COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State football remains on indefinite pause as it continues to test for additional coronavirus cases in its program.
If the Buckeyes play Saturday at Michigan State, they will do so without coach Ryan Day, who has tested positive for the virus. If they play The Game against Michigan on Dec. 12, they expect to do so without multiple players who have also tested positive.
Ohio State planned to conduct more tests Sunday. Those results play into the most important statistic of the Buckeyes’ season — their COVID-19 test positivity rate. As long as additional players keep testing positive, the chances of playing Saturday keep diminishing.
As I have written before, this is the scenario that spawned the concept of the Monday Madness column. After the Big Ten canceled its fall season, this weekly check-in was supposed to provide perspective on the futility of other conferences trying to complete a season during a pandemic.
Then Ohio State led the charge to reverse the Big Ten’s decision. It asked for, and received, the chance to decide for itself whether the risk of contracting the virus was acceptable. The Buckeyes wanted to prove strict testing protocols could be the pathway to a season, not a barrier.
They talked about accountability and a healthy fear of the virus. They were unapologetically upset when their game at Maryland was canceled due to the Terrapins’ outbreak.
Now, Ohio State’s coronavirus experience has come full circle.
The Buckeyes may have done almost everything correct in previous weeks to keep COVD-19 out of the Woody Hayes Athletic Complex. This week, they will operate as the dozens of other programs with similar outbreaks have operated since last spring.
They are at the mercy of how far the virus has already spread within OSU’s players, coaches and staff, and how soon it makes itself known in those individuals.
Based on the math Ohio State provided, we can calculate that approximately 13 out of 170 players, coaches or staff have tested positive in the past week.
The trend of other Big Ten programs who canceled games does not favor the Buckeyes’ attempt to play on Saturday.
• When Wisconsin announced on Oct. 28 that its game against Nebraska would be canceled, the Badgers had 12 positive tests in the previous five days. A week later, when the Wisconsin-Purdue game was canceled, the Badgers’ numbers had more than doubled to 27.
• When Maryland’s outbreak forced cancellation of a game against Ohio State on Nov. 11, the Terrapins were known to be dealing with eight positive tests among players. By the time the game against Michigan State was canceled a week later, Maryland was up to 23 positives among players.
• Minnesota had been playing through the absence of several players due to positive COVID-19 tests all season. The Gophers were dealing with nine players and six staff members who had tested positive when last week’s game with Wisconsin was canceled. Minnesota disclosed over the weekend it is dealing with 40 cases within its program.
As of Sunday night, the Gophers still plan to play Northwestern on Saturday.
Whatever outcome this week brings, remember this — it does not end Ohio State’s struggle with this virus. As long as COVID-19 continues to spread and inhabit in Franklin County and throughout Ohio, the risk of contamination within OSU’s football program will remain.
That includes the week leading up to the Michigan game, and the Big Ten championship weekend, and each round of the College Football Playoff, should the Buckeyes be chosen.
That last sentence was as true on Aug. 5 as it is today. Ohio State’s administration and coaches believed that as much as anyone, and it did not matter.
Johnny Langan was not listed on Rutgers’ quarterback depth chart for Saturday’s game at Purdue. Then he went out in the Wildcat formation, slammed himself into the line repeatedly and helped the Scarlet Knights finish off a 37-30 victory by holding the ball for all but three plays in the fourth quarter.
Rocky Lombardi looked like he might have lost the starting job at Michigan State after being benched in a 24-0 home loss to Indiana. After a week off due to Maryland’s COVID-19 outbreak, he kept his job and led the Spartans to a 29-20 upset of previously undefeated Northwestern.
For first-year head coaches starting a rebuild, 2020 seemed like a lousy environment to lay a foundation. Rutgers’ Greg Schiano and Michigan State’s Mel Tucker, though, seem to be doing better than getting by.
The Scarlet Knights are a triple-overtime loss to Michigan away from being 3-3 right now. (They also led 20-10 against Illinois before losing on a late field goal.) Ohio State saw first hand Rutgers will throw everything and the kitchen sink at you, and heads up here comes the bathroom sink, too.
Michigan State is a putrid offensive team, ranking ahead of only Northwestern among Big Ten teams in yards per play and per game. Yet the Spartans’ defense ranks fourth in yards per play allowed.
Every victory either program can achieve in 2020 may help instill a little more belief in what can be accomplished in 2021.
Indiana and Purdue both made coaching changes in 2016. Indiana made the move to Tom Allen abruptly after the controversial exit of now-Ohio State co-offensive coordinator and tight ends coach Kevin Wilson. Purdue hired Jeff Brohm to resurrect a program that won nine games in four years under Darrell Hazell.
