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!

The Real Season Begins

The Ohio State Buckeyes have played 10 games this college football season and have won them all.  Every Ohio State fan knows, however, that the real season begins today, when the Michigan State Spartans come to town.

It’s been an interesting season for Ohio State, filled with twists and turns but with one, overriding theme:  the Buckeyes’ failure to be as dominant and impressive as the pundits expected them to be.  With Ohio State’s run to the National Championship still fresh in everyone’s minds and preseason expectations sky-high, anything other than a 60-0 drubbing is seen as a disappointment.  Last week’s win over Illinois is a good example.  The Buckeyes beat a Big Ten team with a winning record, on the road, 28-3 — and the talking heads kept talking about what was wrong with Ohio State.

22-bosa-connor-cook-crIf Ohio State can pull off a win today such talk should stop, because everyone knows Michigan State is one of the best teams in the country.  The Spartans are ranked in the top ten and would also be 10-0, save for a flukey loss to Nebraska that turned on a questionable no-call by the refs.  They’ve fought titanic battles with Ohio State, on even terms, the last few years.  They’re an experienced team led by a probable first-round draft choice at quarterback in Connor Cook, and their coach, Mark Dantonio, has turned the Michigan State football program into a powerhouse.  For the Spartans, this is a chance to avenge their loss to the Buckeyes last year and to take a further step toward cementing their status as one of the elite teams in the country.

This will be a tough, hard-hitting contest — but it also will be an opportunity for Ohio State to answer some of the critics and questions.  Can Ohio State finally gel on offense, avoid the frustrating breakdowns and penalties, and reach the same level of execution that made them close to unstoppable in last year’s National Championship Game against Oregon?  Can Urban Meyer and his coaches get Braxton Miller, Ezekiel Elliott, Michael Thomas, Jalin Marshall, and the Buckeyes other offensive weapons to fully mesh against a stout defense?  And can the Silver Bullets get pressure on Cook and avoid the big-play breakdowns that have made some of the Buckeyes’ wins this year too close for comfort?

The quarterback controversy is behind us, and the big games are finally here.  Everyone in Buckeye Nation wants to see a win for a great Buckeye, Braxton Miller, on Senior Day.  In Columbus, where the forecast is for rainy game-time conditions, the real season starts today.

 

Black Unis

Tonight Ohio State plays Penn State under the lights at Ohio Stadium.  In any rational world, that would be exciting enough.  Two big-time, tradition-rich programs matching up in prime time, with a lot on the line — the winner stays in contention for a spot to play in the Big Ten Championship Game, and the loser probably doesn’t.

But these days colleges and their athletic departments — prodded by corporate sponsors and marketers — are always looking to up the ante.  So tonight, Ohio State will host a “Black Out,” where all of the people attending are encouraged to wear black gear and the hope is to see the Horseshoe, and its 110,000 occupants, blanketed in darkness.  It’s a pretty cool idea, and definitely a departure from the standard look of the Stadium, where scarlet and gray are the dominant colors.  I’m sure it will help the attendees get even more amped up for the game.

But there’s a hitch — for some people, at least.  As part of the “Black Out,” the Buckeyes will be wearing black uniforms with black helmets.  Black uniforms?  Black helmets?  For some members of Buckeye Nation, the very thought is sacrilegious.  The traditionalists don’t want Ohio State to become the Midwestern equivalent of Oregon, which always seem to wear different, envelope-pushing (and frequently, in my view, ugly) uniforms in every game.  The conservative wing of Buckeye Nation likes the scarlet and gray and simply won’t tolerate any deviation.  The progressive wing, on the other hand, says that Ohio State needs to keep up with the competition, and that recruits — lots of whom will be at the game tonight — think black is really a cool color for uniforms.  Therefore, they argue, showing the option to wear black uniforms just might tip the balance in the Buckeyes’ favor when the time arrives for five-stars to declare the school of their choice.

I’m in the moderate wing of Buckeye Nation, I suppose.  I don’t mind when Ohio State modifies its look from time to time, as in recent years when the Buckeyes have worn “throwback” jerseys that are supposed to honor storied past teams.  Black uniforms will be a more significant departure because there’s no “throwback” argument, but if they make for a more exciting experience for recruits and the crowd at tonight’s game and help the Buckeyes to pull out a crucial win, I’m all for it.

On the other hand, I don’t want to make a habit of messing with the Ohio State uniforms.  We don’t need to get attention with different color combinations or designs or feathered helmets; we make our statements on the field.  Any college football fan who sees the regular uniforms, with their timeless look, knows that they are watching The Ohio State Buckeyes.  And after all, Ohio State picked scarlet and gray as its colors back in 1878 because it was a “pleasing combination” — and that remains true 137 years later.  There’s a reason why The Buckeye Battle Cry speaks of “Men of the Scarlet and Gray.”

5-0, 1-0

Ohio State (other than Ezekiel Elliott) didn’t exactly knock my socks off yesterday in their close win over a very game Indiana Hoosiers squad, but the statistics above are the ones that count:  Ohio State is 1-0 in the Big Ten and 5-0 overall.

IMG_1835Members of Buckeye Nation who bought into the team’s preseason hype are freaking out that Ohio State not only hasn’t crushed Indiana and its other opponents, but has struggled and doesn’t really resemble the team that rolled over Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon at the end of last year.  And they’re right in the sense that this team has a lot to work on.  Way too many turnovers, stupid penalties, muffed center snaps, lack of timing between quarterback and receivers, some bad in-play decisions, and a general out-of-sync feel have kept the offense from showing its true potential.  The defense has been better, but it has had its breakdowns, too — and yesterday the offense did it no favors by failing to put together any sustained drives.  When you leave the defense on the field and let the other team run 30 more plays than you do, there are bound to be breakdowns.

I’m not going to join the chorus of Ohio State fans who are second-guessing the coaches.  This team obviously hasn’t gelled yet, and it will be on the coaches to make that happen.  Eventually, turnovers and penalties will bite you if they aren’t stopped.  But nevertheless, Ohio State has managed to find a way to win — and yesterday they did it against a fired-up team that looks to be on the upswing, on the road, in sloppy conditions.  Some good teams that weren’t having their best day would have lost yesterday’s game.  It says something positive about this team and its coaches that Ohio State didn’t let that happen.

Four teams ranked in the top ten lost yesterday, and two of them got crushed.  Other teams — like Michigan State — also struggled.  That’s the way college football works.  Ohio State fans should stop fretting about style points and start appreciating the Ws.

Blimpworthy

IMG_7024With the Goodyear bliimp hovering overhead, the Buckeyes came back with an improved performance on offense and beat Western Michigan 38-12.  The offense was better — although I’m not sure how good the Broncos are on the defensive side of the ball — while the Ohio State defense really got pretty gashed on the ground.  Still, a win is a win, and a trip to the Horseshoe is always a treat.  The Buckeyes will head into Big Ten play 4-0.