Eleven Warriors Roundtable: No. 1 in the CFP, Ohio State Once Again Hits the Road, This Time to Face Rutgers

By Chris Lauderback on November 3, 2023 at 10:10 am
TreVeyon Henderson

After debuting at No. 1 in the first set of College Football Playoff rankings, Ohio State takes its show on the road once more, this time against a 6-2 Rutgers team led by former Buckeye assistant Greg Schiano. 

Heavy favorites to improve to 9-0 on the season, the Buckeyes look to reinforce the committee's assessment with an impressive showing against the Scarlet Knights.

That task will be easier if Ohio State's offensive line steps up in pass protection, quarterback Kyle McCord's ankle responds well to treatment after a three-turnover outing versus Wisconsin, Emeka Egbuka sees the field for the first time since the Maryland game and TreVeyon Henderson builds on last week's dominant showing after missing a month of his own.

In advance of tomorrow's noon kick on CBS, I welcome our own Jason Priestas, Garrick Hodge and George Eisner to the 11W Roundtable. 

Getting TreVeyon Henderson back last week was huge as it gave the Buckeyes a gamebreaker out of the backfield to complement Marvin Harrison Jr.’s gamebreaking ability as a receiver. That said, the offensive line’s continued shortcomings and Kyle McCord ’s rough outing are red flags to many. Can the offense evolve into a group that can win a matchup game if Harrison and Henderson don’t blow up instead of relying so heavily on the defense to win? How comfortable are you with Ohio State’s current formula for winning? If the offense stays static and doesn’t improve its areas of opportunity, can Ohio State win the Big Ten and make the CFP? 

Garrick: I think Ohio State is what it is at this point. It has a defense that's close to elite and an offense that's talented but has notable deficiencies. The Buckeyes definitely are heavily reliant on the Marv bail out button on offense, but it's hard not to when he's that good. I don't think Kyle McCord or the offensive line is magically going to be much improved than its shown so far at this point into the season, but even with this production, it might be enough to win the Big Ten if the defense and Harrison Jr. come through against Michigan.

Jason: Yeah, I think so. For starters, it's going to be damn near impossible to shut down Marv. If Georgia couldn't do it, no team in the Big Ten will be able to do it. McCord had a rough game in Madison, for sure, but he's a first-year starter, and he's going to have one here and there. The line is improving, but it could be better.  I'm very comfortable with the current formula. Ryan Day knows he has an elite defense, and he's making decisions knowing he has that defense. This team can not only win the Big Ten but win it all as well as that defense and a few offensive stars are playing.

George: It remains unclear how much more improvement Ohio State is going to witness in its offensive line and quarterback play down the stretch heading into the Michigan game. Before McCord's festival of turnovers on Halloween weekend, I was hopeful he could firmly operate within the "game manager" archetype usually reserved for quarterbacks spoiled by their surroundings. My confidence in that label has since shaken considerably, but I am also still waiting for another team's offense to break the 20 points threshold on Ohio State's defense this season.

I am comfortable with this team's identity resting on the strength of its defense. However, that requires nearly mistake-free football at all levels to consistently beat top teams. This offense needs to sharpen up, but getting as healthy as possible would also go a long way towards that.

Speaking of Ohio State’s offense, Ryan Day’s group faces a Rutgers squad ranked 9th nationally in total defense (ypg) and No. 2 in the country in pass defense (156 ypg) though those metrics have come versus shoddy competition. Knowing Kyle McCord could use a bounce back performance even on a gimpy ankle, what kind of day do you envision for McCord and what kind of run/pass balance are you looking for versus the Scarlet Knights? 

George: Whichever approach the offense elects to go with, the bulk of the success will rest on execution from the offensive line. In that sense, I would hope Ohio State steers away from throwing into the teeth of the Rutgers pass defense early on in favor of establishing the run. Building off the late success TreVeyon Henderson had in the Wisconsin game will keep the Scarlet Knights honest on defense, which will set up opportunities for the Buckeye receivers further down the field.

I keep pleading for more McCord checkdowns, and last week's play calling provided arguably the most of those in a game since OSU faced Notre Dame back in September. Henderson's return likely aided that, but given McCord already had issues navigating a collapsing pocket even prior to his ankle trouble, he will need failsafe options available now more than ever.

