Style Points

This afternoon the Ohio State Buckeyes beat Illinois on the road, 60-35.  The win left the Buckeyes 10-0 and winners of 22 games in a row.

But, for commentators, winning just isn’t enough these days.  Sure, the Buckeyes won . . . butBut, Illinois stinks.  But, the Big Ten stinks.  But, the Buckeyes let Illinois score 35 points.  But, the Buckeyes led by less than two scores in the fourth quarter before putting the game away.  But, the Ohio State offense had to punt the ball more than they have in weeks.  But, but, but!

IMG_1815To the ESPN commentators, college football these days is all about “style points.”  If you’re not one of the top two teams in the BCS rankings, just winning isn’t enough.  You’ve got to pulverize your opponent, grinding them into the ground while at the same time showing the speed, skill, and flair that might cause wary voters to think that you belong on the same field as one of the top two teams.  And if you give up 35 points to a dreadful team like Illinois, well, you’re just not cutting it in the style category.

This all seems very silly to me, and largely a media effort to stir up pointless controversy and increase their ratings and website hits.  Oregon won with a lot of style . . . until they got manhandled.  Clemson showed a lot of style . . . until they got trounced.  I’d rather see the Buckeyes try to work on things and continue to improve — and win, of course — rather than just trying to score as many points as they possibly can.

Just win, baby!  Win, and let the chips fall where they may.  There are still a lot of games to be played, and talking about “style points” seems awfully premature.

The Buckeyes, And Rodney Dangerfield

Last night, Stanford beat Oregon.  That result caused the ESPN talking heads, and sports show commentators throughout the land, to start talking about whether Stanford should jump over undefeated Ohio State in the race to get to the BCS National Championship game.

Of course, such talk caused heads to explode throughout Buckeye Nation.  Loyal wearers of the Scarlet and Gray questioned how a one-loss team, which fell to 4-4 Utah, could possibly leap the undefeated Buckeyes.  They wondered why Ohio State — like Rodney Dangerfield — is getting no respect this year.

There are two obvious reasons.  First, everyone knows that the Big Ten, top to bottom, just isn’t that good.  Second — and at least equally important — the members of the sports talk show fraternity realize that controversy helps increase ratings.  They know that ardent Buckeye fans are easy to bait and quickly worked into a frenzy by the slightest sign of disrespect.  So, if you are a radio or TV sports show host who puts the two together, you know that dismissing the Buckeyes’ latest drubbing of a Big Ten opponent, followed by raves when Stanford beats Oregon or Baylor beats Oklahoma, is bound to get you some angry calls from loyal OSU fans.  And if you just want listeners, or readers, who cares whether they are agreeing with you or not?

I hope that the Buckeyes, unlike their fans, forget about the shows of disrespect and realize that there is nothing they can do other than win their game each week.  If Ohio State can beat Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan, and then topple, say, Michigan State in the Big Ten Conference Championship game, they’ve done all that they can do.  I’m betting that, if that happens, the Buckeyes won’t have to worry about getting respect from the media.  Instead, they’ll be worrying about how they can win that National Championship game for a change.

Wishing, Waiting, And Watching TV

The Ohio State Buckeyes have a bye week this weekend.  Does that mean that the members of Buckeye Nation won’t be watching football?  Hardly!

No, this is the time of year when any team on the outside looking in is watching the scoreboard, hoping the teams just ahead get knocked off.  That’s Ohio State’s situation.  The Buckeyes are undefeated, but they are ranked fourth in the BCS standings behind Alabama, Florida State, and Oregon.  If the Buckeyes hope to make the BCS Championship Game — and of course they do — they need to win out and have two of those teams lose.  The Buckeyes control the former requirement, but they can’t control the latter.  That means that, on every weekend for the rest of the season, Ohio State fans will be rooting for the Buckeyes and Whoever is playing Alabama, Whoever is playing Florida State, and Whoever is playing Oregon, too.

The TV watching season kicks off in earnest tonight, when Stanford matches up against Oregon, and continues on Saturday, when Alabama plays LSU.  These are games where, theoretically at least, the teams ahead of Ohio State could be upset and open the door for Ohio State to move up in the rankings.

I’m mostly concerned with the Buckeyes keeping their focus exclusively on their personal improvement and their next opponent.  Because I’m not playing, however, I’ll gladly do some scoreboard watching and open rooting on behalf of the Men of the Scarlet and Gray.  So . . . c’mon Cardinal!  C’mon Bengal Tigers!

The Michigan Question

This week was a bye week for the Ohio State football team, so the Buckeye Nation had to wrestle with deeper, almost philosophical questions — like whether it is ever appropriate to root for Michigan.

Normally, the notion of supporting Michigan would be anathema to most Ohio State fans.  They despise the strutting Wolverines and everything they represent.  Asking purists Buckeyes to root for Michigan would be like asking Ted Cruz to do whatever he can to ensure that “Obamacare” is a great success.

This year, though, the issue is slightly different.  The Buckeyes have won every game, but they haven’t looked particularly impressive in doing so.  And their schedule is weak.  It’s apparent that the Big Ten, top to bottom, just isn’t that good this year, and if Ohio State hopes to play in the BCS championship game it needs some signature wins.  Pragmatists argued that if Michigan goes undefeated then Ohio State would gain credibility by beating them.

The debate between the pragmatists and the purists raged in Columbus this past week.  Alas, it was mooted by yesterday’s results, as the Penn State Nittany Lions beat the Michigan Wolverines in four overtimes, 43-40.  Now everything can go back to normal and Buckeye Nation can root for teams to beat the pants off Michigan every week.

