COLUMBUS — The Ohio State Buckeyes couldn’t have positioned themselves much better to begin the grueling nine-game Big Ten schedule: Three no-doubt wins, including a rout of Oklahoma in a marquee Saturday night game. Stars emerging on both sides of the ball. Now a week off to nurse the bumps and bruises.
The Buckeyes moved up to No. 2 in the AP Top 25 Poll following their 45-24 win in Norman and Louisville’s blowout of previous No. 2 Florida State.
Their Big Ten schedule opens with home games against Rutgers and Indiana before they travel to Madison to face Wisconsin on Oct. 15. The Badgers, 3-0 and No. 11 in the AP poll this week, upset LSU in their opening game.
The rugged part of the schedule hits in November when Ohio State plays Nebraska at home, Michigan State at East Lansing, and then returns to Columbus to finish the regular season against Michigan two days after Thanksgiving. All are currently ranked in the top 20.
“I think there are going to be more (Big Ten teams) surface in the top 25,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said Tuesday. “I think our conference is very strong right now, and our division has to be one of the strongest — if not the strongest — in college football.”
Meyer had fretted about how his young team — 30 freshmen or redshirt freshmen were on the traveling squad — would perform Saturday night against a top-tier non-conference opponent in an unfriendly venue. The typically tightly wrapped Meyer is feeling better this week — but only a little.
He’d called Oklahoma the “coming of age game” for the 2016 team, but said watching a replay made it clear that it needs to get better to endure the stretch run.
“I’m very pleased with their growth, their development and they play hard,” he said. “Those are all kind of things that are demanded around here, but there’s still far too many mistakes. I’m not by myself on this, everyone’s attitude is the same.
“And that’s exactly what you want, because it’s so early in the year, there’s so many young players, this is their first time playing, and there’s so much room for growth.”
Redshirt freshman running back Mike Weber and H-back Curtis Samuel rushed for a combined 221 yards against the Sooners. Wide receiver Noah Brown — who had one catch prior to this season — caught four touchdown passes from quarterback J.T. Barrett. Just before halftime, Brown hugged the ball against the back of defensive back Michah Quick as he fell out of bounds for a spectacular TD catch that will live in the lore of Ohio State football.
The Buckeyes defense picked up their eighth and nine interceptions of the season. Linebacker Jerome Baker recorded the team’s nation-leading fourth pick-six when he grabbed a tipped pass and returned it 68 yards.
Brown, who finished with five catches for 72 yards, was named Big Ten offensive player of the week, and Baker shared defensive player of the week honors. Ohio State’s Cameron Johnston was named the Ray Guy national punter of the week for his mastery at controlling Oklahoma’s field position.
After the game, players said they hoped people would now stop talking about how young they are and start talking about how good they are.
“It was our first real test, and we’re glad to have it under our belts,” defensive end Sam Hubbard said. “We’re tired of hearing about how young we are.”
Said Weber: “We are young. We just go out there and show people football is football, no matter how young we are.”
Cornerback Gareon Conley, one of only three returning starters on defense this season, is expected to be OK after injuring his shoulder and leaving the game in the second quarter Saturday. “He’s fine,” Meyer said. “He’s going to practice (Tuesday).”… Linebacker Dante Booker did not dress for the Oklahoma game after a knee sprain suffered in the opening game. No word yet on whether he will be ready for the Rutgers game Oct. 1.
Follow Mitch Stacy at http://twitter.com/mitchstacy. For some of his other recent stories: http://bigstory.ap.org/content/mitch-stacy