Garrick: I'd imagine he'll have a very Kyle McCord-ish statline, something like 19 of 28 for 235 yards and two touchdowns. I'd imagine they'll be fairly balanced against Rutgers, which is a much improved team even if it's still not close to the likes of an Ohio State.

Jason: More than the stats, you know this Rutgers defense will bring it. I don't think Ohio State will crack 30 points against them. We'll see an nice run/pass mix with Trey and Marv carrying their respective arms of the offense. For McCord, I think anywhere in the 225-275 range with zero turnovers is an excellent afternoon for him. I'm looking for progress this week: zero intentional groundings.

Marvin Harrison Jr.’s stellar season has his Heisman odds improving though he’s still behind five quarterbacks - Michael Penix Jr., J.J. McCarthy, Jayden Daniels, Bo Nix and Jordan Travis - in the odds race. How high of a voting finish is possible for Marv? Where do you think he likely finishes? Who ultimately wins the Heisman this season? 

Jason: Man, this is a tough one. I think Marv finishes runner-up to Michael Penix, but he's got a shot to win it, depending on what he does against the Wolverines in the final game of the regular season. 

George: Didn't you read the Eleven Warriors Ohio State Football Season Betting Preview? Marvin Harrison Jr. future bets to win the Hesiman Trophy carried a +2000 price tag the week before the season opener — there were 13 quarterbacks with shorter odds, including McCord. I am standing by the call I made in August!

Do you believe a healthy Marv can go for 100 yards receiving every game in November? Or at least score a touchdown in all those games? What if he accomplishes both? Marv still needs his crowning "Hesiman moment," but The Game has gladly served as a canvas for such illustrations before.

Garrick: Unless he goes nuts in the final few games, I don't think he can win it outright, he'd need to at least be very close to Devonta Smith's numbers. But I think it's possible he gets an invite to New York. As for who wins it... I don't know. Throw a dart at the board and have it land on a quarterback. *Throws dart.* Bo Nix it is. 

The first set of CFP rankings came out earlier this week and while the last set of rankings is what matters, I’m curious if the CFP’s 1-4 of Ohio State, Georgia, Michigan and Florida State matched yours? Did the committee slot Ohio State appropriately based on the season-to-date? Which team(s) outside the top 4 will ultimately make the CFP, if any? 

Garrick: The committee ranked the top four exactly as I would have, if we're going on resume alone and nothing else. If Washington runs the table, it would obviously be in. If Oregon runs the table, I think it would have a good case. Alabama may very well lose this week, but it is getting in the CFP if it runs the table with a win over Georgia. Texas and Oklahoma also have shots. But we're at the stage where there's a lot of ifs right now. 

Jason: I knew Ohio State would be No. 1 in the first set because the committee is all about "what have you done so far" with little regard to what the AP or Coaches Polls have to say. Last year, Tennessee was the No. 1 team in the first set of rankings for similar reasons (win over Bama). I would have considered Florida State for No. 2 and had Georgia and Michigan rounding out my top four, so they were pretty close.

Looking down the road, I think both Washington and Oregon have shots to break into that top four and I'll actually be surprised if one of them does not.

George: They really just need to do one rankings show — the same way it's handled with March Madness. All of these CFP standings releases that happen prior to the completion of conference championship week serve little purpose further than churning the angry feedback loops between factions of college football fans. Why even bother with the AP Poll after October now?

Wait, the CFP committee voted Ohio State number one overall? Actually, this system is stupendous and Michigan still sucks.

Ideally, the Buckeyes hold their position into bowl season before finding themselves joined in the Playoff by Georgia, Washington, and Florida State. However, there also remains an extremely bizarre scenario wherein Tony Petitti suspends Michigan for the Big Ten Championship, the Wolverines beat the Buckeyes, Ohio State wins the conference title, and then each team easily makes the CFP to set up a rematch. 

Ohio State heads to Piscataway as a sizable 18-point favorite. Do the Buckeyes cover? Give us your final score and game MVP. 

George: Ohio State wins 34-10 on Saturday. This matchup does not present itself as a great bounce-back spot for Kyle McCord. That said, if the Buckeyes continue to see their crucial playmakers return to the field healthy, the offense overall should find more of the scoring success it did in the first half of October.

Garrick: I think they'll cover, I'm going with a 34-13 win for Ohio State. Marvin Harrison Jr. wins MVP with 8 catches for 145 yards and two touchdowns.

Jason: I think they'll push: 27-9, Ohio State. Henderson is my game MVP with a 175-yard day.  

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