Enjoying Number One, For Now

The Buckeyes took care of business yesterday, beating the Indiana Hoosiers 38-10 at the Horseshoe.   It was a good game all around.  The first team moved the ball on offense and put the game out of reach quickly.  The defense shut down Indiana’s previously high-flying offense, holding the Hoosiers without a touchdown until fourth quarter mop-up time.  The offense got to work on some new sets, some of which featured Brandon Saine catching the ball out of the backfield.  For the most part, Terrelle Pryor had plenty of time to throw and was able to hit wide-open receivers.  The defense looked good, making a number of athletic plays and showing very good tackling form and other fundamentals.

After Ohio State put its game in the win column, the Buckeye Nation, myself included, watched Alabama fall to a pumped-up South Carolina squad.  As a result, Ohio State has moved up to number 1 in the polls — for now.  I think it is still way too early to worry about rankings, “style points,” strength of schedule, or the other extraneous topics that seem to occupy the fevered brains of so many college football fans.  The Buckeyes still have six regular-season games to play, and way too much can happen in those remaining games.  Any diehard Buckeye fans will remember, with bitterness, recent seasons where teams like Purdue and Illinois rose up to bite the Buckeyes.

Indeed, next week is one of the most challenging games on the Buckeyes’ schedule.  They will travel north to Camp Randall Stadium — one of the toughest venues in college football — to play a night game against highly regarded Wisconsin.  Wisconsin is always a tough, physical team, and this year is no exception.  And, Wisconsin has one of the coolest traditions in college football, when the stadium loudspeakers blast out House of Pain’s Jump Around between the third and fourth quarters and everyone in the stadium jumps up and down.  It’s one of the reasons why a game at Camp Randall Stadium is a huge hurdle for the visiting team.

So for now, Ohio State fans might celebrate the number one ranking by joining the Badger student section in jumping around.  Starting tomorrow, it’s time to get serious about a very difficult game.

Priorities, Priorities

Sports Illustrated is reporting that the Justice Department is considering whether to take some kind of action to determine if the Bowl Championship Series violates federal antitrust laws.

I don’t know whether the BCS violates antitrust laws, and frankly I don’t care.  Whether the college football national champion should be determined by a playoff as opposed to the current BCS process should be at the very bottom of the list of issues confronting our country.  The fact that people are still losing their jobs is important; the fact that TCU, Boise State, Cincinnati, and other teams did not have a chance to compete for the national championship is not.

I imagine that the letter described in the SI story is a political sop to those people who think the BCS is some kind of significant problem, and I doubt whether the Administration really will spend much time on this issue.  Still, perception is important.  If voters believe that the Administration is thinking about college football when it should be thinking about jobs, or that the Justice Department is focusing on sports playoffs when it should be focusing on terrorism, they won’t be happy come November.

Big Ten, Big Wins

With Iowa’s win over Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl, the Big Ten ended its bowl season — and a pleasantly successful bowl season it was, for a change.  The wins by the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Hawkeyes meant that the Big Ten was undefeated in BCS bowls, and Penn State and Wisconsin also had marquee wins over LSU and Miami, respectively.

It would have been nice if Northwestern, Minnesota, and Michigan State had pulled out wins in their games, too, but I’ll take a 4-3 bowl record for now.  After all of the criticism of the Big Ten as “overrated,” “slow,” “unimaginative,” “boring,” and so forth, it was nice to see Big Ten teams step up in games against top-ranked teams and show what they could do.  I think the bowl games demonstrated that this year’s Big Ten had many strong teams with excellent athletes and coaches.  It should quiet the naysayers for a while, at least.

In my view, one of the reasons the Big Ten gets dissed is that key Big Ten games tend to be low scoring.  Pundits seem to focus on offense; this year they were excited about Cincinnati, for example, because the Bearcats scored a lot of points.  It didn’t seem to make a difference to them that, in many of its games, Cincinnati also gave up a lot of points.  Big Ten games often are low scoring because Big Ten teams usually emphasize defense.  The Rose Bowl and the Orange Bowl, where Ohio State and Iowa were able to dampen high-flying offenses, shows that defensive capabilities shouldn’t be overlooked.

BCS Bowl Disappointment

I enjoy college football.  For example, I watched the SEC championship game on Saturday without caring much about who won or lost.  I just appreciated the quality football on display in the basic, straightforward, hard-nosed beating that Alabama put on Florida.  I think college football, where teams can and do play radically different offensive and defensive styles, the players are young and emotional, and rivalries actually mean something, is much more interesting than the NFL.  You might as well throw in something about the “color and pageantry” of intercollegiate sports as part of the explanation for my preference, too.

Because I like the unpredictability of college football, I was a bit disappointed in how the BCS bowls ended up — and I expect that, deep down, Boise State and TCU were, too.  They get to play each other in one of the BCS bowl games, and I imagine they both hoped for the opportunity to play one of the big-conference teams and thereby show that they really belonged in the national championship mix, just as Boise State did when it beat Oklahoma several years ago.  I’ve heard about TCU and Boise State and seen some clips of their games, but I really was looking forward to the opportunity to watch a game where TCU played a big-time power like Florida.

America traditionally loves the underdog, the little engine that could.  I am sure that the Boise State-TCU matchup will be an entertaining game, but it won’t have the same panache as a David versus Goliath scenario.