LINCOLN — Ohio State coach Ryan Day had a revealing line this week when previewing his Buckeyes’ big tilt with Penn State.
“This is a talent- equated game,” Day said. “We all know we have been in some games that we have had more talent than some of the other teams we have played.”
Ohio State has had more talent in every game it has played this season. And it will have more talent Saturday, too. This is part of why the Buckeyes are a 19-point favorite.
But let’s assume for a moment this isn’t Ohio State-Penn State, but Ohio State-Alabama or Ohio State-Clemson. The talent would be equal in those games. What kind of coaching staff does Day bring to the table against Nick Saban or Dabo Swinney? Day has had a terrific first year, but he doesn’t yet have the Saban/Swinney résumé.
His staff, however, absolutely has that résumé. It’s arguably the nation’s best, and commands a $7.245 million salary for 10 coaches. Is it elite? You bet.
» Day calls the plays, but his chief consultant is offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson, who ran Oklahoma’s record-breaking 2008 offense and served as Indiana’s coach for several years. Scoring was never a problem at Indiana when Wilson was there.
Quarterbacks coach Mike Yurcich spent the previous six years at Oklahoma State, four of which were dedicated to coaching Mason Rudolph to 13,618 passing yards and 92 touchdowns.
» The defensive coordinators are a seasoned veteran (Greg Mattison) and a newcomer with NFL experience (Jeff Hafley). OSU has gone from allowing 25.5 points last season to 9.8. Mattison has been a defensive coordinator at six stops while Hafley is a head-coach-in-the-making who gave a 20-minute press conference this week.
“It’s big plays and it’s tackling,” Hafley said. “If you eliminate the explosives and you tackle, you have a pretty good chance to win at any level.”
» OSU has the nation’s best defensive line recruiter in Larry Johnson. After 14 years at Penn State, he switched to the Buckeyes in 2014 rather than serve under new coach James Franklin.
Chase Young is at Ohio State in part because of Johnson, who has an interesting story. He was an elite high school coach for a decade before taking a job at Penn State. In that way, he’s like a few former Husker assistants under Tom Osborne — Milt Tenopir and Frank Solich.
» The Buckeyes have experience everywhere.
Offensive line coach Greg Studrawa coached at LSU under Les Miles. Running backs coach Tony Alford moved to Ohio State after stints at Notre Dame, Louisville, Iowa State and Washington. Linebackers coach Al Washington followed Mattison from Michigan.
Special teams coordinator Matt Barnes is the pup of the group, but he served as Maryland’s special teams coach for three seasons. Before that, he had analyst/graduate assistant jobs at Florida and Michigan. Another newcomer, Brian Hartline, just stopped playing in the NFL in 2015.
It’s one heck of a group, especially at the coordinator level. The ease of recruiting at Ohio State makes it a more palatable place to coach, yes. But Day, new to the boss role, has assembled the Big Ten’s best staff.
That’s why the Buckeyes (10-0, 7-0) are on a collision course for the College Football Playoff. Penn State (9-1, 6-1) is in the way.
My pick: No. 2 Ohio State 38, No. 8 Penn State 17
Other Big Ten picks
Nebraska (4-6, 2-5) at Maryland (3-7, 1-6)
2:30 p.m, BTN
Expect points. Lots of ’em. Nebraska and Maryland could each clear 200 yards rushing, and it won’t surprise me if NU eclipses the 300-yard mark. A nice four-hour game in late November in your nation’s capital.
Line: Nebraska by 6
My pick: Nebraska 42, Maryland 31
No. 13 Michigan (8-2, 5-2) at Indiana (7-3, 4-3)
2:30 p.m., ESPN
Kitchen sink game for Indiana? The Hoosiers have their bowl berth wrapped up, but a win here puts them into that New Year’s Day strata. Michigan, meanwhile, has Indiana as the filler between rival matchups against Michigan State and Ohio State. Trap game? Oh, yeah. But the Wolverines are playing really well, too.
Line: Michigan by 10
My pick: Michigan 35, Indiana 24
No. 10 Minnesota (9-1, 6-1) at Northwestern (2-8, 0-7)
11 a.m., ABC
The Gophers’ game against Wisconsin will likely be for the Big Ten West title, so this week is a tuneup in which quarterback Tanner Morgan may sit out for precautionary reasons after getting dinged up against Iowa. The line here is smaller than you’d think. The Wildcats are a try-hard team with one last effort in them.
Line: Minnesota by 14
My pick: Minnesota 21, Northwestern 10
Illinois (6-4, 4-3) at No. 17 Iowa (7-3, 4-3)
11 a.m., BTN
Lovie Smith’s crew wins with turnovers and efficiency in the red zone. Few do it better than the Illini. Iowa has lost nine turnovers this season, though — tied for fewest in the Big Ten — and has the kind of defense that keeps the game at a slower pace.
Line: Iowa by 15½
My pick: Iowa 26, Illinois 17
Purdue (4-6, 3-4) at No. 12 Wisconsin (8-2, 5-2)
3 p.m., Fox
Kudos to Purdue coach Jeff Brohm for his tireless, in-depth updates on the health of star receiver Rondale Moore, who has been out for more than a month and may not be back Saturday. No Moore, no chance at upsetting Wisconsin. The Boilermakers just don’t have the defense. And with Minnesota’s loss to Iowa, Wisconsin knows it controls its destiny to win the Big Ten West.
Line: Wisconsin by 25
My pick: Wisconsin 42, Purdue 21
Michigan State (4-6, 2-5) at Rutgers (2-8, 0-7)
11 a.m., FS1
It’s a game that must be played.
Line: Michigan State by 21½
My pick: Michigan State 28, Rutgers 9