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Conference Corner: A history of near-misses in the Urban Meyer era

Ohio State nearly blew its Big Ten East title against Maryland. The 52-51 escape is just one of many similar Houdini acts for Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes.

NCAA Football: Ohio State at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Fourth, second, third, ninth, third, second and second. These are the Rivals recruiting class finishes for Ohio State during the Urban Meyer era.

Even with talent spilling out into the Columbus streets, the Buckeyes (10-1, 7-1) still find themselves scuffling with inferior competition. Case in point: 52-51 over Maryland.

Yes, Maryland-born Dwayne Haskins saved the day with a 28-of-38 outing for 405 yards. He even chipped in 59 yards on the ground — something to note for Don Brown’s gameplan. Also, Ohio State found a ground game just in time for rivalry week, as J.K. Dobbins hammered away for 37 totes for 203 yards.

The large, looming turtle in the room? Anthony McFarland’s best Tim Biakabutuka impression.

The Terrapin back gashed the Silver Bullets for 298 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries. Buckeye Twitter took it well.

Ohio State’s 2018 campaign is defined by playing down to competition.

While this season is chock full of near-misses, the Urban Meyer era has featured flashes of this sclerotic play. It’s almost as if his alleged deteriorating health coincides with the diminishing returns of his program.

  • 2017: 31-point blowout loss at 8-5 Iowa.
  • 2016: Four-point squeaker over 7-6 Northwestern. Outlasted 3-9 Michigan State 17-16 in East Lansing.
  • 2015: Sluggish win over Northern Illinois by a touchdown.
  • 2014: Two-touchdown defeat at home to 7-6 Virginia Tech. 31-24 in overtime over 7-6 Penn State.
  • 2013: An intercepted two-point conversion away from dropping one against Brady Hoke-led Michigan.

2012: Full of escapes by seven to 3-9 Cal, three to 4-8 Indiana and overtime to 6-7 Purdue.

The Wolverine way of interpreting this is Meyer is unable to make his talent work in harmony with each other — at least since the 2015 National Championship.

Those with scarlet-colored glasses will point to this as Meyer knows how to pull the strings during crunch time.

If he throws whatever team showed up Saturday onto the Ohio Stadium field next weekend, they won’t be a crunch time.

Next game for No. 10 Ohio State against No. 4 Michigan (noon, FOX)

Next game for Maryland at No. 14 Penn State (3:30 p.m., ABC)



Rocky Lombardi would’ve beaten Michigan if he playe....

  • 15-of-41, 146 yards and a pick.

Oh. New theory: Michigan State (6-5, 4-4) has an offense that, what’s the word, sucks.

The Spartans possess the No. 103 S&P+ offense. They’ve scored six points in each of the last two weeks against defensive sieves in OSU and Nebraska (4-7, 3-5). They can’t run (118 yards a game) and as shown above, they can’t throw.

A glut of injuries and the snow are part of the reason, but a fully healthy group stumbled to just 13 points in the desert against Arizona State. Offensive coordinator Dave Warner is likely out the door.

With a unit this anemic, don’t rule out a loss to Rutgers.

The weather was appropriate for a guy named Scott Frost. His Cornhusker offense — that torched its last five opponents for an average of 43 points — found a way to win with defense and special teams.

The 289 yards allowed by the Blackshirts was their lowest since the loss to Troy. To clarify, that means Michigan State moved the ball worse than Bethune-Cookman.

Barrett Pickering booted three field goals to clinch the win. The importance of special teams was pronounced, as Mike Sadler and Sam Foltz were honored pre-game.

After an 0-6 start, Frost has righted the ship to the tune of four wins in five games. An upset in Kinnick Stadium would infuse a lot of optimism into a team looking at several returning starters for 2019.

Next game for Michigan State against Rutgers (4 p.m., FOX)

Next game for Nebraska at Iowa (Friday, noon, FOX)


Last week, I talked about how Jonathan Taylor was closing in on 2,000 yards. After 321 yards against the Boilermakers, he’s on the doorstep with 1,869 yards going into Minnesota and a bowl game.

Against Penn State, backup Jack Coan was ineffective, so Wisconsin (7-4, 5-3) leaned on its sophomore back. The nice development was Coan passing for 160 yards, including two fourth-quarter scores to force overtime.

With all the talk swirling about Purdue (5-6, 4-4) and the future of Jeff Brohm, you have to tip your cap to its offense.

  • 44 points
  • 386 yards passing from David Blough
  • 114 yards receiving from freshman Rondale Moore

With the defense-optional approach, now Purdue needs a victory over rival Indiana in Bloomington to make a bowl (also, obviously, the Old Oaken Bucket). As for Brohm’s future, he may leave for Louisville.

However, how much do you really want to pay a guy that just went 5-7 in this year’s Big Ten West?

Next game for Wisconsin against Minnesota (3:30 p.m., ESPN2)

Next game for Purdue at Indiana (noon, ESPN2)


There are support groups opening for those who watched this one. The carnage:

  • 4.9 yards an attempt from Trace McSorley, including a pick.
  • A total effort of 5-for-16 for 46 yards and two interceptions from three Scarlet Knight quarterbacks.
  • This throw from Artur Sitkowski:
  • This:

The only bright side for Rutgers (1-10, 0-8) continues to be running back play. This week, Raheem Blackshear muscled for 102 yards and a touchdown. The defense is sort of coming together, even though it was aided by extreme inaccuracy from McSorley.

Meanwhile, James Franklin is headed towards the ugliest 10-3 season this writer can remember. With that said, his defense should return 10 starters, and outside of the Michigan game, has improved every week.

It’s possible Franklin’s offense will take another step back without McSorley in 2019, but with Yetur Gross-Matos (eight sacks, 16.5 TFLs) and a burgeoning front seven, there are pieces on that side of the ball.

Next game for Penn State against Maryland (3:30 p.m., ABC)

Next game for Rutgers at Michigan State (4 p.m., FOX)


This game is meaningless. The Wildcats (7-4, 7-1) already clinched the West. The Gophers (5-6, 2-6) are playing for a spot in the Preparation H Bowl.

Time for funny videos. First, shirtless dudes in nippy weather.

Below, one Cobra Kai kid is now on Northwestern’s staff.

Lastly, the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Next game for Northwestern against Illinois (3:30 p.m., BTN)

Next game for Minnesota at Wisconsin (3:30 P.M., ESPN2)


(stifled laughter)

Illinois (more stifled laughter) had a chance to make (even more stifled laughter) a bowl entering Saturday.

The Illini (4-7, 2-6) are emphatically disqualified now after the worst loss in school history. Iowa (7-4, 4-4) took out some frustration after disappointing losses to Northwestern, Penn State and Purdue.

The Hawkeyes sought a well-rounded performance, and they delivered. Forty nine offensive points off 400 total yards, including over 121 on the ground from Mekhi Sargent. A.J. Epenesa returned a fumble 19 yards for another score, and Kyle Groeneweg housed a punt for 61 yards.

A loss like that could hasten a coaching search for Lovie Smith’s replacement. Let’s cherish these pictures while we can.

NCAA Football: Iowa at Illinois Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

Next game for Iowa against Nebraska (Friday, 4 p.m., FOX(

Next game for Illinois at No. 22 Northwestern (3:30 p.m., BTN)