Colin: Wow. After the Nebraska blowout folks around the coffee shop are starting to discuss if this is one of the all time great Buckeye teams. Is it too early for that kind of talk?
Baver: Yep....too early for that. So far, this team looks as polished as it gets, but they haven’t played a top 25 team yet. Hell, they may not have played a top 50 team yet. Still, that was a show Ohio St put on at Nebraska. The speed on defense is insane, and the offense looks like a machine. And everyone has taken notice, not just those in Ohio. The problem now is battling expectations and keeping everyone hungry. Bama went from being called the greatest team of all-time last fall to getting blown out in the title game. This Buckeye team actually needs some adversity right now...as long as that adversity isn’t in the form of a loss. To that point, Clemson’s scare vs UNC last week will actually help Dabo’s squad.
Colin: Speaking of all time great teams, Sparty came into the Shoe as huge dogs yet ripped the heart out of the undefeated 1998 and 2015 OSU squads. Why couldn’t it happen again?
Baver: It COULD happen again. Since 2000, Ohio St has lost 9 games as double-digit favorites, including losses as 18-pt favorites against both Iowa and Purdue over the past two seasons.
But OSU hasn’t lost as a 20-plus-pt favorite since that ’98 loss to Nick Saban’s Spartan team. They were 4-TD favorites that day and blew a 24-9, 3rd qtr lead. That was about as shocking as it gets.
While another upset is surely possible, I think the Spartans are in trouble Saturday. Without OSU doing Sparty favors with turnovers, I don’t see Michigan St scoring more than 14, maybe 17 pts. And although MSU is tough on D, their pass defense isn’t up to typical Spartan standards.
Colin: The O-Line lost 4 starters from an average group last year and suddenly Kirk Herbstreit is calling the 2019 O-Line the best in the country. What gives?
Baver: The ’19 O-line was not good (by Ohio St standards), so it doesn’t surprise me that this line is better. They seem to have a nastiness that’s been lacking in recent years. But best in the country? Herbstreit gets carried away sometimes....no....he gets carried away ALL of the time. Let’s revisit this topic in November or at least after this OSU O-line has faced MSU & Wisconsin.
Colin: Fields, Young, Dobbins and Okudah are already stars. Who are a couple unsung Buckeyes who have really stepped up so far in 2019?
Baver: Instead of a couple, here are seven of em: Davon Hamilton, Shaun Wade, Josh Myers, Baron Browning, Pete Werner, Thayer Munford, Chris Olave. Browning and Werner both took a beating from OSU fans last year, and look like different players in the new scheme. And few have brought up Davon Hamilton...that kid is light years better than when he arrived on campus.
Colin: Thoughts on the matchup with MSU and a prediction?
Baver: If the Bucks can simply run the ball “adequately”, Michigan St almost can’t win this game. But Sparty’s run D is elite, so Dobbins and company have to bring it. The MSU pass D got nickeled and dimed to death by IU’s short passing game last week, and the adjustments surprisingly never came. You can be certain Ryan Day took notice. Sparty does have two defensive stars that can change games. One is DE Kenny Willekes, a former walk-on, who had a big game against OSU last season. Willekes plays the run better than any DE in the B1G, while MLB Joe Bachie is the best LB in the league.
On the other side of the ball, Brian Lewerke has been healthy and is playing better after a rough 2018. Lewerke can hurt you some with his legs but has limited upside. Sparty’s new #1 WR is Darrell Stewart, a big kid that can be a matchup problem at 6-2, 216. Tailback Elijah Collins isn’t a stud athlete, but is a tough back to bring down. MSU’s O-line vs OSU’s D-line? Not a favorable matchup for the green and white.
Sparty may keep things interesting for a bit, but with a subpar offense and a so-so defensive secondary, I see Ohio St winning & covering the 20 pts. I’ve got it OSU 35 MSU 13.
Colin: What other games and lines will you be keeping an eye on this weekend?
Baver: Iowa at Michigan - the “Big Noon” game on Fox. UM is much better at home than on the road, but should find trouble scoring against a strong Hawkeye D. Of course, Iowa may have trouble scoring as well. I like Iowa +3.5 and tend to think they win outright. Until Michigan shows they have some heart against better opponents, I am going to continue to pick against them in these games.
Auburn at Florida – should be a good one in Gainesville. I think the Gator defense will be too much for Tiger true frosh QB Bo Nix. I like Florida getting points at home (currently +2.5). With the schedule Auburn has, they have to get beat at sooner or later, right?
—Brent Baver and Colin Gawel