Recent history tells us that the arrival of November means good news for Ohio State and bad news for the rest of the Big Ten.
Ohio State has won its past 10 November games and hasn't lost during the month since a Nov. 10, 2007, defeat at the hands of Illinois. The Buckeyes have dropped just two November games since their most recent loss to archrival Michigan on Nov. 22, 2003.
Teams don't win six consecutive league titles without doing damage in November, and Ohio State has been flat-out dominant.
This year was supposed to be different. And it still might be. Ohio State has its flaws, namely youth at key positions on both sides of the ball and a first-year head coach in Luke Fickell. Most folks wrote off the Scarlet and Gray after their Oct. 8 collapse at Nebraska.
The Buckeyes aren't a dominant team. But they're a dangerous one.
That's the prevailing thought I had walking out of Ohio Stadium early Sunday morning after watching the Buckeyes' dramatic 33-29 win against Wisconsin. Ohio State came through in all three phases to beat what could be the most powerful team on its schedule in what was undoubtedly a make-or-break game.
The win makes Ohio State the Big Ten's most dangerous team right now.
Here are five reasons why:
1. A rapidly improving defense: Since the second-half meltdown at Nebraska, Ohio State's defense has been terrific. The Buckeyes held Illinois scoreless for more than 53 minutes in Champaign and set up two touchdowns with takeaways. The unit took its play to another level Saturday against Wisconsin, the Big Ten's most powerful offense. The Buckeyes held Wisconsin to 10 first-half rushing yards and only 89 for the game. Considering what Wisconsin's ground game had done the past year and a half, Ohio State's performance was exceptional. While several late breakdowns nearly cost the Buckeyes, they frustrated Wisconsin for 55 minutes. Defensive lineman John Simon is playing like an All-American, and the Buckeyes are getting boosts from Andrew Sweat, C.J. Barnett, Travis Howard, Johnathan Hankins and others. The arrow is pointing up for a defense that looked so-so in September and fell apart in Lincoln.
2. Dan Herron's return: Ohio State has its undisputed emotional leader back in the fold, and it shows. A veteran runner with fresh legs, Herron has racked up 274 rush yards in two game since returning from suspension. Helped also by the return of starting left tackle Mike Adams, Ohio State can do more things with its rushing attack, as we witnessed Saturday night against Wisconsin. Defenses must respect Herron, who knows how to gain the tough yards in Big Ten games, and the senior's return has opened things up for quarterback Braxton Miller.
3. A young QB building confidence: We learned a lot about Miller on Saturday night after Ohio State blew a 26-14 lead in the final minutes. The freshman didn't panic and seemed to thrive under pressure. He showed that he can, in fact, make big throws in big situations, and he should only gain confidence from the experience. Ohio State still must call more high-percentage passes for Miller, but the kid who looked absolutely lost against Miami and Michigan State is making strides and giving Ohio State's offense a real identity.
4. The schedule: The final four games set up well for Ohio State. The way Ohio State's defense is playing right now, I don't see the Buckeyes stumbling the next two weeks against Indiana and Purdue. Miller should continue to build his confidence against a porous Indiana defense and possibly against a decent but not great Purdue D. It leads to a Nov. 19 home showdown against Penn State, which has been similar to Ohio State this season (even better defense, good running backs, quarterback issues). The big news for the Buckeyes is they'll regain top receiver DeVier Posey against the Nittany Lions. While Herron and Adams have helped the offense, Posey can provide the biggest boost at a position where Ohio State lacks experience. Penn State will force Miller to throw the ball, and the freshman will have a proven target on the field. The Buckeyes then head to Michigan for The Game. While this will be the best Michigan team Ohio State has faced since 2007, Ohio State takes a seven-game win streak in the series to the Big House.
5. Knowing how to win: As mentioned earlier, Ohio State owns the month of November and boasts a roster of players who know how to win Big Ten titles and beat Michigan. The big concern with the Buckeyes was how they would handle the type of unfamiliar failure they experienced with an 0-2 start to Big Ten play. The past two games have shown Ohio State can weather the storm and come out even stronger. This is a mentally tough football team that has talent and seems to be maturing each week. Ohio State now enters November with momentum and confidence.
Ohio State likely needs a perfect November to have any shot at reaching the Big Ten title game in Indianapolis. The impending NCAA infractions committee ruling could change everything for the Buckeyes, but right now, their dreams are very much alive.
Until Ohio State is out of the race, you can't count out the Scarlet and Gray.
Especially since the Buckeyes are finally hitting their stride.