I want to believe. So do you, Buckeye Nation.
I want to believe in Ohio State this week against Penn State because college football is better when the Buckeyes matter. Don't get me wrong, they do matter. Bigly.
It's just that I -- along with a lot of discerning college football fans -- don't know what to make of their past five games.
During that stretch, Ohio State has squashed five opponents by a combined 210 points. J.T. Barrett is playing some of the best football of his career -- 18 touchdown passes, no interceptions over that span.
The Buckeyes also weren't playing Oklahoma or anyone even close.
Last time we saw Ohio State against a living, breathing opponent, its defensive line was being dominated by OU's offensive front. Baker Mayfield was surgically carving up the secondary and woofing to Ohio State fans each time he did it. (Check out my ESPN radio buddy Ian Fitzsimmons' account.)
I think we all agree the quality of competition dropped off after that -- Army, UNLV, Rutgers, Maryland and Nebraska. The Bucks got well. Hey, that's what they were supposed to do. Was it the equivalent of batting practice -- get a few swings in to limber up before the meat of the schedule?
Look, the Buckeyes don't have to apologize for a giant hole in their schedule. In this era of 14-team conferences, it takes years to work your way through the 13 other teams.
Ohio State is not alone. Georgia's "misses" in the SEC might be part of its success. But now, here comes Penn State with the inside track to the Big Ten title at stake. You can bet the Buckeyes will have reprisal on their minds after last year.
Ohio State left one on the table that night. Penn State won the Big Ten. The Buckeyes still went to the College Football Playoff. The Nittany Lions did not. But that's another discussion for another time.
You see, this isn't just about beating the Nits. Fantastic, if the Buckeyes do. This isn't even about getting to the Big Ten Championship Game or winning it. It's about -- as expected -- getting back to the CFP and washing that awful taste out of their mouths. It's about Ohio State, Barrett, that shutout to Clemson and Urban Meyer proving he can defeat the elites this season.
I want to believe what I've seen these past five games. So do you, Buckeye Nation. Your team still hasn't beaten a ranked opponent this season because it fell to the only one it played.
Ohio State isn't alone. Alabama's best win might be over a Mountain West team (Fresno State). Or not, if you consider Texas A&M any good, because Florida State certainly is not. Until destroying Michigan, Penn State had beaten only two teams with current winning records (Iowa and Northwestern, both 4-3). At its current pace, No. 5 Wisconsin will face its first ranked opponent in Week 11 against Michigan. Notre Dame just beat its first ranked opponent (Southern California).
Who says polls don't matter? These sorts of things will be considered when the CFP releases its first rankings next Tuesday.
Don't even start with the "hater" B.S. that accompanies these sorts of analyses, Bucknuts. I root for the best stories, that's all. If that's JTB throwing for four touchdowns, great. If it's two Big Ten teams getting into the playoff, that's an even more intriguing story.
I just want to know what to expect Saturday. So do you -- the same fans who were calling for Barrett to lose his job in Week 2. Now, you're asking why he isn't considered among the Heisman Trophy contenders.
That's why they call it a bandwagon. There is always plenty of room whether it be Columbus, Ohio, or Pullman, Washington.
It will also be empty (again) if Barrett fails to measure up Saturday. I go back to the week of that Oklahoma game. I was a guest on 105.7 The Zone in Columbus. A caller opined that Barrett would never lead the Bucks "to the next level." More ridiculous words have never been spoken. Barrett now is 32-4 as a starter, a two-time Big Ten quarterback of the year. Twice he has finished in the top 10 of Heisman voting.
Maybe the worst thing you can say about Barrett is that, as a fifth-year senior, there is a large body of work to analyze. We've seen his floor, particularly in last year's CFP semifinal when Clemson's defense exploited Barrett's inability to make plays downfield. It also became obvious Barrett had few weapons around him to make those plays downfield.
Does he now? We've seen Barrett's ceiling, too, these past five games. J.K. Dobbins can turn a corner; he has run for 524 yards in that span. Speedy Paris Campbell is averaging 9.1 yards per all-purpose touch.
Against … air?
The Penn State game and beyond will tell us if these past several weeks have been stat stacking or a championship prelude.
They'll tell us whether these previous five games have been batting practice or proof Ohio State can hit it out of the park.