A month and four blowouts into the season, nobody can question whether or not Ohio State is good. That’s already been answered.
Four consecutive wins over any four teams by a combined score of 214-36 won’t leave many people wondering whether this is a competent football team.
How good, though? It’s somewhat difficult to know. Ohio State’s players and coaches might not quite have the perfect understanding either, but that’s not taking up much space in their brains.
“That's a big test for us because everybody says, 'Oh, we haven't played nobody,’” Thayer Munford said on Wednesday evening. “You're right, but at the same time, we're not going to back down from nobody.”
So far, the Buckeyes haven’t won a game by less than 24 points. A 45-21 win against Florida Atlantic, a 42-0 shutout of Cincinnati, a 51-10 road victory versus Indiana and a 76-5 blowout of Miami (Ohio).
On Saturday, Ohio State will take on Nebraska, an opponent that the players have almost unanimously described as their biggest test yet. They could just be following the lead of their head coach, Ryan Day, when they make those statements, of course.
“As far as an early in the season game, this is our biggest test so far. I feel like a lot of people want to see us do well or see what our team is really made out of.”– Davon Hamilton
Tuesday afternoon, in his first media availability of the week, Day called the Cornhuskers “by far the best team that we've played.”
“Not only just talent and coaching but also the environment we're going to be walking into,” Day said on Tuesday. “Scott (Frost) has done a great job here of building this team up. He's increased the talent, picked up some really good players, both sides of the ball. They do a really good job of stretching you horizontally and get you with tempo on offense, and then on defense a lot of different looks and very well-coached. This is going to be by far the biggest challenge of the year for us, going on the road, night game at one of the toughest places to play in the conference.”
Nebraska entered the season as the trendy pick to win the Big Ten West. In the unofficial cleveland.com preseason poll, 14 of 34 beat writers who cover teams around the conference picked the Cornhuskers to win the division.
That hype led the Buckeyes’ players to have this game in their heads for many months.
“It's just a real good offense. High tempo. They're ready for us,” Haskell Garrett said on Wednesday. “We've had this one circled since February, so we're ready to go … Because we knew that this was going to be the one. Everybody's testing us every week, every day. So we've just got to go out there and make a statement.”
Sure, Florida Atlantic had a few athletes to note, Cincinnati seemed like it could pose a potential problem and Indiana was the first road Big Ten opponent. But Ohio State has heard for months about how Nebraska could challenge for the Big Ten championship, which the Buckeyes have won the past two years and three of the past five seasons.
Though the Cornhuskers have a 3-1 record with their only loss coming by three points on the road in overtime to Colorado, they haven’t exactly played like a conference title challenger thus far. Last week, they edged Illinois in a 42-38 win, and they only beat South Alabama by two touchdowns.
Regardless, the early season results haven’t changed Ohio State’s mindset. For the Buckeyes, this is almost being viewed as a prove-it game.
“As far as an early in the season game, this is our biggest test so far,” Davon Hamilton said. “I feel like a lot of people want to see us do well or see what our team is really made out of. So I feel like it's going to be a good game for us.”
Munford added: “The biggest test that we, as an offensive line, is going to face. How physical and how good they are. They are big and agile.”
By next week, there might be a better understanding throughout the country of the level of this team. Knowing that's potentially on the line, Munford said Day's message this week has been to “prove everybody wrong.”
“Show them that we are the Buckeyes, we are who we say we are,” Munford said, relaying Day’s message this week. “And we're not going to back down from nobody. We don't care you or Clemson, Alabama, nobody at all. Whoever's in front of us, all right, we're going to play you and see how you feel after the same.”
Right now, it’s Nebraska in their way.
Whether or not the Cornhuskers ultimately end up as the best team the Buckeyes face in their first five games, Ohio State is approaching Saturday with that in mind.