Dienhart: Penn State deals blow to Ohio State's national title hopes

Dienhart: Penn State deals blow to Ohio State's national title hopes

Ohio State’s national title hopes took a big blow Saturday night amid a wall of sound and fury at Penn State.

The No. 2 Buckeyes’ 24-21 loss at unranked Penn State makes the program’s path to the playoff more difficult—and less of a sure thing. Still, Ohio State could still make the four-team field, as a one-loss Big Ten champ would figure to get in the playoff

The Buckeyes need to win out, which would include a win vs. potential unbeatens Nebraska and Michigan. Then, the Buckeyes will need to win the Big Ten title game—probably vs. Wisconsin or the aforementioned Cornhuskers.

But before then, Ohio State needs to improve on offense. That was the unit that cost the Buckeyes in State College, Pennsylvania. The passing game had been a growing concern for weeks. And, the struggles continued in Urban Meyer’s first road loss at Ohio State. J.T. Barrett’s final numbers look OK, as he hit 28-of-43 passes for 245 yards with a TD.

But this team lacks playmaking wideouts who can get down field with Mike Thomas and Jalin Marshall gone. Noah Brown is good, but he’s more of a red zone target. Curtis Samuel is a hybrid wideout/running back. Players like Parris Campbell, James Clark, K.J. Hill and Terry McLaurin—among others–need to develop—and they aren’t. These players are too talented to not be developing.

Complicating matters is an offensive line that struggled on this night, as Barrett was sacked six times. Remember: This isn’t a tremendous Penn State defense. In fact, the front seven had to be overhauled entering the year, as three linemen left for the NFL and the linebacking corps dealt with injury. But that front seven won most of the battles tonight against an Ohio State offense that relies too much on Barrett and running back Mike Weber.

So, all is not lost for Ohio State, which is 6-1 overall and 3-1 in the Big Ten. Next is a visit from surging Northwestern followed by a visit from Nebraska. Then there are trips to Maryland and to Michigan State before Michigan comes to Columbus on November 26.

Hope floats for Ohio State, who must win out and take the league title, as 12-1 Big Ten champ surely would make the playoff, right? Along the way, more chaos could take place across the nation with other unbeatens falling over the next month.

Stay tuned. There is a long way to go.

As for Penn State, this was the signature win that had eluded James Franklin. Maybe even more important, it keeps Penn State in the Big Ten East title race, although, due to tiebreakers, the Nittany Lions would have to win out and current leader Michigan would have to lose twice.

Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer

About Tom Dienhart: BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, and send him questions to his weekly mailbag.

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