COLUMBUS, Ohio -- If you didn't pay attention to the jokes here, you weren't paying attention. They went something like this:
Mel Tucker should have signed his reported $95 million contract at halftime. For a while, it seemed like Ohio State would score 95 … million against Michigan State. The International Space Station was closer to Columbus than the Spartans.
That's the level of snark that bubbles up when a playoff elimination game becomes a joke itself. No. 4 Ohio State did what Baker Mayfield tried and failed to do a few years back to Ohio Stadium's artificial turf -- plant a flag in the ground. This one was metaphorical, though it still waves loud and proud while containing the proclamation that the Buckeyes look like the best of everything. Well, at least in the Big Ten, but perhaps in all of college football, too.
It's getting late in the season, and conclusions must be made. Admit it, you want to see Ohio State against No. 1 Georgia right now. After a 56-7 trucking of No. 7 Michigan State and their soon-to-be-overpaid coach, the Buckeyes have the best combination of skill, speed, strategy and athletes to give the Bulldogs a game.
Tucker may eventually sign that historic 10-year deal reported during the week. Ohio State had the receipts on Saturday.
"This is more than just about winning the game," Ohio State coach Ryan Day told CBS Sports prior to kickoff.
Buckeyes everywhere have been waiting for this sort of performance all season. The lone loss to now-No. 3 Oregon is more than two months old but has become a signpost of how deficient the Buckeyes were that day and how dangerous they are now.
Ohio State was so dominant Saturday it scored on its first seven possessions. Quarterback C.J. Stroud threw touchdown passes on six of them -- before halftime -- to set the program's single-game record The Buckeyes were on pace for 98 points and 1,000 total yards at the break.
Ohio State covered the 19-point spread by 30 points. The victory margin was the largest in a game between two teams ranked among the top seven in the AP Top 25 since Army beat Penn 61-0 in 1945.
"I told them, 'I don't want to hear a word on the bus or on the plane,'" Tucker said after his program's worst loss to Ohio State in the 50-game history of the series. "'We got a 30-minute plane ride, there's nothing to talk about.'"
There was plenty to talk about on the opposite sideline. There's tons of football left, but Stroud, the redshirt freshman who threw his first collegiate pass in September, has become the Heisman Trophy favorite. For one thing, he threw as many touchdown passes than Michigan State Heisman hopeful Kenneth Walker III had rushes. That was end of one Heisman campaign -- Walker was held to 25 yards -- and the emergence of another.
It's hard to tell whether it's Stroud hitting wide open receivers or the receivers running precise routes allowing them to be wide open or the offensive line blocking well enough for them to get open. Maybe it's a football combo platter that looks like it could challenge Georgia's generational defense.
In playing his best game of the young career, Stroud set a school record with 17 consecutive completions. With the Michigan game and a possible Big Ten Championship Game looming, we can say this much: You can't spell "rout" without Stroud. Since that loss to the Ducks, the Buckeyes won their sixth game by at least 21 points.
"Everything we thought we were going to get, we got," Stroud said.
If Ohio State doesn't have the best player, it certainly has the best set of pass catchers in the game. Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson and Jaxon Smith-Njigba all surpassed 100 yards receiving. Olave set the school career record for touchdown catches (35) with two more on Saturday. Wilson also had two himself. Third option Smith-Njigba led everybody with 10 catches. He has 34 in the last three games.
"We certainly have a high ceiling," Day said. "We're still striving for greatness."
Ohio State wins big, Utah blows out Oregon and more in this week's Instant Reaction by the Cover 3 crew recapping Week 12 scores and results in college football.
Before leapfrogging to Georgia, there's a certain big game next week for Ohio State at Michigan. Saturday's result certainly sent a message up to The Team Up North, but Michigan still looks like it matches up better with Ohio State than at any time since 2016. That was the year of the fourth-down spot that eventually led to a double-overtime loss and a larger downward spiral.
Michigan hasn't been within 11 in the last three meetings. The teams didn't play last year in the COVID-19 impacted season. Ohio State has won eight in a row.
"I don't want to celebrate too long," Day said on the field as he headed toward the South end zone to sing "Carmen Ohio".
"Beat Michigan Week starts now," the public address announcer declared as the field cleared.
Since that Oregon loss, Ohio State has been playing to expectations as much as the opponent each week. While Stroud and the receivers were becoming simpatico, the defense sent out scary signals. Purdue put up 31 points and 477 yards last week. A diminished Penn State kept it uncomfortably close on Oct. 30.
The defense was transitioning from play-calling duties being taken away from coordinator Kerry Combs and assigned to defensive backs coach Matt Barnes. The Buckeyes have gone from being dominated by the Ducks to dominating. Just in time.
"It's good to be around a team that has some scars on them, some callous on them," Day said.
As for the elephant-sized contract in the room, if and when Tucker actually does sign the monster deal, it would set a new standard for every coach (and their agents) in the game. Imagine, Day telling his boss, athletic director Gene Smith, "If he's worth $95 million, what am I worth?"
Lots. Tucker has been a head coach for 30 games and is two games over .500 (16-14). Day, 33-3 as a head coach, is undefeated against the Big Ten in his career (23-0) having won two conference titles and securing two College Football Playoff appearances.
Georgia has been warned. A third CFP berth looks a lot closer for Ohio State after Saturday afternoon.