Rutgers has quite a daunting matchup this weekend at the Horseshoe, so to get the full scoop on everything Ohio State, we reached out to Matt Brown of Land-Grant Holy Land. The Buckeyes have been at or near the top of the Big Ten for over a decade now, so it's interesting to hear his perspective on the addition of Rutgers. We also discuss J.T. Barrett, the OSU defensive line, and the state of the B1G.
Q: Lots of folks in the national media were surprised to see Rutgers at 5-1 at this point in the season. Considering the reception from some Ohio State fans regarding RU's entrance into the B1G, has the fanbase's attitude changed at all about the addition (and likewise for Maryland)?
Matt Brown: No, I don't think that attitude has changed, even though Rutgers has overachieved a little bit. There are still going to be a lot of people resentful that this game is happening, not just because Rutgers is not perceived as a good football team, but because they aren't midwest and their very inclusion in the Big Ten at all is a touchy subject, and probably will be for a little while. Rutgers may be 5-1 right now, but their best wins this season are a close win over a bad Michigan team, and a close win over a bad Washington State team. There is a reason the spread for this game is nearly 20 points. Once Rutgers makes a claim at a top 25 slot, or beats a good team or two, more Ohio State fans may start to reassess those feelings.
Q: After a couple of get-your-feet-wet games against Navy and Virginia Tech, J.T. Barrett has become one of the Big Ten's best offensive threats. Was there anything specific that led to his transformation?
Matt Brown: Perhaps the biggest change wasn't with Barrett at all, but with his offensive line. The unit was new itself coming into the season, struggled with cohesion against Navy, and was thoroughly bamboozled by Virginia Tech, putting the entire game on Barrett. Since then, many of the young players on the line have stepped up, allowing Barrett time to distribute the ball. Barrett is an exceptionally smart player and was a very highly regarded recruit, and the Buckeyes have a lot of talent and speed around him, albeit young talent. It looks like everybody is starting to grow up at once, allowing JT to do what he does best.
Q: Kyle Flood recently stated that Ohio State would have the "best offensive line we've faced in two years," despite losing four starters from 2013. Is that gamesmanship or is it accurate?
Matt Brown: Best offensive line? it might be the best *coached* offensive line, and I can't speak to all of Rutgers' previous opponents over the last few years. If you go by pure recruiting stars, Michigan probably had a better one, but obviously, they've been abjectly terrible recently. This Ohio State line is young, but physical and is coming together at the right time, and will be a challenge, although perhaps not an insurmountable one, for Rutgers.
Q: Let's talk B1G for a second. The Pac-12 suffered a blow with Oregon's loss to Arizona, and then Arizona lost to USC. Florida State welcomes Notre Dame this Saturday, possibly without Jameis Winston. If certain teams fall, the B1G could look like the third strongest P5 conference fairly soon. Do you think the conference is trending upward relative to the national landscape?
Matt Brown: 3rd strongest? Probably not. I don't think this conference is trending up at all actually, although Michigan State and Ohio State are probably better than many folks thought after Week 2. This league still lacks the coaching depth of other major conferences, isn't recruiting on a high level outside of Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State, and hasn't won too many big non-conference games. The Big Ten's national reputation will improve once the league wins some big games against Non-B1G teams, and improves their coaching depth. There will probably be at least two, if not more, openings in the league at the end of the season (Illinois and Michigan), and hopefully they can use that as a springboard.
Q: The Ohio State defensive line had a lot of hype this preseason. Some even stated that it was one of the best units in the entire conference. Have they delivered on that expectation?
Matt Brown: Yeah, that's probably true. Michael Bennett is a 1st round talent (maybe top 10), and Joey Bosa, when he goes pro, is also a 1st round talent. This line could have been even better, but NFL prospect Noah Spence is out for the season. This unit is unquestionably Ohio State's strength, and will need to be in this game, since their secondary is prone to giving up big plays, and if Nova gets time to throw, he can pick at Ohio State a little bit. Their ability to both pressure a QB and swallow up a run game is very strong though, and the Scarlet Knights are going to have their hands full.
Q: I doubt you would pick Rutgers to win, so does RU cover the spread?
Matt Brown: It's certainly possible. If he's not turning the ball over, I think Gary Nova and this underrated WR corps is good enough to throw on Ohio State and get some yards, and it's possible the OSU offense is due for a regression, and that can make this a closer game. I don't think it's *likely* though, since the Buckeyes have so many other ways to win this game, have speed all over the field, and are *mad* about being disrespected. Add that to the fact that this is a homecoming game, and I have to think Ohio State is three touchdowns better than Rutgers, which should lead to them covering the spread.