Braxton’s Fond Farewell

braxton-miller-40234188f6afc4f5Braxton Miller has played his last down as an Ohio State Buckeye, but he has left an indelible imprint on the Ohio State record books — and on the hearts of Buckeye fans everywhere.  And through it all, through triumph and adversity, he has been a true class act.

Now Braxton has shown that he not only is a great football player, but also a great communicator.  He’s written a letter, called “Dear Buckeye Nation,” that should be required reading for any fan of the Men of the Scarlet and Gray — and for that matter for any college football fan, period.  It’s great stuff.

Ohio State should be proud to have a graduate like Braxton Miller.

Another Great Season

Look, I know a lot of pundits and Ohio State fans are at the point where the Buckeyes have to win every game by 50 points and win the national championship, or the season is deemed a failure.  I think that’s ridiculous, but it is what it is.

635776004767032555-ap-ohio-st-virginia-tech-fooThis was a great season, by any rational measure.  If you are an Ohio State fan, you define season success by whether you beat Michigan.  This year, the Buckeyes trounced the Wolverines, in Ann Arbor.  Michigan was a darned good team — they smashed an SEC team, Florida, in their bowl game today.  And then Ohio State won its bowl game today, convincingly beating a very solid Notre Dame team in the Fiesta Bowl.  Those of us who lived through the Cooper era will never forget it, and will always treasure every win against That Team Up North and bowl game opponents because we will always remember, with a grimace, what it is like to end a season with a painful belly flop.

People are upset because Ohio State lost one game, played in a driving rainstorm, on a last-second field goal.  But when your team finishes 12-1, wins its crucial rivalry game and pounds a traditional power in a New Years Day bowl game, you can’t fairly be heard to complain.  If you do, you’re really as spoiled as the appalling Affluenza Kid.

A lot of Buckeyes have made the last few years really enjoyable for those of us in Buckeye Nation and will (in some cases probably) be moving on. Thanks, Braxton Miller!  And Joey Bosa.  Ezekiel Elliott.  Cardale Jones.  Taylor Decker.  Adolphus Washington.  Joshua Perry.  Jacoby Boren.  Other seniors who have won 50 games in their four years.  And, perhaps, some other juniors who think it’s time to take their talents to the NFL.  They have accomplished everything you could ask for, and I will always remember cheering myself hoarse and screaming “ZEEEEEKE” as last year’s national championship game wound down and I got to celebrate a year where my team and many of these same players and coaches won it all.

Thanks, guys, to all of the players, to head coach Urban Meyer and the rest of the coaching staff, and to everybody else who is part of the Ohio State football program.  It’s been a pleasure, and today was the cherry on top.

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.

 

Red Zone Resurgence

As I pointed out last week, the key for Ohio State is to just win, baby.

That doesn’t mean that their fitful offense hasn’t been frustrating.  With so much talent, and the memories of the team’s dominance at the end of last year still fresh in the minds of Buckeye Nation, three-and-outs to the likes of Indiana and Maryland are like fingernails on a chalkboard.

Today, against a game but not particularly talented Maryland team, Ohio State may have started to figure things out.  The adjustment was to start Cardale Jones, but let J.T. Barrett man the helm when the offense entered the red zone.  It worked like a charm.  With Barrett giving the Buckeyes a viable running threat at the QB position, the formerly sputtering Buckeyes went 6-for-6 scoring touchdowns in the red zone — which is more what we all expected when the season began.  Barrett just seems like one of those players who has a nose for the end zone, and having him run the team down close seemed to help Cardale Jones, too.  Jones tossed some beautiful passes today and had one of his best days ever throwing the football, and the Buckeyes spread the ball around to the indomitable Ezekiel Elliott, Braxton Miller, and Michael Thomas and really got into a rhythm in the second half.

I’m not bragging about a 49-28 win over the Terrapins in a game that was tied after Maryland’s first drive in the third quarter, but I am happy that Ohio State put together some good drives and mixed up the run and pass.  The defense got gashed by a running quarterback — again — but the offense is the key to this team.  If Ohio State can get close to the juggernaut that couldn’t be stopped by the likes of Wisconsin, Alabama, and Oregon, the scoring onslaught puts so much pressure on the opponents that it makes the defense that much better.  Ohio State isn’t going to win many 6-3 games this year, but they aren’t going to lose many games where they score more than 40 points, either.

