Buckeyes quiet critics in dominant fashion
EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Urban Meyer and his suddenly indomitable Ohio State football team breathed in the cold, sweet air they had vacuumed from a once-rocking Spartan Stadium.
They could finally breathe out too.
Three seasons of being reminded they couldn't win the big one yielded on Saturday night to the Buckeyes' biggest regular-season win in eight years -- and a celebration that defied the calendar.
With the stadium near all to itself after a 49-37 thumping of Michigan State, Ohio State and several thousand scarlet-adorned fans were going to enjoy this. Players gave Meyer an icy Gatorade shower and bounded toward the marching band in the corner while the crowd sang, "We don't give a damn for the whole state of Michigan."
"A win for the ages," Meyer said.
Pardon him, but for an Ohio State team making a cameo appearance as an underdog, it felt that way.
Twice already this year, the Buckeyes (8-1, 5-0 Big Ten) were dismissed, first when two-time reigning Big Ten MVP Braxton Miller was lost to a season-ending shoulder surgery and then -- once and for all -- after their home loss to Virginia Tech in the second week. Their ensuing routs over a line of second-rate teams barely registered nationally, instead only casting light on the enduring critique of Meyer's first three seasons in Columbus. For all the resounding success, none of their 31 wins had come against a top-15 opponent. Meyer had 12 wins over top-10 teams in his first five seasons at Florida alone.
Yet the Buckeyes' win Saturday over the No. 8 Spartans (7-2, 4-1) -- their first over a top-10 team in the regular season since vanquishing No. 2 Michigan in 2006 -- changed the narrative in a big way.
Wait 'til next year? How 'bout this one?
A season after Michigan State thwarted the veteran Buckeyes' national championship plans in the Big Ten title game, an OSU team that starts 13 freshmen and sophomores proved they might yet have a title push in them.
"People have always said that we're overrated and just beat up on teams that aren't very good," defensive tackle Michael Bennett said. "This was a very good team we beat and we beat them pretty well. This shows that we're the real deal this year, that we can compete with the best. This gives us confidence and makes people turn their heads and start considering Ohio State for the top four."
The top four teams, as in the college football playoff. On a Saturday in which four top-10 teams in the latest playoff rankings were felled -- No. 3 Auburn, No. 7 Kansas State, No. 8 Michigan State, and No. 10 Notre Dame -- No. 14 Ohio State careened back into the national picture. The Buckeyes climbed to eighth in the latest AP poll released Sunday, and should be similarly perched when the committee with the vote that matters releases its new ballot on Tuesday.
Ohio State needs to win two of the next three weeks -- at Minnesota (7-2) on Saturday, home against Indiana (3-6) and Michigan (5-5) -- to clinch a return trip to the Big Ten title game, where it would have one more rare opportunity to make a national statement. The Buckeyes should hope for No. 11 Nebraska to win the Big Ten West and continued carnage elsewhere.
Asked if he felt Ohio State is a playoff team, Meyer said, "I think it is."
"I haven't studied the other teams, really, but if I have to go fight for this team and what they've done ... " Meyer said. "That darn loss, that second game, that hurts us. But I'll take the hit for that because it was a young team that is now playing at an extremely high level."
On Saturday, few could argue.
Ohio State minced the defending Big Ten champions in a way no team had done in years, brushing aside past struggles against defenses with a pulse by piling up 568 yards on the best one it had played.
No one was better than redshirt freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett, who may find himself on the fringe of the Heisman race after accounting for five more touchdowns in his prolific debut season. Facing the nation's fifth-ranked defense, he displayed deft touch on his deep balls in completing 16 of 26 passes for 300 yards and three TDs, while rushing for 86 yards and another two scores.
This season, Barrett has thrown for 2,156 yards and 26 touchdowns -- numbers on course to break the school record in both categories. (The standard: Joe Germaine threw for 3,330 yards in 1998 while Troy Smith tossed 30 touchdowns in 2006.)
"We didn't want to come here and be conservative," Barrett said. "We wanted to go out swinging."
Said Michigan State coach Dantonio: "Let's face it, the bottom line was we couldn't stop them."
For one night, Ohio State wasn't sure anyone could.
"Everybody's been doubting us, saying we're too young," said sophomore running back Ezekiel Elliott, who ran for 154 yards and two TDs on 23 carries. "We think we're ready for the big stage."
EARLY START: Ohio State's game at Minnesota will kick off at noon and be televised by ABC, the network announced Sunday.
Contact David Briggs at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6084 or on Twitter @DBriggsBlade.
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