COLUMBUS: Undefeated both this season and last, Ohio State, the fourth-rated team in the country, can’t get any respect, at least not enough to move up in the polls that affect the BCS rankings.
In fact, the Buckeyes have had trouble holding serve. OSU began the season in the No. 2 spot, one behind Alabama, but despite vanquishing all seven of its opponents, the electorate has seen fit to let the Buckeyes slide out of contention for a berth in the national championship game.
Ohio State fans, naturally, are irked by this state of affairs. But if they watched the Buckeyes’ 34-24 win Saturday over Iowa in the Horseshoe and are honest with themselves, it makes sense.
To finish first or second in the BCS rankings, a team must beat at least two or three opponents judged to be among the top 20 in the nation. Barring that, they had better pummel almost every adversary by several touchdowns.
Ohio State has done neither. The Buckeyes have beaten their worthiest antagonists, but barely. Wisconsin, ranked 23rd at the time, fell by seven points, Northwestern, rated a surprisingly high 15th, succumbed by 10, but the final OSU touchdown was achieved because of a fumble in the end zone as the clock ran out.
To further tarnish Ohio State’s credibility, Northwestern has lost three consecutive games.
Regardless of how it fared against the Hawkeyes on Saturday, OSU was going to be hard pressed to earn many style points. Iowa came into the game 4-2 and 1-1 in the Big Ten. A struggle by the Bucks was not anticipated. Maybe it should have been. There have been other games like it.
Iowa is a team whose forte is stopping the rush. That’s about it. In that respect, Ohio State made its only positive impression, rushing for 273 yards (5.4 per carry) and becoming the first team this season to score a touchdown on the ground against the Hawkeyes.
But that achievement didn’t mean much in light of the fact that Iowa kept acting like the Buckeyes were a team that could be had. As the game wore on, it became clear the Hawkeyes not only would keep it close but might also pull the upset.
Iowa didn’t trail until Devin Smith caught a 14-yard touchdown pass from Braxton Miller with 4:41 left in the third quarter. But before the quarter had expired, the Hawkeyes had tied the score on an 85-yard pass.
Holding off Iowa was the problem for most of the afternoon, especially in the first half, when the Buckeyes’ defensive line got beaten and battered like a bag of rag dolls run over by a Buick.
“I was very disappointed in the first half,’’ coach Urban Meyer said of his defense. “I felt we were getting pushed around. I thought in the second half they did a much better job, much better.’’
In the first half, Iowa ran for 101 yards, an average of 4.8 per carry. After that, the Hawkeyes advanced the ball on the ground only 29 yards in nine carries.
“That’s not the type of defense we want to play,’’ linebacker Ryan Shazier said. “That’s not the type of defense we’re known for. We’re known as a defense that shuts down the run and makes people adjust to what we’re doing. At the half, some players and coaches just basically said, “We need to get it together.’ ”
Iowa quarterback Jake Rudock threw for three touchdowns and 245 yards, 35 percent of the total on the 85-yard bomb against reserve cornerback Armani Reeves, taking the place of Bradley Roby, who was thrown out for “targeting.’’
Roby was expelled when officials said he led with his helmet and made contact with receiver C.J. Fiedorowicz above the shoulder on a play late in the first quarter. Replays seemed to show that Roby made contact high on the shoulder but not above.
“I thought it was below,’’ Meyer said. “You guys could see. Was it below the shoulder? That’s my question. I guess I don’t know. I got fined $30,000 one time for going after an official, so I’m not going to do that.’’
At any rate, the way things were going, the last thing the Buckeyes needed was to lose their best cover guy, even though Roby is not having his best season.
Despite a precisely executed offense, with quarterback Braxton Miller running for 102 yards, throwing for 222 and two touchdowns and Carlos Hyde rushing for 149 yards and two touchdowns, Ohio State isn’t likely to push Alabama or Oregon, ranked one and two, respectively. Given their mediocre schedule, it will be difficult for the Buckeyes to move up unless a team in front of them loses.
Even a win over Michigan isn’t likely to sway the voters, given the fact that the Wolverines almost (should have?) lost to Akron, came perilously close to falling to Connecticut and last week lost to a modestly talented Penn State team in what might be the worst played overtime contest in history.
The first BCS poll arrives today, and I’m guessing Buckeye Nation won’t like it. Ohio State seems destined to play for the Big Ten championship and win a berth in the Rose Bowl, at best.
These days those are consolation prizes for the Buckeyes, whose only aspiration is to be the best in the land. Unfortunately for them, the rest of the Big Ten needs an upgrade to make it happen.
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Indians blog at http://www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.