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Marla Ridenour on Sports

Marla Ridenour: If young Buckeyes win out, they deserve a playoff berth

By Marla Ridenour Published: November 9, 2014

EAST LANSING, Mich.: The College Football Playoff committee might not think so.
National analysts might not think so, especially given the weak state of the Big Ten Conference.
But the Ohio State Buckeyes are a totally different team than the one that lost to Virginia Tech in the second week of the season. If they win out, they belong in the new four-team playoff that will determine this year's champion.
The college football world was waiting for a signature win and Ohio State came through in spectacular fashion Saturday night in Spartan Stadium. In the league's game of the year, the Buckeyes built an 18-point fourth quarter lead and thumped Michigan State 49-37.
Ohio State (8-1, 5-0 in the league) knocked Michigan State (7-2, 4-1) out of playoff consideration and avenged a loss in last year's Big Ten Championship game.
"This is one for the ages," Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said afterward. "That's how much respect we had for our opponent going into it. We saw what they did, they had one loss and were actually winning that game at Oregon. We played a top 10 team and really played our best on the road."
In last week's College Football Playoff top 25, Michigan State was ranked No. 8, Ohio State No. 14. On Saturday, four top 10 teams lost, which should help the Buckeyes' cause. No. 3 Auburn fell at home to unranked Texas A&M. No. 7 Kansas State was beaten by No. 6 TCU. No. 10 Notre Dame was upended by No. 9 Arizona State. Then the Buckeyes took care of the Spartans.
Given the anti-Big Ten bias, just how much the Buckeyes will move up is the question. There's a chance they could jump into the top eight. But they're going to need more upsets, more bizarre moments like those that doomed Auburn in the final minutes, more rivals knocking off each other to get where they want to go.
But if Ohio State can close out the season with victories over Minnesota, Indiana, Michigan and prevail in the Big Ten title game, Meyer thinks his team deserves a chance. And I agree with him.
Asked if this is a playoff team, Meyer said, "I think it is because I love my team. I haven't studied the other teams, really. If I have to go fight for this team, what they've done. If that darn loss the second game hurts us, I'll take the hit for that because that's a young team that's playing at an extremely high level right now."
Meyer figures he's starting five freshmen -- quarterback J.T. Barrett, strong side linebacker Darron Lee, cornerback Eli Apple (who played despite a hamstring injury), left guard Billy Price and H-back Jalin Marshall.
One reason the Buckeyes deserve a playoff shot, should they finish 12-1, is the rapid improvement of Barrett. Against the Spartans' press-man coverage that dared him to throw deep, Barrett completed 16 of 26 passes for 300 yards and three touchdowns. Playing with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee, Barrett ran 14 times for 108 yards and two touchdowns. He also displayed his instinctual feel for the game, telling receiver Devin Smith, "'Run really fast by them and I'm going to throw you the ball,'" and converting it for a 44-yard touchdown.
Barrett has rushed or passed for 34 touchdowns, two shy of Braxton Miller's school record of 36 set last year.
Ohio State totaled 568 total yards, nearly 300 more than MSU had allowed per game (279.4) coming in. It was the Buckeyes' sixth game of the season with at least 500 yards.
Reaching that figure against Cincinnati or Rutgers is one thing. Doing it on the road against the Spartans is another.
The Buckeyes also have a deep receiving corps loaded with speed. They have defensive end Joey Bosa, a sophomore who could become one of the program's best of all time. They have a good cover cornerback in senior Doran Grant of St. Vincent-St. Mary. They have sophomore tailback Ezekiel Elliott, who ran like a man possessed against the Spartans, gaining 154 yards on 23 carries with two touchdowns. They have another standout on the defensive line in tackle Michael Bennett. The rebuilt offensive line looks like it's starting to come together.
Barrett said the Buckeyes on Nov. 8 are more mature than the ones who lost on Sept. 6. He said they're more focused on each other and learning quickly from tough days against Virginia Tech and Penn State, a double-overtime victory two weeks ago.
They also like playing with a chip on their shoulder, even though they will be underdogs no longer.
"All year everyone's been down on us, saying we're too young," Elliott said. "We definitely have something to prove. People were questioning our ability to play on a big stage. Coming into this game, no one believed in us. We came out and showed the world we're ready."
The playoff committee might not think the Buckeyes are ready. But they might be on Dec. 6, the night of the Big Ten Championship, if they close out with four more victories.
"Like I said in previous interviews, it's like that ticking time bomb as we get closer and closer," Grant said. "We still haven't made it yet. We'll continue to get better."
That more than anything is the reason Ohio State deserves a playoff berth. By the time the selections are made on Dec. 7, the young team that looked like a juggernaut against average competition should be capable of competing with anyone.

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