Ohio State has dominated the Big Ten for so long, and with such brutal force, it’s hard to imagine another team taking the Buckeyes’ place as the league’s top contender for the college football playoffs.
Three weeks of the 2021 season made it easier to imagine. The door has opened for another team to win the conference: OSU brawled again on Saturday, following last weekend’s disappointing loss to Oregon as they struggled to fend off Tulsa, while two rivals of the East Division – Penn State and Michigan – seem poised to supplant the Buckeyes as the team to beat.
Just as Clemson’s early defeat and questionable offense brought chance to the ACC, the Buckeyes’ inability to rediscover last year’s form could wreak havoc in what has been a boring and predictable playoff race. .
In a young season where even Alabama has looked vulnerable – although the Crimson Tide are still the team to beat – this year’s national semifinals could be complemented by a power program like Penn State and Michigan.
Even before jumping into the playoffs, the idea that a team other than OSU could win the Big Ten flies in the face of almost every preseason and past decade’s prediction of results. Since hiring Urban Meyer in 2012 and promoting Ryan Day in 2019, the Buckeyes have lost just four conference games in the regular season and have won the last four conference championships.
In the East, the Wolverines and Nittany Lions have won the benefit of the doubt.
Michigan moved up to 3-0 with a 63-10 victory over Northern Illinois and begins the home championship game next Saturday against Rutgers. Penn State is also undefeated after dominating Auburn 28-20 in prime time, the Nittany Lions’ second victory in three weeks against an opponent ranked in the USA TODAY Sports AFCA coaching poll.
Michigan ran for 1,056 yards and 15 scores, beating Western Michigan, Washington and NIU by 107 points combined. With a new starter to Cade McNamara as quarterback, coach Jim Harbaugh relied on running play to produce the program’s most productive three-game streak in a decade. Among the Tigers and Wisconsin, PSU now holds what could be the two most impressive wins of any team in the country.
Now the Nittany Lions and Wolverines are ready to take advantage of an OSU team that failed to play the role of a playoff contender in games against the Ducks, Golden Hurricane and Minnesota.
The fact that both teams are playing at a high level after struggling throughout the 2020 season is a testament to the unpredictability of 2021 and the difficulties in relying on the lessons of the pandemic year to predict how this season will unfold. regular.
In 2020, Penn State opened 0-5 for the first time in modern history before claiming four straight wins. Michigan went 2-4 and seemed directionless enough in the process to put Harbaugh firmly in the hot seat before September.
A year later, it’s evident that 2020 was the aberration of two programs that pose the biggest threats to the Buckeyes’ dominance in the Big Ten. For the first time in years, the conference appears to be open.
Follow academic journalist Paul Myerberg on Twitter @PaulMyerberg