If you polled college football observers in the winter of 2016-17 about which team should be winning five of its first six Big Ten games in 2020 and competing for a division championship, how many would have picked the Hoosiers?
Brohm absolutely reinvigorated the Purdue fan base by taking the Boilermakers to a bowl in his first season. Then came the big upset of Ohio State in 2018 and another 6-6 bowl trip. Players like Rondale Moore, David Bell and George Karlaftis began arriving. A true breakthrough seemed imminent.
Beginning with that 2018 bowl loss, 63-14 to Auburn in the Music City Bowl, Purdue has lost 12 of its last 18. Saturday’s 37-30 home loss to Rutgers was the Boilermakers’ third straight after opening with wins over Iowa and Illinois.
Injuries have been an issue, most notably Moore missing most of last season and the first half of this one. Karlaftis is currently out with COVID-19. Programs such as Purdue can never stockpile talent the way Ohio State does. The drop-off from its few bona fide stars to backups is significant.
However, Brohm also has not yet found and developed an above-average quarterback — which was at the very top of his objectives when hired. The Boilermakers have also finished 10th, 13th an 13th in the Big Ten in total defense, though they have snuck up to eighth through five games this season.
Previous Purdue coaches could accurately complain about the lack of commitment and resources relative to their Big Ten competitors. No more.
The Boilermakers have upgraded their facilities significantly in the past few years. Brohm is one of the 25 highest-paid coaches in the game, in the same neighborhood as Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz and Minnesota’s P.J. Fleck. Purdue had to pay up to keep Brohm after other programs made entreaties after his first two seasons.
Bell and Karlaftis can form the nucleus of a bounce-back in 2021. Jack Plummer may finally be ready to take over at quarterback. The Boilermakers may be one of many programs who look back on 2020 as a coronavirus-corrupted blip.
Purdue, however, is not the best Big Ten football program in its own state right now. Its 2021 recruiting class currently ranks last in the Big Ten and 77th nationally, 12 spots behind Indiana.
Purdue fans have seen where this trajectory leads if it does not change soon.
My colleague Doug Lesmerises pointed out that the Big Ten is one victory short of doing the full loop — where every team in the league has beaten someone else — after six weeks. Actually, Rutgers did outscore Ohio State in the second half, so you could argue the league is only half a victory short.
The last piece of the loop is always the hardest — someone needs to beat Ohio State.
Before before anyone had heard of COVID-19, a road game at Oregon was supposed to be a big piece of Ohio State’s possible College Football Playoff resume.
It now appears a home game against Buffalo might have carried some value as well. The Bulls are 4-0 after a 70-41 victory over Kent State on Saturday.
While the sky may have been the limit on what Justin Fields and the Buckeyes could have scored on Buffalo, the OSU defense could have used this early test. The Bulls’ offense has scored 29 touchdowns in four games, and the team averages 50.8 points.
Running back Jaret Patterson has 230 yards and four touchdowns. Oh wait, sorry, he averages that output per game. He leads a rushing attack averaging 7.3 yards per carry.
Add that to the potentially fun experiences coronavirus deprived us of in 2020.
Game of the Week
10 Indiana (5-1) at 18 Wisconsin (2-1), Saturday, 3:30 p.m.
Frankly, this is a bad week of games. This was supposed to be the best of the lot, pitting IU’s Michael Penix against Wisconsin’s Graham Mertz in a matchup of the Big Ten’s near future at quarterback.
Penix, however, left last Saturday’s win over Maryland in the third quarter due to a lower leg injury. Former Utah quarterback Jack Tuttle may be leading the Hoosiers into Madison. The Badgers were forced to take another week off after their loss to Northwestern and could be playing the first of three straight games against ranked teams.
New Ohio State face masks for sale: Here’s where you can buy Ohio State-themed face coverings for coronavirus protection. A 3-pack is available on Fanatics for $29.99.
More Buckeyes coverage
What’s next as Buckeyes deal with positive COVID-19 tests? Questions and answers
How OSU went from its first coronavirus cases to pausing operations in 48 hours
OSU canceled Illinois game without crossing Big Ten thresholds; hopes to play MSU
Explaining the Big Ten’s title game rules
OSU-Illinois canceled due to additional coronavirus cases among Buckeyes
With OSU facing a coronavirus outbreak, what to worry and not worry about: Lesmerises
What’s awaits the Buckeyes after coronavirus outbreak? Buckeye Talk Emergency Pod
Social media reacts to Saturday’s cancellation