Forde-Yard Dash: What's wrong with Ohio State?

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (Urban Meyer surrender cobra photos sold separately and suitable for framing in West Lafayette):

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FIRST QUARTER

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SOMETHING IS FLAWED IN URBAN MEYER’S PROGRAM

Outside of Alabama, Ohio State (1) has the deepest reservoir of talent in the nation. The past three Buckeyes recruiting classes have all ranked in the Rivals.com top three nationally, and they’ve had 26 players taken in the past three NFL drafts. Ten of those draft picks have been in the first round; Alabama has had nine first-rounders in the same period of time.

That overwhelming talent base is the biggest reason why Ohio State is 30-5 over the 2016-18 seasons. But for all the athletes, there is a missing element of fierce competitiveness in this Urban Meyer (2) program. When the going gets truly tough, his teams check out.

Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer watches from the sideline during the first half against Purdue on Saturday. (AP)
Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer watches from the sideline during the first half against Purdue on Saturday. (AP)

In the rare instances of defeat, Meyer’s teams don’t just lose. They unravel. The 31-16 home loss to flag-planting Baker Mayfield and Oklahoma. The 31-0 skunking against Clemson in the 2016 College Football Playoff. The 31-point rout at Iowa last year. The 29-point humiliation at the hands of a much more inspired Purdue (3) team Saturday night.

In the face of adversity, the Buckeyes lack poise. They lack resilience. They lack a Plan B. They lack daring. They don’t lose scratching and clawing; they lose rolling over.

Purdue has nowhere near Ohio State’s talent — the Boilermakers lost to Eastern Michigan, for the love of Purdue Pete — but it broke the Buckeyes’ plywood will and ran them out of Ross-Ade Stadium. A couple of theories on why:

* Urban himself. He does not look well during games. Whether it’s stress or dread or something else, Meyer very often appears to be steeped in misery — this year perhaps more than ever. It would seem difficult for players to draw much inspiration in difficult situations from a head coach who looks like he’s physically ill. You wonder if all the August Zach Smith drama has taken an internal toll on an already fragile narcissist.

* The NFL. Ohio State is hardly the only program that relentlessly sells itself as a pathway to professional football in recruiting, but you wonder whether establishing your program as an NFL weigh station impacts the commitment to Ohio State’s success. Do they really care?

Injured star Nick Bosa got up and walked out on an undefeated, No. 2-ranked team last week. While he might not have been able to contribute on the field again in the regular season, dropping out of school and leaving Columbus instead of staying with the team sends a message — commitment is disposable. Maybe that’s how it should be when weighing an eight-figure future vs. room and board and tuition. But is it really an either/or choice? Does anyone think Bosa couldn’t prepare for the pros at Ohio State, like all the draftees who came before him?

Whatever the cause, there is something amiss at a program that on the outside has it all. Ohio State now appears ticketed for a second straight year of missing the College Football Playoff — a four-touchdown loss to a 4-3 team leaves a mark — while program peers Alabama and Clemson march on.

It’s time for some introspection in Columbus. And some humility, too.

FOUR FOR THE PLAYOFF — HERE COME THE ONE-LOSS TEAMS

Every week The Dash declares what the College Football Playoff matchups would be if today were Selection Sunday. The Ohio State loss provides a major shakeup, and now opens the door for the queue of one-loss teams to dream. Here is the bracket as it stands today:

Top seed Alabama (4) vs. fourth seed LSU (5) in the Cotton Bowl.

The Crimson Tide (8-0, 5-0 in the SEC) was at its Mike Tyson best Saturday, throwing knockout blows from the opening bell against Tennessee: the first touchdown took four minutes; the second one came 33 seconds later; then two more in the first quarter. Alabama’s first-quarter scoring for the season is now 165-31. They had 42 at halftime, and all Volunteers fans could do in response was throw ice at Nick Saban. Next: an open date, followed by the showdown in Baton Rouge.

