Penn State one of rare tests for Ohio State

September 29, 2018 12:43 AM

Is #4 Ohio State really Final Four material? The jury is still out. And, the jury won’t have much evidence to study while making its decision.

Though the Buckeyes are scheduled for a 12-game regular season…followed by an appearance in the Big Ten Championship game if they win the East Division…2018 really only presents a five-game challenge.

Ohio State’s “Real” Season

Sept. 15: Ohio State 40, TCU 28

Saturday: Ohio State at #9 Penn State

Nov. 10: Ohio State at #21 Michigan State

Nov. 24: #14 Michigan at Ohio State

Dec. 1: Big Ten Championship

The rest are virtual scrimmages given the caliber of opposition.

Why would we say the jury is still out given Ohio State’s double-digit win down in Texas against TCU? The Buckeyes’ defense had serious trouble with TCU’s speed and athleticism. If you didn’t read the box score two weeks ago, check out these key indicator stats…

OSU’s Trouble With TCU 

Total Yards: Ohio State 526, TCU 511

Yards-per-Play: TCU 6.7, Ohio State 6.6

Yards-per-Rush: TCU 5.6, Ohio State 4.3

Third Down Rate TCU 47%, Ohio State 33%

TD Drives of 50 yards: TCU 4, Ohio State 2

All credit to the Buckeyes for winning turnover category 3-0, and for scoring TDs on a fumble return and an interception return. OSU also had a relatively cheap 25-yard TD drive in the mix. TCU’s four touchdowns came on drives of 52, 75, 84, and 93 yards. The problem is, no team can score cheap TDs “on command.” Nobody in the defensive huddle says “okay…this play…let’s intercept a pass and run it all the way back.”

In the categories that teams have most control over at the point of attack, Ohio State had trouble getting meaningful clearance from TCU. And, that could foreshadow problems Saturday night in State College against the Nittany Lions. Penn State is very likely superior to TCU, and will be playing on its home field instead of a spacious NFL fan-cave. 

The selection committee has a few months to think about today’s question. Football bettors have to make a call immediately. Ohio State is priced at Final Four caliber Saturday night. The Buckeyes have been in the range of -3 to -3.5 as a road favorite through the week. That would mean OSU is about 6-7 points better than the Nittany Lions on a neutral field. 

Note that some in Vegas currently see Ohio State as inferior only to Alabama on the national landscape. Golden Nugget Sports Book Director Tony Miller recently posted early odds for hypothetical National Championship games. Alabama was -9.5 over Ohio State, -10.5 over Georgia, -11.5 over Clemson, and -14.5 over Oklahoma. 

If indicator stats from the TCU game mean anything, come Sunday morning, the college football world may be pondering whether or not Penn State is Final Four caliber. 

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