Buckeyes Have Business to Handle

Here come the Buckeyes - Photo: NEAL C. LAURON | DISPATCH

Can Third Ranked Buckeyes State Their Case Against Illinois?

If the Buckeyes want to be taken seriously in their attempt to repeat as college football's national champions, it's about time they begin taking the task seriously themselves. With only three weeks and a title Big Ten title game left to go, the Buckeyes, once thought to be invincible given their talent and current standing as defending champions, have serious work to do in the eyes of the selection committee.

We know this to be the case because the selection committee currently sees the Buckeyes as the third best team in the country behind Clemson and Alabama, despite the fact that Clemson is still Clemson and Alabama is carrying an ugly loss to Ole Miss from earlier this season. Even worse is the fact that Notre Dame, a one loss team is currently ranked fourth with two other undefeated teams, Iowa and Baylor, ready to leap into the conversation at the first sign of trouble. Even Oklahoma state, currently undefeated at number eight can make a serious case for being invited to the party.

So what exactly does this mean to the Buckeyes?

It means that the Buckeyes need to use the next three weeks and the Big Ten title game to make a serious case for why they need to be in the college football playoff. Knowing what we know from last year and this year's current rankings, simply being the "undefeated national champions" may not be enough, not with the lackluster way in which they have gone about going 9-0 in their title defense. The committee, and everyone who loves to ridicule the committee, is chomping at the bit to keep the Buckeyes out of the dance.

Ladies and gentlemen... Mark May - Photo: Awful Announcing
Can four more lackluster performances do that? I doubt it. There is no justifiable reason to keep the defending national champion out of the playoff party if they go undefeated, no matter how poor the performances, not when there is money to be made from the rabid OSU fanbase that will surely travel in droves to wherever the Buckeyes are playing.

Give the Buckeyes one loss, even if it comes at the hands of a good Michigan State or Iowa team, or even a dangerous Michigan team and the Buckeyes will almost surely be kicked to the curb even if team like Alabama and Notre Dame sport similar resumes. All hail the fall of the almighty Buckeyes!

That's why it's critical for the Buckeyes to start handling their business. Not just winning games, but dominating them. That has to start today when the Buckeyes take on the Fighting Illini in Champaign. At 5-4 and given everything they have dealt with over the past few months, the Illini are a lesser opponent, the type of opponent that this Ohio State team should thoroughly dominate.

With the return of J.T. Barrett to quarterback following his one game suspension, I fully expect the Buckeye offense to be firing on all cylinders today. We've seen enough over the past 9 games to understand that the Buckeyes' offense operates better with Barrett under center. He's more decisive in his decision making and his athleticism adds an extra dimension to the offense not seen with Cardale Jones.

While the Buckeyes' talent far exceeds that of the Illini, there are a couple of factors that could contribute to making this game closer than it needs to be. For starters, Memorial Stadium is a glorified wind tunnel and will reek havoc on even the best passing games. Only twice in their last five trips to Champaign has an OSU quarterback exceed 100 yards through the air. That was Troy Smith in 2006 with 108 yards and Braxton Miller in 2013 with 150 yards.

It's likely that the Buckeyes will once again have to rely on Ezekiel Elliot and the running game to wear down the Illini defense. That also won't be easy as the Illini can trot out some serious beef along their defensive line. Chunky Clements checks in at 290 pounds, Rob Bain at 300 pounds, and Jihad Ward at 290 pounds. It'll be up to the Buckeyes' offensive line to finish their blocks and not set the offense back through unnecessary penalties.

Defensively, the Buckeyes should not have any issue with the Illini. While they tout two very talented running backs in Ke'Shawn Vaughn and Josh Ferguson, the Illini passing attack leaves something to be desired. Junior QB Wes Lunt has thrown just 12 touchdowns against four interceptions for 2000 yards. It not a passing attack that strikes fear into the opposition. Expect to see a heavy dose of the run game as the Illini try to make headway on the ground against the Buckeyes' 32 ranked rush defense.

As the final game heading into the gauntlet that is Michigan State, Michigan, and most likely Iowa in the Big Ten title game, Today's game against Illinois should serve as one last chance for the Buckeyes to get themselves in order. Get Barrett and the offense rolling. Shore up the defense. Get crucial playing time for younger players in order to get them ready for what lies ahead.

The road ahead will not be easily traversed. If the Buckeyes can survive and make it through undefeated, then they can go ahead and more than likely punch their ticket to the College Football Playoff. But, one misstep along the way and their fate may also be sealed - a trip to a lesser bowl game that means nothing in the grand scheme of things. Hopefully it doesn't come to that.

So to the Buckeyes, I say... Don't give the Mark Mays of the world a reason to keep you out.
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