In a span of just over 24 hours, the Ohio State football team beat its biggest rival, lost its second Heisman Trophy candidate of the season and learned of the death of a teammate.
Two days later, the Buckeyes were announced as No. 5 in the College Football Playoff rankings, just one spot away from making the first-ever football final four. With all that in mind, OSU (11-1, 8-0) is set for a chance at redemption in the Big Ten Championship Game on Saturday.
After the Buckeyes’ tumultuous past few days, The Lantern sports editors picked five key questions ahead of Saturday’s matchup with Wisconsin.
1. How will redshirt-sophomore quarterback Cardale Jones perform?
The question is obvious, but it’s still the most pressing question as OSU tries to reverse the result of last year’s Big Ten title game loss to Michigan State.
After redshirt-freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett fractured his ankle in the Buckeyes’ win over Michigan on Saturday, OSU was forced to turn to Jones, who was the third-string quarterback 12 days before the season started. Even after senior quarterback Braxton Miller was ruled out for the season with a shoulder injury, Jones hasn’t seen significant playing time in relief of Barrett.
Instead, the Glenville High School product has almost exclusively played late in games when the Buckeyes already had big leads, save for a quarterback power call here and there. In that limited playing time, Jones has thrown 17 passes with 10 completions for 118 yards and two touchdowns. He’s also run for 206 yards on 26 carries.
The numbers themselves are strong, but the sample size isn’t something to write home about.
Listed at 6-feet-5-inches tall and 250 pounds, Jones is a physical presence with a powerful arm, but he’ll need to be more than that for OSU to win.
2. How will the Buckeyes respond to the death of Kosta Karageorge?
The loss of life can’t be compared to any sort of loss on the football field, but the Buckeyes will still have to take the field on Saturday.
On paper, Karageorge didn’t have a visible impact on gameday — he never made an appearance for OSU — but he was clearly a meaningful part of the close-knit Buckeyes. Since his death, multiple OSU players have said the 2014 team is the closest they’ve ever been around, and now is the time for them to band together.
OSU will wear No. 53 stickers on its helmets to honor Karagoerge in what will be an emotional game, and the Buckeyes will likely respond in one of two ways. Either they will use the tragedy as motivation, or it will negatively affect their play.
Going forward, the only thing for sure is that the Buckeyes will be playing with Karageorge in mind.
3. Can the Buckeyes slow down Melvin Gordon?
It is no secret that Wisconsin redshirt-junior running back Melvin Gordon is the Badgers’ biggest and best weapon offensively.
It also wasn’t a secret that Indiana’s Tevin Coleman and Minnesota’s David Cobb were their best weapons, but that didn’t stop them from running wild on the OSU defense.
Coleman and Cobb combined for 373 yards and six touchdowns on the ground against the Buckeyes as they were featured almost exclusively in their respective offenses.
So it should not come as a surprise to anyone when the Badgers line up in their usual power-I formation and try to run right at the OSU defense.
The Buckeyes have to know what is coming, but if Coleman and Cobb can run for impressive numbers, who is to say Gordon won’t?
4. Will the seniors cement their OSU legacy?
The 2014 Buckeye senior class has had huge amounts of success at OSU. They’ve been part of three-straight undefeated runs in regular season Big Ten play and were part of a 24-game winning streak under coach Urban Meyer.
They were also part of a 6-7 season under now-co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Luke Fickell after the “Tattoo-Gate” scandal rocked the program.
The one glaring hole on their resume is the lack of a title — Big Ten or national — and Saturday could be the seniors’ last chance to win either.
A loss means that OSU won’t have a chance to compete for a national championship and it would mean the Buckeyes missed out on a conference title for the second year running. But with a win, the seniors would polish off their resume in addition to keeping OSU’s playoff hopes alive.
5. Can the Buckeyes impress the College Football Playoff committee?
Sitting at No. 5 in the College Football Playoff rankings and without their starting quarterback, the Buckeyes will undoubtedly need to do more than just win on Saturday against Wisconsin.
They will need to do so convincingly over a team that ranks second in the country in total defense.
Not exactly an easy task.
In addition, the Buckeyes will likely need one of the current top four teams (Alabama, Oregon, Texas Christian, Florida State) to lose its final game in order to slide in the first ever college playoff.
Winning the Big Ten Championship is one thing, doing so in a convincing manner is another. Either way, the Buckeyes will need to do both in order to seal up a spot in the College Football Playoff.
Kickoff between the Buckeyes and the Badgers is set for 8:17 p.m. at Lucas Oil Stadium.