LINCOLN, NE - SEPTEMBER 28: Quarterback Justin Fields #1 of the Ohio State Buckeyes looks over the line during the game against the Nebraska Cornhuskers at Memorial Stadium on September 28, 2019 in Lincoln, Nebraska. (Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images)
Photo: Steven Branscombe/Getty Images
Photo: Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

Marcus Musings: Top reasons to buy Ohio State stock, Michigan reality check, what sticking with Andy Dalton tells us about Bengals

We interrupt your regularly scheduled news for a smattering of opinions: 

  • Ohio State’s win over Northwestern was impressive because the Wildcats are hard to play against, but the Buckeyes made it look easy. For the second game in a row, Ohio State’s offense was less-than-dominant up front at the beginning, and for the second game in a row it didn’t matter. 
  • Caution is always warranted in college football because many dominant first halves of seasons have gone up in flames before Thanksgiving, but if you want a reason to go all-in on Ohio State being a national championship contender or even favorite in 2019 I’ll give you two: The efficiency of Justin Fields and the dominance of the offensive line. Together they could be a combination that is literally unbeatable. Most college football teams falter either because they can’t block or their quarterback can’t make teams pay for overcommitting to the run. Ohio State looks to be set in both areas, which is rare indeed. 
  • Fields made a bunch of high-level plays look routine against Northwestern, something that bodes well for the future. His ability to complete passes on the far hash takes away an obvious adjustment for defenses to make against Ohio State, one they did frequently against the J.T. Barrett Buckeyes. Back then people would lament the WRs being unable to get separation, but that was a canard. The real problem was teams were playing off to take away the deep ball and forcing the Buckeyes to be patient and precise, neither of which they excelled at then (this was as much the fault of the play-callers as it was Barrett). It was a formula Penn State discovered in 2014 that was widely repeated for the following four seasons. 
  • The Ohio State defense, as I have said before, could look great for 10 or 11 weeks and still be a fraud, but so far so good. Another reason to be bullish is their approach should hold up in terms of at least making good teams work for points rather than giving up easy one like they did so often last year. Don’t look for this team to shut down everyone it faces, but it should remain sound even when the competition is ratcheted up. 
  • Illinois’ upset of Wisconsin was textbook. The Badgers dominated the game but got complacent enough that mistakes ultimately caught up to them. They led 20-7 midway through the third quarter and drove into the Illinois red zone on their next three possessions but came away with three points, twice settling for field goal attempt (one was no good) and losing a fumble. Meanwhile, Illinois did just enough damage to hang around then take advantage of an interception at midfield when Wisconsin was a couple of first downs away from being able to run out the clock anyway. 
  • We talk all the time about letups in college football, but I didn’t get the feeling the Badger players were taking it easy. They seemed to be into it, but Paul Chryst and his coaching staff failed them by the way they managed the last quarter and a half of so when they seemed to take the win for granted.
  • Penn State made just enough plays to beat Michigan, which made a lot of mistakes and looked close to being knocked out most of the night but lasted until the final two minutes in Happy Valley. Not sure the game really validated either of them as a threat to Ohio State. 
  • Penn State’s offense, which relies almost exclusively on big plays, is closer to what I expected Ohio State’s offense to be this year with all the new personnel and a sophomore quarterback. Instead the Buckeyes have been explosive and efficient while the Nittany Lions are still working on adding the second part. 
  • It is kind of amusing Jim Harbaugh’s reputation was so overinflated four years ago when he went to Michigan that people keep dissing him for not being able to beat teams with better players. The question should be why the Wolverines aren’t as good as the Nittany Lions, not why they can’t upset them.
  • So the Bengals are not going to bench Andy Dalton even though their season is over and his time is clearly past. This decision by first-year head coach Zac Taylor is defensible, but it still stinks in general for anyone who wants to see the Bengals be good again some day or even be interesting in the present. 
  • Offensive coordinator Brian Callahan, who like Taylor brought a very thin resume to town and hasn’t done anything to engender confidence his leap-of-faith hire was smart, conceded this week asking “any quarterback in the NFL outside of two or three to drop back and carry a team given our struggles, it’s probably not very realistic.” 
  • This is true but does not make the point he intended. Rather than giving Dalton a pass for this reason, it is why I keep saying every game he starts is a waste. 
  • Good quarterbacks don’t make bad rosters good, but they can make good rosters look great, average rosters good and bad rosters average. Since his great 2015 ended prematurely with an injury, he has failed to do any of that and at times (like now) even reduced the team’s chances of winning. 
  • The way to win big AND the way to avoid being really bad is to have a true difference-maker at quarterback. If you don’t have one of those, you should be looking for one, which is among the biggest mistakes (of so many…) the Bengals have made over the past two years. 
  • That said, I’ll own up to the fact I’ve been careful not to outright call for Ryan Finley to start. I don’t get to watch practice, so I can’t say for sure the rookie would be better than Dalton. He might be worse, although in the long run that could be good for the franchise if it leads to him growing as a player. Playing a young quarterback too soon can destroy his confidence forever. However, there is no future for this team with Dalton, so regardless of anything else, yes, every snap he takes is a waste because it’s accomplishing nothing for the future. 
  • So while I have no idea where Finley is in terms of his progression, I still tend to think as long as he can literally run the plays, he might as well get a shot — but then it’s also possible that he can’t at this point. Of course, if that’s true — especially considering the Bengals have already lost to two rookie quarterbacks and a second-year guy with no previous playing experience, all of whom outplayed Dalton that given Sunday — it would be another indictment of this coaching staff, which so far looks not only like a disappointment but a disaster. >>READ MORE: Winless Bengals sticking with Andy Dalton as starting QB  
  • Joel Klatt and Colin Cowherd dropped some truth bombs this week by pointing out one big problem with “Can Jim Harbaugh restore Michigan’s greatness” narrative is most people don’t realize Michigan was never that great (at least since World War II). 
  • I would add to this Michigan is better than it was when Harbaugh took over but still not even back to the Bo Schembechler or even Lloyd Carr years because then they were not only competing for but winning Big Ten championships. This is the longest Big Ten title drought in school history, including a period 100 years ago when they temporarily dropped out of the league, but it is instructive I guess for people who don’t pay super close attention that Michigan as a modern superpower is kind of a fraud. 
  • Separately, the discussion about how long it took many other great coaches like Tom Osborne and Bobby Bowden (or Bill Cowher in the NFL) to win the big one is one we should have like every year. I’m not saying every coach should get 10 to 15 years to figure it out, but it is pretty insane how quickly we turn on people nowadays. And this seems like something that most people with common sense probably know, but we keep doing it anyway
  • I have not been giving the constant Urban Meyer return rumors much mind because I think he’s really done or he wouldn’t have quit. He literally cannot coach anymore, and if he comes back it will be because he literally would rather not live as a non-coach, consequences be damned. That said, he really did say he would consider coaching the Cowboys, so it’s safe to at least consider it ourselves...
  • Man, would that be fascinating! He would have his running back and his type of quarterback plus a talented defense. He said he can’t be a CEO-type coach at the college level, but perhaps he could in the NFL? I’d still put the odds at about 1,000,000 to 1, but like I said it is really interesting to think about.

“Marcus Musings” is a semi-regular feature here at the blog. While most of our other coverage is concentrated on news and analysis, this is a place to share opinions on various stories permeating the sports world and (hopefully) have some fun. Have your own thoughts? Send them along to marcus.hartman@coxin.com or find us on Twitter or Facebook.  

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About the Author

Marcus Hartman
Marcus Hartman
Marcus Hartman has been a digital sports columnist and reporter at Cox Media Group Ohio since 2016. 
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