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Five Questions as Buckeyes prepare to visit overmatched Rutgers

Ryan Day-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football
Ohio State coach Ryan Day is still undefeated as the leader of the Buckeyes. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Ohio State Football

Five Questions as Buckeyes prepare to visit overmatched Rutgers

COLUMBUS — The only drama at Ohio State this week will be off the field.

Sure, the practices are going to still be fiercely competitive. The Buckeyes are gearing up for a demanding closing stretch in Big Ten play and still trying to add more wrinkles to the playbook on both sides of the football. And there is a conference game on Saturday at Rutgers.

But this is just about as lopsided as a divisional matchup could ever be, and already established as a favorite by more than 50 points, the only real battle for the top-ranked Buckeyes over the next few days will be against complacency — and the NCAA as the appeal to get Chase Young back likely heads toward a resolution.

“I don’t think we overthink it,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “Chase is dealing with a situation that we’re all supporting him with, and once we get some clarity on what’s going on, we’ll go from there. But until then, we focus on the team the best we can. And one thing about football that’s different than almost any sport, a guy can roll an ankle or hurt himself or get a concussion at any point and another guy has to step up. It’s not like you don’t have the mentality of the next guy up in football. You do.

“And so that’s what we’re going to do. We’re supporting him, and he’s supporting us. And we’re going to get through it together, and he knows we have his back.”

The Buckeyes have shown a seemingly unbreakable bond all season under Day, and they’ve also been remarkably focused even when there have been opponents like Maryland last week who really had no shot of upsetting them. That will again be tested this week by the Scarlet Knights, but that’s not where the intrigue is as Lettermen Row starts the week with Five Questions for Ohio State.

Chase Young-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football

Ohio State defensive end Chase Young missed last week’s win over Maryland. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

When will Chase Young be back for Ohio State?

All indications at this point suggest it’s a matter of when, not if, Chase Young will have his eligibility reinstated and the best player in the country will again be suiting up for Ohio State. There isn’t a great deal of value in speculating about the length of the suspension at this point, because the NCAA is incredibly difficult to predict and all of the exact details about the case aren’t public. Based on recommended guidelines for punishment, the maximum absence would appear to be four games. Based on precedent from similar cases, Young could be on the field as early as Saturday against Rutgers — but most conversations with sources have drawn suggestions it will be two games. No matter what, the program is anticipating a ruling one way or another at some point this week.

Would Buckeyes consider starting Chris Chugunov at quarterback?

Ohio State has gone to great lengths to treat every single game the same regardless of the level of competition, and that’s been a major part of the consistent success with nine consecutive blowouts on the resumé. So, Day acknowledging that he doesn’t need his starting quarterback to beat Rutgers probably wouldn’t be the right signal to the rest of the team and it’s not likely to happen for a number of reasons. The Buckeyes want Justin Fields to keep growing with live reps, they need him sharp for Penn State and Michigan and they also wouldn’t want to take away the reward of getting through a tough week of practice with the game-day payoff. Plus, Fields also could use the stats to bolster a Heisman Trophy candidacy. But in the interest of keeping him healthy for the championship push, it would be interesting to see if Day even remotely considered the idea.

Are there injuries that could limit Buckeyes this week?

Benching healthy starters just to be safe? Probably not going to happen. Holding out key players dealing with nagging injuries? Count on some caution there.

The most interesting case continues to be the high-ankle sprain for senior defensive end Jonathon Cooper, who again was unavailable last week and has struggled to get back to full strength since the issue first popped up in training camp. The Buckeyes certainly didn’t need Cooper against Maryland and definitely won’t against Rutgers, but it’s getting to the point where it’s fair to wonder just when he might be in the lineup again as the Nittany Lions and Wolverines loom. The Buckeyes have also been monitoring the snaps for guys like wide receiver Austin Mack and linebacker Baron Browning, and if there’s any doubt about their health this week, don’t expect to see them much against the Scarlet Knights — or maybe at all.

Austin Mack-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football

Ohio State is hoping to get Austin Mack completely healthy for the stretch run. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Can Ohio State score 100 points?

There didn’t appear to be any intent by Day to run up the score against the Terrapins. The Buckeyes took Fields and most of the starters out at halftime, and they really weren’t doing much to push the tempo while just running the football for most of the fourth quarter — and still scored three touchdowns against hapless Maryland. Those same Terrapins also happened to beat Rutgers by 41, so it’s extremely likely that the matchup against the Buckeyes will get out of hand in a hurry. So, how early would Ohio State pull out the first-stringers? If Day elects to play an aggressive first half like last week, could that put his team in range of a 100-point outing? Obviously this all sounds a little crazy to be talking about with a Big Ten opponent, but it’s a legitimate question with Ohio State rolling as the No. 1 team in the nation and this Rutgers squad building a case as one of the worst in conference history.

Will Buckeyes drop in College Football Playoff rankings?

Obviously it doesn’t matter one bit, and Ohio State has consistently made it clear that it won’t be paying attention to the College Football Playoff rankings. But it’s at least possible that it might feel like it needs to send another strong message through dominance if the committee drops Ohio State down from the top spot after LSU’s win at Alabama on Saturday. This is a weird three-week stretch for the Buckeyes coming out of the off date and then playing the cellar-dwellers of the Big Ten, and it doesn’t do the strength of schedule any favors. In the end, what truly will matter is beating Penn State and Michigan. It also wouldn’t be surprising, though, if falling to No. 2 tossed a little motivational fuel on the fire.

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Austin Ward is Lettermen Row's senior writer covering Ohio State football and basketball. The award-winning journalist has covered the Buckeyes since 2012, spending five of those seasons working for ESPN after previous stints at the Casper Star-Tribune and Knoxville News Sentinel.

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