Passing The September Test

There used to be a saying in college football:  September is for pretenders, and November is for contenders.  The underlying concept was that the good teams played a bunch of patsies in September and the tough games really didn’t roll around until November.  Thus, November was when you’d finally separate the wheat from the chaff.

That saying is true no longer, at least for the Ohio State Buckeyes.

0f7-web2psu-10jpeg-0163b7666e5c9c44Last night — on September 29 — the Buckeyes had to play the Penn State Nittany Lions at Happy Valley.  Penn State is one of the toughest teams in the Big Ten and a perennial contender for the conference championship, both teams were ranked in the top ten, and 110,000 screaming, white-clad fans packed Beaver Stadium to cheer on the Lions.  The sound in that Stadium last night was deafening.  It’s hard to imagine a better atmosphere for a big-time college football game, or a more daunting challenge for the visiting team.  It was a November contest being played in September.

Somehow, the Buckeyes came from 12 points down in the fourth quarter and beat the Nittany Lions, giving Ohio State a leg up over Penn State in the always tough Big Ten East.  The offense sputtered and coughed and the defense gave up some huge plays to let Penn State take the lead, but Ohio State never gave up and kept fighting until the final play.  Kudos should go to everyone on the Buckeye team, with a special nod to the punter Drue Chrisman, who repeatedly pinned the Nittany Lions deep after each unsuccessful Ohio State possession.

These days, college football in September is not for the faint of heart.  The Buckeyes have passed their first huge Big Ten test.  But if this is September, what in the world is November going to be like?

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Thursday Night Big Ten Buckeyes

It’s August, it’s Thursday night, and the Ohio State Buckeye football team is playing a Big Ten game — and on the road, no less.

tumblr_inline_nubcxjuy8y1qk1e3w_540This sort of thing isn’t supposed to happen to one of the most tradition-rich teams in college football, but this year all of the tradition goes out the window.  No more first-game cupcake, with Ohio State pulverizing one of the directional schools that are served up annually as fodder for the big boys.  No, this year we’re starting the season in earnest, with a game at Indiana this week and Oklahoma visiting the Horseshoe next week.   That’s called jumping into the season with both feet.  Sure, Indiana isn’t one of the Big Ten’s recognized powerhouses, but it’s a conference game, and Indiana has played the Buckeyes very tough indeed in recent years.  And all indications are that Indiana and its fans are pumped to the max for this game.  Indeed, their coach is calling the most significant home opener in Indiana history.

As a Buckeye traditionalist, the idea of Ohio State playing football in August — much less on a Thursday night, much less against a Big Ten team — rankles me, but the sport of college football is changing and the scheduling is changing with it.  Even though it’s August, I’ll be watching with interest tonight, to see if head coach Urban Meyer and his staff can once again blend new players with more experienced upperclassmen, replace a slew of talented Buckeyes who have moved on to the pros, and make another run at the college football playoff.

But Big Ten football, for the Buckeyes, in August?  I still shudder at the thought.

J.T.’s Last Stand

The Ohio State University football team is in its summer camp, the first game is less than three weeks away, and Buckeye Nation is abuzz about who will play where for the Scarlet and Gray.  Battles for starting jobs are raging at every position except one:  quarterback.  That’s because J.T. Barrett is back for his senior season.

Opposing teams have got to wonder if J.T. Barrett is ever going to graduate.  It seems like he has been with the Buckeyes forever, setting new Ohio State all-time offensive records whenever he touches the ball and posting more Ws on the Buckeyes’ overall record.  Sure, J.T. has got some losses to his name, and last season definitely ended with a clinker, but for the most part the J.T. Barrett era has been one of great success — and now J.T. is back, again, to lead the team during his final season.