A Solid Win

Things looked dicey at halftime, but the Ohio State Buckeyes bounced back from some self-inflicted wounds and pummeled a game Virginia Tech team in the second half to win, 42-24.  The win avenges Ohio State’s only loss from last year.

This was a good win on a number of levels.  The quarterback controversy is finally over.  Urban Meyer went with Cardale Jones as the starter, and Jones played a pretty good game, throwing for two TDs (against one tipped interception) and rushing for almost 100 yards and another touchdown.  Equally important, for the first half, at least, Ohio State didn’t look like the invincible juggernaut that a lot of people were touting.  The OSU coaches will have a lot to talk to the team about after this win, because there is definitely room for improvement.

Virginia Tech is not an easy place to play for a visiting team, and when the Hokies took the lead just before halftime before a roaring home crowd, some teams might have folded — but not Ohio State.  They obviously have a lot of leadership (something Urban Meyer consciously tries to instill in his players) and a lot of talent, and you saw no panic on the Buckeye sideline.  A few dazzling Braxton Miller plays later, and OSU was on top and pulling away.  The fact that the Buckeyes’ defense knocked the Hokies’ starting quarterback out of the game didn’t hurt, either.  (The drop-off in talent between Virginia Tech’s starter and back-up just shows, again, how special the performance of Ohio State’s QB back-ups was last year.)  By the end of the game, a bunch of Buckeye back-ups were on the field, getting game reps in a hostile environment — something that also will probably pay dividends in the future.

In all, a nice, solid win in a tough venue that had its character-building elements as well.  It’s not a bad way to start the season.  Bring on Hawaii!

The J.T. Barrett Phenomenon

In Columbus, Ohio, it’s J.T. Barrett’s world — the rest of us just live in it.

I’ve been a fan of Ohio State football for decades, and during that time there have been many popular players — Archie Griffin, Chris Spielman, Eddie George, and Troy Smith among them — but I can’t remember a player who was as much of a phenomenon as J.T. Barrett.  When Braxton Miller went down with an injury only days before the season began, Barrett was a virtual unknown who had to fill the shoes of a Heisman Trophy favorite.  He responded with one of the greatest seasons in Buckeye history, smashing many of offensive records in the Ohio State record book and leading the team back into contention for the national title after an early season stumble against Virginia Tech.

And then, after improbably putting himself in contention for the Heisman Trophy and leading Ohio State to the brink of over arch-rival Michigan, Barrett suffered a gruesome injury that ended his season.  He reacted with class and stoicism — as every J.T. Barrett fan knew he would.  Throughout the season, he has managed to combine humility, quiet confidence, and leadership in a heroic mixture that seems more suited to a Grantland Rice story than modern reality.  But when he broke his ankle, then gave the stunned crowd a sign as he was carted off the field, then showed up in the stands in an inflatable cast so he could help root his team to the win, Barrett became the stuff of legend.

If you don’t live in a college town, you may not fully appreciate the depth of admiration Ohio State fans feel for J.T. Barrett.  We’re sad his wonderful season ended so brutally, but we’re so proud of how he has handled himself even in the face of this adversity.  There are little boys in Ohio now who want nothing more than to grow up to be like J.T. Barrett, and their parents are happy their sons have picked such a terrific role model.  No member of Buckeye Nation who lived through this season will ever forget the story of J.T. Barrett.

The New-Look Buckeyes And Their Old-Outlook Fans

Tomorrow the college football season starts for the Ohio State Buckeyes.  Of course, the college football season never truly ends for their diehard fans in Buckeye Nation, who are focused on football, football, football the entire year round.

Most members of Buckeye Nation have ridiculously high expectations this year — just as they do every year.  Even though Ohio State’s defense was porous last year and lost its two best players to the NFL, even though Ohio State’s most punishing running back is also a pro and most of his fine offensive line is gone, and even though star quarterback Braxton Miller is out for the season with a shoulder injury, fans think the Buckeyes will be better than last year’s team.  Some might call that delusional; others just accept it as part for the Ohio State program, where the fans are as demanding as any fan group in the country.

