The transfer of power at Ohio State from a legendary leader to a first-year head coach has gone as well as any scarlet-and-gray diehard could have hoped.
The Buckeyes haven’t missed a beat going from Urban Meyer, who was 83-9 in his seven seasons in Columbus, to 40-year-old former offensive coordinator Ryan Day.
Ohio State is 11-0, a national title contender, and, until Saturday, hadn’t faced any real adversity when they hosted Penn State.
The Buckeyes were also 8-0 against the spread since their season-opening win over Florida Atlantic, and they were beating the number badly. But they have failed to cover in each of the past two games. (Louisiana, 8-2 ATS against FBS opponents, is the new leader in that category.)
Ohio State was favored by an otherworldly 52.5 points against Rutgers — on the road. The Scarlet Knights scored twice in the fourth quarter to make the final score 56-21.
On Saturday being favored by 18 points against a top-10 opponent proved to be too much as the Buckeyes were uncharacteristically sloppy with the football. Ohio State beat the Nittany Lions 28-17 — but it didn’t need to be that close.
The Buckeyes held Penn State to 227 yards of total offense. They gifted Penn State 10 points with two third-quarter fumbles, and quarterback Justin Fields lost another fumble in the first half as he was crossing the goal line. The final score could easily have been 35-7 — and a cover.
Now, Ohio State travels to face its archrival, a Michigan team that has found an offensive identity in the second half of the season. Linemakers seem unfazed by the Buckeyes’ back-to-back spread losses: Ohio State is favored by 9 points in Ann Arbor.
The Wolverines have rebounded from a disappointing start to the season. Lackluster wins over Middle Tennessee and Army and a blowout loss to Wisconsin had the maize-and-blue faithful frustrated with “Michigan man” Jim Harbaugh.
But the Wolverines followed a close loss at Penn State with a signature win: a 45-14 rout of Notre Dame in which they piled up 303 yards on the ground.
The Michigan ground attack again led the way the following week in a 38-7 win over Maryland. But in the past two weeks — routs of Michigan State and Indiana — Harbaugh turned to the passing game.
In the two wins, senior quarterback Shea Patterson has thrown for a combined 750 yards and nine touchdown passes.
The Wolverines have scored at least 38 points in each of the past four games, and they’ve covered the spread in five straight and six of seven after starting the season 0-3 ATS.
The Buckeyes are No. 1 in the nation in scoring defense, passing defense and total defense and fifth against the run. Ohio State defensive end Chase Young returned from a three-game suspension to harass the Nittany Lions. The possible No. 1 pick in next year’s NFL Draft had nine tackles, including three sacks to bring his season total to 16.5, already a school record.
While a win over the Buckeyes would be huge for Harbaugh and his program, Day will have had a week to harp on the mistakes that slowed his team against Penn State. OHIO STATE
Virginia Tech -3 at Virginia: The Hokies and Cavaliers meet with a date with Clemson in the ACC title game on the line.
Virginia comes in averaging 33 points per game, but the Virginia Tech defense could be the difference.
The past two weeks, the Hokies have allowed just 311 total yards in shutouts of Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh. VIRGINIA TECH and UNDER
Clemson -27 at South Carolina: With LSU and Ohio State ascending to the top two spots in the rankings, the defending-champion Tigers are a rather quiet 11-0.
Since a scare against North Carolina in late September, Clemson is 5-0 ATS against FBS opponents, and the Tigers have scored 52 or more points in four straight games. CLEMSON
Last week: 4-0