jt-barrett-ohio-state-buckeyes-football-nfl-draft-2000“Lead” is a good word to use in conjunction with J.T. Barrett, because by all accounts he is a leader first, second, and always.  Any true Buckeye fan has seen J.T. in the locker room or on the sidelines, pumping his fist and giving impassioned talks to his teammates, but what really seems remarkable about him is not the rah-rah stuff, but the quiet things that generate respect and a willingness to leave everything on the field for the guy.  When J.T. first burst onto the scene, he played behind an inexperienced line and got pulverized in an early loss to Virginia Tech — but he showed great toughness, kept his mouth shut, accepted the punishment as part of the game, and led the team to a dramatic turnaround that saw the Buckeyes become an offensive juggernaut.  And then, on the cusp of triumph against Michigan, he suffered an injury that knocked him out of that game, the Big Ten championship, and the run to the National Championship.  Lesser people would have whined about their misfortune, but not J.T. Barrett.  He reacted with grace and dignity, supported his team, and celebrated when they hoisted the trophy, even though it must of been devastating to not be able to run out onto the field.

J.T.’s whole career has been like that — a series of victories and disappointments, hard hits and perseverance, but always with him looking for a way to win and a way to lead.  It’s pretty rare these days for the great players to stay for their senior season, but then J.T. Barrett seems like a rare individual in many ways.  Whether he goes on to play football at a professional level or not, he certainly seems like the kind of person who has the qualities that will make him a success in life.

I’ve been watching Ohio State football for almost 50 years and have seen lots of great players don the Scarlet and Gray, but J.T. Barrett ranks up there with my all-time favorites.  Here’s hoping he has a senior season that suits a player who has meant so much to the University, its fans, and his teammates.

Milking Moola From The Midwest Cash Cow

Recently the University of Michigan announced its operating budget for 2018.  Normally a red-blooded Buckeye wouldn’t pay attention to anything having to do with That School Up North, but in this case we’ll make an exception, because the operating budget included information about how much money TSUN expects to receive from the Big Ten as its conference revenue distribution next year.

1-4-7f9-49-a001329And the projected revenue number (drum roll, please) is:  $51.1 million.  That $51.1 million in expected revenue distribution will go not only to the despised Maize and Blue, but also to the good guys in Scarlet and Gray and all of the other schools in the 14-member Big Ten Conference.  Do the math, and you will quickly determine that the Big Ten will be dishing out more than $700 million to the schools that are lucky enough to be part of the Old Conference in 2018.  Say, do you think the school administrators and athletic directors at Rutgers and Maryland are happy about their decision to join the Big Ten back in 2014?

The story linked above says the big driver of the Big Ten’s enormous projected 2018 distribution is TV revenue.  The Big Ten’s TV deal is expected to produce $2.6 billion in revenue over six years, generating lots of money to dole out to Big Ten members.  The Conference has been pretty far-sighted in maximizing its TV revenue, having created its own network before other conferences did and driving a hard bargain in its negotiations with networks.  The Big Ten has two aces in the hole that give it incredible leverage:  huge schools with lots of graduates and supporters who are spread out around the country, are passionate about sports (primarily football), and want to watch their team play every weekend during the fall, and a conference that now stretches from Nebraska all the way east to New Jersey and Maryland, covering many of the biggest media markets in the country.

The $51.1 million in projected Big Ten revenue for 2018 is just each member school’s share of the Big Ten’s common revenue.  The powerhouse schools like Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, and Michigan State also generate lots of cash from their individual merchandising, licensing and “partnering” deals.  Those schools know that their fans want to wear their school’s gear and put up school merchandise in their dens and family rooms and “man caves,” and they’ve got prized brands that also contribute lots of dough to the bottom line.   We’ve reached the point where educational institutions have developed, and now own, some of the most valuable brands, logos, and mascots in U.S. commerce.

In the largely midwestern footprint of the Big Ten, football is a cash cow that produces lots of moola.  The Big Ten Conference and its member schools are milking that cow for all it’s worth.