IMG_1827In reality, though, this year’s team has a lot of question marks.  On offense, the questions will start with the man behind the center.  With Miller out, the offense loses its principal big-play weapon, who always kept defenses off balance.  J.T. Barrett, a redshirt freshman who therefore has never played a down in a college game, will be the starter.  He’s known to the coaching staff as “The Distributor” because he spreads the ball around, and Ohio State should have some offensive weapons who can handle the pigskin when Barrett gets it to them.  Ezekiel Elliott showed he could be the next great Ohio State running back in limited opportunities last year, and Ohio State has other running backs who can carry the rock, too.  Devin Smith is a great, big-play receiver, Dontre Wilson showed flashes of tremendous speed and elusiveness last year, and the Buckeyes have two very capable tight ends in Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett.  The big questions are whether the new offensive line can provide the time to use these weapons, and whether the new QB can get the ball to them.

On defense, Ohio State is looking to get back to its traditional toughness.  The Buckeyes’ defense struggled mightily at the end of last season, particularly against the pass.  The defensive line has some returning talent, with Joey Bosa, Adolphus Washington, and Michael Bennett returning, but the linebacking corps and defensive backfield is filled with question marks.  The roster of safeties and corners is filled with highly touted recruits — like Eli Apple and Vonn Bell — but we don’t yet know how they’ll perform when the chips are down.  And they get an interesting test tomorrow against Navy, which plays a triple-option offense unlike any other the Buckeyes will see this year.  A few years ago Ohio State played Navy in the season opener and barely escaped with a win, so fans should be wary.  The Buckeyes had better be able to stop the run, which means those new linebackers and safeties will need to make their reads and fill the holes.

We’ll find out whether the new-look Buckeyes will be able to meet the unrealistic, but expected, expectations of Buckeye Nation starting at noon tomorrow in Baltimore.  It’s time for some football!

Braxton’s Bad Luck

Ohio State has confirmed that Braxton Miller, its very talented senior quarterback, suffered a season-ending injury yesterday.  The injury to his right shoulder — the same shoulder he injured in the Orange Bowl and that was operated on earlier this year — came when Miller was throwing a pass during a non-contact part of practice.

IMG_3091Miller, who is on track to graduate in December, now expects to redshirt this season.  He announced that he plans to stay at Ohio State, start graduate school, and play again for Ohio State next year, when he hopes to come back from the injury stronger and better than ever.

Two thoughts about Braxton Miller.  First, isn’t it encouraging that a fine athlete like Miller, who has been a two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, has paid attention to his classwork and is prepared to graduate early?  Good for him!  Second, Miller’s injury is why I will never blame a gifted athlete who decides to leave school before their senior year to go pro.  Exceptional modern athletes are a carefully calibrated combination of speed, size, quickness, and strength, and an injury can wreck that careful calibration forever.  I hope that, with the assistance of all of the miracles of modern medicine, Braxton Miller can fully recover from the injury return to the exciting form he showed the last two seasons.

As to much more mundane matters:  quarterback was the one position Ohio State coaches didn’t have to worry about; now they do.  Redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett and redshirt sophomore Cardale Jones are next on the depth chart, and the coaches will have to decide which one starts when the Buckeyes play Navy on August 30 — less than two weeks away.  The upcoming season just got a lot more unpredictable for Buckeye Nation,

Irresistible Force And Immovable Object

Saturday night, the Ohio State Buckeyes will take on the Michigan State Spartans in the Big Ten championship game. It should be a classic matchup in which strength is pitted against strength — and correspondingly, weakness against weakness.

This season, Michigan State’s defense is the immovable object:  the number one defense in the country and third-best scoring defense. You can argue about the weakness of the Big Ten this year, but Michigan State’s gaudy defensive stats would be impressive under any conditions.  The Spartans stop the run, rush the passer, guard receivers like glue, and consistently play tough, disciplined defensive football.  In their signature game against interstate rival Michigan, the Spartans dominated physically, limited the Michigan rushing game to a ridiculous -48 yards on the ground, and beat down Wolverines QB Devin Gardner with sack after sack.  Michigan State held Michigan to 168 yards, offensively, and won convincingly, 29-6.  Against Ohio State, by contrast, Gardner and Michigan put up huge numbers, scored 41 points, and almost won.