The Tigers (7-1, 4-1 in the SEC) have convincingly thumped ranked teams on consecutive Saturdays, beating Georgia by 20 and then Mississippi State by 16 Saturday night in Death Valley. The LSU offense didn’t do much against Mississippi State, but the defense held the Bulldogs to 160 yards and produced four takeaways — the Tigers are plus-seven turnovers in those two games. LSU stalls too much in the red zone (18 touchdowns and 17 field goals in 38 red-zone trips this season) but the physical defensive formula is working for Coach O. Next: an open date, then LSU gets its chance to slay the ‘Bama dragon Nov. 3.

LSU head coach Ed Orgeron and his team celebrate a victory after an NCAA college football game against Mississippi State in Baton Rouge, La., Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018. LSU won 19-3. (AP Photo/Tyler Kaufman)
LSU head coach Ed Orgeron and his team celebrate a victory after an NCAA college football game against Mississippi State in Baton Rouge, La., Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018. LSU won 19-3. (AP Photo/Tyler Kaufman)

Second seed Clemson (6) vs. third seed Notre Dame (7) in the Orange Bowl.

The Tigers (7-0, 4-0 in the ACC) exposed previously undefeated North Carolina State on Saturday in a 41-7 woodshed beating in Death Valley. Freshman Trevor Lawrence threw for a career-high 308 yards, 244 of them in the first half, flashing his star power. That performance was needed when N.C. State became the first team to keep Clemson under 100 yards rushing since Alabama last year in the playoff. After the close escape against Syracuse, Clemson has been all business — combined score of the past two games is 104-10. Next: at Florida State, a onetime marquee game in the ACC that now doesn’t look like much. (Though, truth be told, the Seminoles are improving after their brutal start.)

The Fighting Irish (7-0) had an open date Saturday in preparation for a peripatetic closing month: Navy in San Diego; at Northwestern; Florida State at home; Syracuse in New York City; and at USC. Combined record of those opponents: 19-16. Notre Dame figures to be solidly favored in every outing. It may end up that the Irish only have one truly high-powered win — but the more Michigan does, the better that win looks. That opening night in South Bend looms larger than ever.

Of course, if LSU loses to Alabama on Nov. 3, that opens the door for others to jump in the bracket. The playoff waiting list:

Michigan (8). In two powerful weeks, the Wolverines (7-1, 5-0 in the Big Ten) have surged to the front of the Big Ten pack. Consecutive wins over Wisconsin and Michigan State, by a combined 39 points, have given Michigan something to hang its playoff hat on beyond a seven-point loss to undefeated Notre Dame. The Wolverines lead the nation in total defense and passing defense, and are getting a nice mix of ground-and-pound running and Shea Patterson play-making on offense. If they win out and nobody beats Alabama — thus meaning an additional loss for both LSU and whoever wins the SEC East — Michigan will have a strong argument to be the nation’s best one-loss team. (If Ohio State wins out it would also have an argument, but no team has ever lost a game by four touchdowns and still made the playoff.)

Texas/Oklahoma (9). They’re both 6-1, and both should be favored in every remaining game — though trips to Lubbock on Nov. 3 (Sooners) and Nov. 10 (Longhorns) loom larger than previously expected. Texas owns the head-to-head comparison by virtue of beating Oklahoma on Oct. 13, but the Horns’ opening loss to 4-3 Maryland is a problem. If these two go 11-1 and play a rematch in the Big 12 title game, the winner would stake its playoff claim — but may need help elsewhere.

The Georgia/Florida/Kentucky mashup (10). This collection of one-loss SEC East teams will sort itself out over the next two weeks — Georgia and Florida meet Saturday, and then Georgia visits Kentucky on Nov. 3. If one of them gets through the season 11-1, it likely would present a win-and-you’re-in opportunity in the SEC championship game. (Kentucky also faces a losable game at Missouri on Saturday.)

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