Countdown To Kickoff

Today Ohio State plays its first game of the 2016.  At noon at Ohio Stadium, a crowd of more than 100,000 will roar as The Best Damn Band In The Land makes its ramp entrance and this year’s version of the Buckeyes sprints onto the field to face the Bowling Green Falcons.

It’s an exciting time in Columbus, the capital city of Buckeye Nation, where following the Men of the Scarlet and Gray is an annual rite and heartfelt passion, and wins and losses can affect the whole city’s mood.

ar-131119242This year’s team is an intriguing one.  Most of last year’s starters have ended their college careers, and many have moved on to the NFL.  Familiar names like Ezekiel Elliott, Michael Thomas, Joey Bosa, Adolphus Washington, and Darron Lee aren’t on the roster any more.  In their places are a bunch of new guys.  We don’t really know them — yet — but we’re eager to see whether they can fill the big shoes of some of the finest players ever to don the Ohio State uniform.

On offense, virtually all of the skill players are new.  The one exception is junior J.T. Barrett, the multi-purpose pass-run threat who already ranks as one of the best quarterbacks in Ohio State history.  Head coach Urban Meyer will be counting on Barrett to provide the steady hand and experienced leadership to help his young, newbie offensive teammates to perform up to the high Buckeye standards.  On defense, there has been a similar exodus, and junior middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan will be playing the J.T. Barrett role.  On both sides of the ball, there is a lot of four- and five-star talent — but how do they perform when big-time college football games are played, crunch time comes, and the game is on the line?

We’ll find out, starting today.  Bowling Green has a very solid football team.  And in two weeks the Buckeyes will be in Norman, Oklahoma to play the third-ranked Sooners in a clash of two of the best programs in college football history.  Later this season, of course, rivalry games against Michigan State, which knocked the Buckeyes out of the college football playoffs last year, and That Team Up North loom.

These young Buckeyes had better grow up fast.

The Representers Must Represent

So Michigan State lost to Alabama, 38-0, in wholly embarrassing fashion, in one of the college football playoff games.

Michigan State v MichiganLook, Michigan State beat Ohio State, fair and square, in Columbus.  I don’t begrudge the Spartans their Big Ten title.  But if you are going to claim the title, you need to represent.  And that means that, when you are playing the big boys, you can ‘t just lay an egg.  And let’s face it, 38-0 is laying an egg of colossal size.

Does anyone doubt, really, that Ohio State would have done better than a 38-0 shellacking at the hands of the freaking Crimson Tide?  Of course they would!

Last year, Ohio State lanced the boil of SEC dominance by beating Alabama convincingly.  This year, Michigan State helped helped to reinvigorate the notion that the SEC is mighty and superior by getting its butt kicked.

Hopefully, tomorrow, Ohio State sends a different message.  For right now, though, does anyone doubt that the Buckeyes would have made a better showing in the national semifinal game?

I say to MSU — if you are going to represent, represent!

The Game, 2015 Edition

Today football fans the world over get to watch, once again, the greatest rivalry game in college sports.  In a few hours Ohio State and Michigan will square off at the Big House for The Game.

IMG_1835Don’t believe those who say this contest has lost some of its luster after Ohio State’s stunning loss to Michigan State last week.  If anything, that makes The Game even more important.  Ohio State does not want to end its season with two soul-crushing losses — and the Wolverines would like nothing more but to send Ohio State back to Columbus, whipped and beaten and clearly knocked off the top of the Big Ten pedestal.

I have no idea what to expect from this match-up — other than that it will be hard-hitting and hard-fought, because The Game always is.  Jim Harbaugh has turned Michigan around quickly, and made them a tough, power team with a good defense.  His old coach, Bo Schembechler, would be proud.

As for Ohio State, you wonder where the Buckeyes are, mentally.  Are they still reeling from a bad game, or are they primed to go out and show the world that last week’s dismal offensive showing was a rain-soaked fluke?  This is a week where Urban Meyer earns his paycheck.

Go Bucks!