The Buckeyes offense, on the other hand, has been the irresistible force.  No one has come close to shutting down the two-headed Ohio State rushing game behind power runner Carlos Hyde and elusive quarterback Braxton Miller.  Ohio State features an experienced offensive line and receivers who can spread the field and present a meaningful deep threat.  All together, it amounts to the third-ranked scoring offense in the land, one that has put up more than 30 points in every game this season.

What will happen when this immovable object confronts the irresistible force?  Which team will win the physical battle at the line of scrimmage and wear down the opponent as the game progresses?  And, when the Spartan offense faces Ohio State’s defense, which team will have the advantage?  Michigan State has struggled on offense, and Ohio State’s defense looked like the Keystone Cops against Michigan.  Their battle also looks to be evenly matched.  Both teams are well coached, and those of us in Buckeye Nation still have a soft spot for Spartans head man Mark Dantonio, who coached the stout Buckeyes defense when Ohio State won the 2003 national championship game.

In any rational world, people would be amped and anticipating what should be a terrific battle.  Unfortunately, the game has been overshadowed by incessant yammering about the BCS and which two teams deserve the nod for the championship game if Ohio State, Florida, and Auburn all win tomorrow.  It’s unfair for both Michigan State and Ohio State, which deserve to be evaluated in their own right on their own, exceptional records.

Commentators may be able to make the ludicrous assumption of a victory against this hard-as-nails Michigan State team, but Ohio State certainly can’t.  I hope Coach Urban Meyer and his staff — and the Buckeye senior leaders — have Ohio State focused relentlessly on this game and the challenges posed by a rugged Spartans squad.

One For The Ages

In a rivalry filled with memorable games, this year’s version of The Game has to be one of the greatest ever.  Back and forth, with the game ending on a thwarted effort by Michigan to get a two-point conversion and spring a stunning upset.  But Ohio State’s defense, which had been gashed repeatedly during the day, finally made a play, Tyvis Powell knocked down the pass, and the Buckeyes hung on to win.

IMG_1829This was the kind of game that makes the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry the greatest rivalry in college sports.  Michigan ran just about every play in their playbook, their much-maligned offensive line held up, and Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner was a warrior who played a virtually flawless game.  He never quit, and neither did the Wolverine coaching staff.  Michigan just kept coming, and coming, and coming.  They gained more than 600 yards — 600 yards! — and were clicking on all cylinders.  I give great credit to the Michigan team, from the head coach on down, for developing a near-perfect game plan and showing what this rivalry is all about.

Fortunately for me and other Pepto-Bismol-guzzling members of Buckeye Nation, the Wolverines had no answer for the Ohio State offense.  For the Buckeyes, the accolades must start with the offensive line.  The Buckeyes front wall pushed the Michigan defensive line around like a precision lawnmowing team, and Carlos Hyde and Braxton Miller took full advantage.  The Buckeyes ran for 393 yards — 393 yards! — and Carlos Hyde rumbled for the most yards ever by an OSU running back against the Wolverines.  I was especially glad to see Carlos Hyde, who has been a monster, bounce back from his fumble to score the winning touchdown.

So, the Buckeyes’ winning streak continues.  The pundits can talk all they want about style points, and we can worry about that porous defense next week.  For tonight, Columbus and Ohio and Buckeye lovers everywhere will breathe a sigh of relief and crack open a cold one.  The Buckeyes won against their great rival, stay in the hunt for a BCS title game spot, and move on to the Big Ten championship game next weekend.  That’s good enough for me.

When Wisconsin Comes To Town

Tomorrow night the Wisconsin Badgers come to town for a night game at Ohio Stadium.  Technically, Ohio State has played four games already, but I think their season really starts tomorrow.

Wisconsin is a perennial power that has been the Big Ten’s representative in the Rose Bowl for the last three seasons.  Last year, the Buckeyes and the Badgers played a bruising game up in Madison that Ohio State won in overtime, 21-14.  It was a defensive struggle in which Wisconsin throttled Ohio State’s high-powered offense and held it to only 236 yards.  That game was a good representation of what Wisconsin always seems to bring to the table.  On offense, the Badgers are known for handing the ball to a gaggle a fine running backs who pound you behind a huge, corn-fed offensive line and mixing that diet of hard-nosed running in with an occasional pass.  On defense, the Badgers will pressure and hit and try to rattle their opponents, physically and mentally.

