COLUMBUS -- That hand-wringing over facing an in-state foe with a pulse built to a crescendo Saturday morning in Columbus when Paul Sabin at ESPN analytics fired a warning shot on the worldwide network's website.
"Ohio State is on upset watch today," Sabin posted just before kickoff. "Cincinnati has a 24% chance to win per FPI. That's the highest of any team outside the AP top (10) that is playing a(n) AP top (10) team today."
It was not a good day for the analytics in this case -- not a good day for Cincinnati either. No matter what the computer spit out, and the Bearcats did go 11-2 last year as part of the American Athletic East, it's hard to imagine a scenario where coach Luke Fickell's squad could be competitive against the fifth-ranked Buckeyes.
Cincinnati was out-talented, out-athleted, out-toughed and outplayed, badly and consistently.
Ohio State administered a 42-0 beating in Ohio Stadium that was not competitive. In fact, this was far more impressive than last week's 45-21 dismantling of designated cupcake Florida Atlantic. This performance also shattered a reunion of former Buckeye players Fickell and UC defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman.
"They just ruined any sentimental thought you had," Fickell said. "I'm just disappointed we couldn't give them a real game."
Yet again sophomore quarterback Justin Fields showed why he was rated the nation's top prep quarterback two years ago. Fields accounted for five touchdowns in the opener and added four more against Cincinnati, a pair passing and two more running. He finished another efficient day by hitting 20-of-25 passes for 224 yards and ran 9 times for 42 more.
"In the second drive, we got the ball back and we were in the red zone and we called a play-action pass and we were expecting man coverage and we did not get man coverage and they played zone," Day explained, while describing Fields' development. "There was nowhere for him to go and he stuck his foot in the ground and scored a touchdown with a run.
"His ability to do that for us is kind of the X-factor because if it's there we take it. We're pretty efficient throwing the ball right now which is good, we've got a long way to go but we're getting there, but his feet are the X-factor. If he can just keep us on schedule. We don't need him to scramble for 80 yards, but if he can turn a 1st-and-10 shot into 2nd-and-6, that keeps this offense on schedule."
Junior tailback J.K. Dobbins got untracked, too. The Texas native ripped off 141 yards and two touchdowns on just 17 carries, including a 60-yard scoring bolt.
Defensively, the Buckeyes followed the lead of defensive end Chase Young. The junior All-American candidate had a sack, blocked a field goal and dropped an easy interception while living in the Bearcats' backfield.
"We want to be the best in the country in what we do, and that's not easy," Day said. "I do think we did win the line of scrimmage. At the end of the day it comes down to toughness, it comes down to tackling and winning the line of scrimmage."
Cincinnati threatened only twice against the Ohio State starters. Young's blocked kick thwarted a march in the first half, while maligned linebacker Tuf Borland intercepted a pass inside the Ohio State 5 to stymie a second-half march.
The starting OSU defense looked nearly impenetrable until the backups coughed up a long drive in the fourth quarter, and even that ended on a fumble at the goal line.
For the day, Ohio State outgained Cincinnati 508-273, enjoyed a 31-13 advantage in first downs, and boasted a plus-2 advantage in the turnover battle.
The competition figures to pick up next week when the Buckeyes travel to Indiana for the Big Ten opener.
EMERGING: Linebacker Baron Browning was a five-star recruit a couple of years ago but has yet to shine. However, in the first two games of this season, he's flashed multiple times, and seems to be gaining confidence at a position where the Buckeyes have struggled in recent years.
Likewise, receiver Binjamin Victor has long been considered a bastion of untapped potential. Aside from a monstrous catch-and-run for a TD that spurred last year's rally at Penn State, Victor has largely faded into the background among the receivers. But he seems to be growing into a bigger role this year, and had team-highs of 6 catches and 69 yards against UC.
Freshman Garrett Wilson, a five-star talent, was the crown jewel of the 2019 recruiting class. On Saturday, he got into the end zone for the first time, hauling in a 9-yard strike from Fields, where the freshman outfought a defender and hung on to the ball in the corner of the end zone. Day termed the catch "big-time."
SUBMERGING: On the flip side, a week ago much was made about Day incorporating the tight ends more into this year's offense. Indeed, sophomore Jeremy Ruckert had a pair of scoring grabs in the opener.
But on Saturday, eight receivers caught 22 passes, and none of them were tight ends.
As Ohio State was cruising, seventh-ranked Michigan struggled mightily at home with Army. Coach Jim Harbaugh's outfit survived a 50-yard field goal that slipped just outside the right upright at the gun, then hung on to claim a 24-21 victory in double-overtime. That game was the vulnerable top 10 matchup that ESPN's analytics whiffed on Saturday.