, No. 6 TCU and No. 9 Washington all lost that weekend.
The Buckeyes’ path to a No. 4 ranking is no sure thing, but there’s a conceivable path. Alabama winning out and an ACC title game that isn’t that close would go a long way toward helping out Ohio State if it does its part by closing with two strong wins. The fact that a College Football Playoff spot is even being discussed after the way that Iowa game went is something to appreciate.
Second chances don’t always happen at this level. Remember Torrance Gibson, who was suspended for a semester by the university and then never returned? Or Kyle Berger, the talented linebacker who never played because of multiple ACL tears? What about Eric Glover-Williams, who switched to offense only to be dismissed just before the 2017 season began?
Plenty of other Buckeyes, though, are thriving with a second chance. The most prominent of those is senior captain Tracy Sprinkle, who was dismissed after being arrested in July 2014 only to be reinstated after proving he didn’t have drugs in his system that night. Sprinkle has become a model Buckeyes player on and off the field. Junior Johnnie Dixon thought about walking away after the 2016 season because of chronic knee problems, but he gave it one more shot. Through 11 games, he leads Ohio State with 8 touchdown catches in 2017. Senior tight end Marcus Baugh was suspended in January 2014 for a second underage consumption arrest. On the thinnest of ice, he’s kept out of trouble ever since and has 21 catches and 4 touchdowns this season.
Jamarco Jones’ tweet
The weekend before National Signing Day in 2014, Ohio State commit Jamarco Jones took an official visit to Michigan State. The 4-star offensive lineman had been committed to the Buckeyes since June 2013 but wanted one last look at the Spartans.
The visit came and went with no word from Jones on a change in his commitment status. Late Tuesday night on the eve of Signing Day, Jones fired off a two-letter tweet that helped Buckeye fans rest easy.
— Jamarco Jones (@jjones_74) February 5, 2014
Jones became a two-year starter for the Buckeyes at left tackle, and he’s one of the most valuable members of this 2017 team. Given Ohio State’s lack of depth on the offensive line — particularly at tackle — it’s safe to say the Buckeyes would be in much worse shape if they hadn’t kept Jones from flipping to the Spartans.
A Texas-sized meltdown
Let’s recall the sad state of affairs of college football in Texas in 2016. Texas played poorly enough to get Charlie Strong fired, going 5-7 for the second consecutive season. Texas A&M completed its annual November collapse, losing four of its last five after starting 7-1. Normally solid TCU went 6-7, while Texas Tech finished 5-7. Baylor was a disaster off the field in addition to losing six straight games after starting 6-0. Houston beat No. 3 Oklahoma in its season opener but then lost four games and lost its coach to Texas.
The Buckeyes reaped the benefits, taking three of the top six recruits in the state for the Class of 2017. Cornerback Jeffrey Okudah and linebacker Baron Browning should turn into all-conference type of players one day. The real prize, though, turned out to be running back J.K. Dobbins. As a freshman, Dobbins has rushed for 1,089 yards and six touchdowns, averaging 7.3 yards per carry and 99 yards per game. All of these players should pay off for the Buckeyes, and it’s doubtful such a coup happens without so many local teams being down the last year or two. (After all, just look at how hard it’s suddenly become to seal the deal with Houston Lamar 5-star cornerback Anthony Cook.)
Ohio State fans obviously owe Brady Hoke a measure of thanks for rotting Michigan football from within while presiding over a decline from 11-2 to 5-7 over four years. He gave current Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh plenty of work to do, and only time will erase a pair of putrid recruiting classes at the end of the Hoke era.
But this year, Hoke has a new way to help out the Buckeyes. Tennessee and Ohio State are the only two FBS teams to never lose eight games in a season, and that category could soon be down to one member. As Tennessee’s defensive line coach, Hoke has presided over a unit that helped the Volunteers rank 77th in sacks, 88th in tackles for loss and 125th in rushing yards allowed. In the wake of the Butch Jones firing, he was installed as the head coach for the final two games. The first was a 30-10 loss that dropped Tennessee to 4-7 overall and 0-7 in the SEC. If Hoke loses the season finale at Vanderbilt, the Buckeyes will stand alone having never lost eight games.
Cardale Jones’ Twitter account
You can’t put a price on this type of entertainment.
All the former ❌ichigan players giving the current players advise & motivation to beat OSU when y’all NEVER beat us🤔 ain’t shit changed!
— Cardale Jones (@Cardale7_) November 22, 2017
We need that magical pixie dust on offense right about now @CoachTomHerman
— Cardale Jones (@Cardale7_) September 10, 2017
Kerry Coombs’ cornerback factory
Over the last four years of the NFL draft, Ohio State has had four cornerbacks taken in the first round. That’s an outrageous achievement, but it’s about to get better. Denzel Ward is widely viewed as a first-round lock for the 2018 NFL Draft, and his blazing speed could push him into the top 10 if he crushes the pre-draft workouts. Though they’re still developing, Okudah and Kendall Sheffield look like they could also eventually become elite prospects.
This Ohio State team had to replace a pair of first-round cornerbacks, and yet they’ve done just fine. After a rocky start, cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs’ unit is once again playing at a high level. The Buckeyes have climbed to 15th in total passing yards allowed after ranking 130th (last) two games into the season. There have been five times when opponents have passed for less than 100 yards, and three of those totals didn’t eclipse 20 yards. Expect this group to clamp down hard on Michigan on Saturday, and remember how much talent has already departed and how much more is still to come.
1 more year of a Bosa on the team
The rule allowing players to leave after three years has caused the Buckeyes to replace key players earlier than they want, but Nick Bosa is the rare case in which a team is lucky the minimum isn’t even shorter. Despite splitting time with five other defensive ends and exiting early in blowouts, Bosa will almost certainly be an All-American in his sophomore season. He’s outrageously good, and if there were no age limit on the NFL draft he would be months away from joining his brother Joey as a multi-millionaire.
If Nick Bosa was eligible for this upcoming NFL Draft, he would be a top-5 pick. https://t.co/n01q7R86hU
— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) November 11, 2017
Instead, Buckeyes fans get to watch him for one more season. Looking at the bigger picture, it will also be six straight seasons of having a Bosa on the team. For college football fans, it doesn’t get much better than having back-t0-back players of that magnitude.
Mike Weber’s newfound speed
Mike Weber spent the all of last year and most of this one hearing incessantly about how he couldn’t break the big one. It didn’t help that Dobbins arrived this year and immediately hit on some huge touchdown runs while Weber recovered from a hamstring injury. Over the last two games, though, Weber has been a revelation. He looks noticeably faster than he ever has been — a product of finally being healthy this year — and has touchdowns runs of 47, 82 and 43 yards the past two weeks alone.
How good is that run? With this version of Weber, the Buckeyes are a different team.
There have been ups and there have been downs, but Ohio State fans will miss J.T. Barrett when he’s gone. A surprise starter as a redshirt freshman, he laid the groundwork for the 2014 national championship. His win-loss record speaks for itself, and the Buckeyes could still end up making the College Football Playoff three times in his four years as a starter. The school and conference record books have been rewritten in his name. And here’s one for this weekend: He’s one win away from becoming the first Ohio State quarterback to win four starts against Michigan. Not bad.