IMG_1835Wisconsin’s performance this year suggests that tomorrow’s game may be different — or maybe not.  The Badgers’ quarterback, sophomore Joel Stave, has thrown for six touchdowns, including three to fine receiver Jared Abbrederis.  But in last week’s Big Ten opener against Purdue, Wisconsin ran for a mind-boggling 388 yards on their way to pulverizing the Boilermakers, 41-10.  Ohio State’s defense has played against spread offense, quick-throw teams so far this year.  Tomorrow night, they had better be ready for  up-the-gut football with an opponent that would like nothing better than to derail the Buckeyes’ national championship aspirations.

When the Buckeyes are on offense, the big issue will be how quarterback Braxton Miller plays.  After missing two full games and most of a third with an injury — and watching back-up Kenny Guiton break a number of Ohio State offensive records on the way — Miller will be trying to reestablish himself as the premier quarterback and offensive weapon in the Big Ten.  He’ll also be looking to use every arsenal in the multi-faceted Ohio State attack.  With power runner Carlos Hyde back in the backfield after a three-game suspension, along with fellow running backs Jordan Hall and freshman Dontre Wilson and Ezekiel Elliott, Miller has plenty of options in the ground game, and Guiton has shown that Devin Smith, Corey Brown, Chris Fields, and Evan Spencer can catch and run for quick scores.

Tomorrow night’s game will answer a lot of questions about this Buckeye team.  Can their defense handle a team that plays the prototypical Big Ten power game?  How does the Buckeyes offensive speed match up against a big-time opponent that will tackle hard and do whatever it can to force turnovers.  We’ll see tomorrow night, and I’ll be there are the Horseshoe to see it.  I can’t wait!

76-0

Today the Ohio State Buckeyes trounced the Florida A&M Rattlers, 76-0.  The game was expected to be a rout — and it was.  Ohio State had more than 600 yards of offense and only had to punt once.  Florida A&M put up only 80 yards of offense and never got close to the Ohio State goal line.  Ohio State was favored to win by 57 points, and it almost exceeded that line by halftime, when the Buckeyes went into the locker room ahead 55-0.

IMG_1440People here in Columbus complained about the quality of the game.  It wasn’t a much-heralded match-up, to be sure, but it’s not entirely the fault of the OSU Athletic Department.  The Buckeyes had scheduled Vanderbilt, but the Commodores backed out.  So, Ohio State went looking for someone to fill the open date, and the Rattlers agreed to be the sacrificial lambs.  We shouldn’t feel too bad for them, though — they got a nice fee for coming to Ohio Stadium and getting pulverized.

Although games like today’s aren’t competitive, they still can be interesting.  You get to see players you’ve only heard about until now.  Today, freshman running back Ezekiel Elliott had his coming out party, rushing for 162 yards and two touchdowns, and we got to see third-string quarterback Cardale Jones run the offense.  They both look like they may be able to contribute in the future.  Other players who’ve been working hard in practice had their chances, too.  Carlos Hyde came back after a three-game suspension and got some touches, the OSU defense manhandled the Rattlers’ offense, and Braxton Miller got another week of healing as Kenny Guiton put up another OSU offensive record.

Next week, the season starts in earnest as Wisconsin comes to the Horseshoe.  After next Saturday night, we’ll have a better idea of how good this Buckeyes team really is.

The First Test

Tonight the Ohio State Buckeyes face off against the University of California Golden Bears.  It will be the Buckeyes’ first road game and first real test this year.

Ohio State has won its first two games against marginal opponents.  The team had a dominant first quarter but later struggled against Buffalo in game one, then beat an over-matched San Diego State team in week two.  Neither opponent is comparable to those that the Buckeyes will need to beat later in the season if they want to keep their championship hopes alive.

So far this season, at least, Cal hasn’t looked like a particularly good team, either.  The Golden Bears got beat at home by a ranked Northwestern team, then barely squeaked by Portland State.  I’m sure the Cal coaches and players will deny it, but I expect they have been focused on this game as a chance to make a national statement.  For the Buckeyes, it is the first road game of the season, and one that will require them to travel thousands of miles and adjust to a time change.  For a young team, the first road game always raises issues and distractions.

