Eyeing The Illini

Tonight the Ohio State Buckeyes play their second night game in a row. This week, their opponents are the Fighting Illini of the University of Illinois, and the Illibuck — the wooden turtle that goes to the winner — will be at stake. I’ll be there in the Horseshoe with a group of friends for the match-up.

Ohio State’s performance last week against Penn State hurt it both literally and figuratively. Literally, because quarterback J.T. Barrett sustained a knee injury that is concerning, even though he was able to tough it out and lead the Buckeyes to victory in overtime. Figuratively, because most people — me excepted — thought the Buckeyes would beat the Nittany Lions easily, and the fact that Penn State came back to force the game into overtime clearly hurt the Buckeyes’ national reputation. It’s part of the reason why Ohio State is sitting at number 16 in the bowl playoff rankings, which puts it pretty much in the “out of contention” category for now.

Ohio State has three goals in the game tonight. First, win. A loss to Illinois, which had struggled mightily before upsetting Minnesota last weekend, would end any hope Ohio State has of making it to the first college football playoff. Second, perform well enough to allow J.T. Barrett to give his knee a rest while Cardale Jones and other quarterbacks play. Barrett says he will be ready, but I’m expecting that — if he plays at all — his role will be limited to handing off and passing, where there is less chance of aggravating the injury. That means Ohio State needs to run the ball effectively and get off to a fast start, and the Buckeyes can’t give Illinois any flukey scores, like the pick-six that allowed Penn State to get back in the game last weekend.

Finally, Ohio State needs to win impressively if it hopes to move up in the football playoff rankings. I’m not sure that it’s possible to wow selectors with a win over Illinois — no matter how lopsided — but Ohio State simply can’t afford a ho-hum effort that causes them to drop farther down the rankings.  As it is, a lot of dominoes will need to fall for Ohio State to have a chance.

All of these goals recognize one thing: the big game for Ohio State really is next weekend, in East Lansing, against Michigan State. They will need J.T. Barrett at his best for that game — which is the next big opportunity for Ohio State to impress the voters by beating an excellent team on the road. But focusing on that game just increases the risk that Illinois might pull off the upset tonight, as it did last week. The Buckeyes can’t let that happen.  Tonight, focus will be the key.

Looking For The Political “Glue Guys”

Sociological theory holds that every successful organization needs “glue guys.”  Coaches of sports teams agree.

“Glue guys” are the people who do the little things that don’t necessarily show up on the stat sheet, or the balance sheet, but that are crucial to moving the overall endeavor in the right direction.  On a basketball team they take the charge, dive for the loose ball, and cheer like crazy for the team when they are on the bench.  In an office, they might bring in a dozen doughnuts for no reason, take the new guy in accounting to lunch during his first week, or try to smooth ruffled feelings so a minor incident doesn’t become a major blow-up.

The “glue guys” typically aren’t perceived as superstars, and often their contribution is just assumed.  But if the “glue guys” leave, suddenly the office or the the offense doesn’t run quite so well, the prima donnas start battling for attention, and bad feelings start to grow.  Before you know it, people are hogging the ball and communicating with each other through passive-aggressive notes stuck to the front of the office microwave.

When I reflect on our dysfunctional political environment, I wonder if the real problem is that we lacki those political “glue guys” — the Senators and Representatives who, in the past, could swallow their pride, work with people in the other party, keep their word, and forge a fair compromise that would allow the necessary work to get done.  Now, it seems, everyone acts like a superstar — they raise huge amounts of money, they send countless overwrought e-mails soliciting even more cash by presenting opposing views in the most dangerous possible light, and when the party talking points get circulated they dutifully go on MSNBC or Fox shows and say pointed, terrible things about the other side.  How many of these preening politicos would take a charge or dive for a loose ball to try to, say, develop a rational approach to immigration issues?

I think we need more of the “glue guys” in Washington, D.C.  The question is, how do we accomplish that in our modern polarized, money-saturated, poll-driven political system?