I don’t think the Buckeyes have jelled yet.  You look at the offense and defense and you see weapons, but the parts haven’t meshed fully and the dominance that Buckeyes fans expect really hasn’t been displayed.  Braxton Miller’s injury against San Diego State will further slow the effort to get the offense running in clockwork fashion, and it will take time for the host of new defensive players to get used to their schemes and rotations.  I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed that Miller plays tonight, avoids injury, and shows progress in getting back to the form that made him a preseason Heisman hopeful, and also that the defense brings pressure, forces turnovers, and starts to fully display its apparent talent.

This is the kind of game that makes many people in Buckeye Nation worry — an initial road test, in a faraway place, against a team that has been unimpressive so far this season.  A young team could take a win for granted, and then find itself trapped in tough struggle with the clock winding down in the second half.  I hope the Buckeyes avoid that scenario tonight — and I’m sure that Urban Meyer and his staff are working hard toward that goal.

Great Expectations

Tomorrow the Ohio State Buckeyes kick off their 2013 football season with a home game against the Buffalo Bulls.  In Buckeye Nation, expectations are high.  In fact, “high” really isn’t an accurate description.  Many OSU fans think that this team should go undefeated, crush every opponent, make it to the BCS title game, and win handily — and they’ll be disappointed at any other result.

IMG_3091Most of the pressure will fall on one man:  quarterback Braxton Miller.  Miller is the elusive run-pass threat that college coaches dream about, able to convert a busted play into a huge gain through his speed and scrambling abilities.  The true believers think that another year of seasoning and practice in the passing game will smooth the rough edges off last year’s erratic passing performances and make Miller an unstoppable scoring force.

The fans also believe that the Buckeyes will have a grab bag of game-breaking offensive talent — at running back, tight end, and wide out — and a tough, experienced line.  Add in the standard freshman phenom (this year, its speedster Diontre Wilson) and you get the sense that some Buckeye supporters think the offense should score every time it touches the ball.

If the offense is a potent as fans anticipate, it probably will be a good thing — because the defense is a bit of a question mark.  The defensive line and much of the linebacking crew will be starting for the first time, and while the starters look to be talented, there is no substitute for experience.  When the footing gets treacherous in sloppy, Big Ten weather in October and November, scoring machines can grind to a halt.  That’s when defenses need to show up and win games for teams that hope to be contenders.

Last year the Buckeyes unexpectedly went undefeated, but in the mind of many fans it really didn’t count because the team was ineligible for the Big Ten championship game or any bowl contests.  If the Buckeyes are to make it to the national championship game this year — when they are playing a soft schedule — they’ll need to win every game again.  That’s a tall order by any measure.  I can’t remember the last time a college team did it, and I’m not counting on it happening this year, either.

We’ll start to find out tomorrow.  I’ll be there in the Horseshoe, ready to cheer.  Let’s go, Bucks!

The Spring Game

Today the Ohio State Buckeyes play their annual spring game.  The football team has been practicing for weeks, and with the spring game they finally get to strut their stuff in full uniform in front of adoring fans.

IMG_1861The most interesting thing about this year’s game is that it’s not in Ohio Stadium.  Because the old Horseshoe is undergoing maintenance, the game has been moved to Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.  Fitting, because Paul Brown once coached the Buckeyes, before he went on to a legendary NFL career, and also fitting because Ohio State doesn’t dominate the sports conversation in Cincinnati like it does in other parts of the state.

The people of Cincinnati — the southernmost and westernmost of Ohio’s larger cities — have divided loyalties.  Some follow the University of Cincinnati Bearcats, some are fans of the University of Kentucky, and some pledge their allegiance to old Notre Dame.  By playing the spring game along the banks of the Ohio River, Urban Meyer and the Ohio State braintrust hope to increase their toehold and their visibility in one of the prime football cities in the state.  They’ll be giving the Buckeye team a full taste of Cincinnati, too, complete with hometown favorites like Montgomery Inn ribs, Skyline Chili, and Graeter’s ice cream.

As for the game itself?  The rules will make it a pass-happy affair, to try to cut down on the possibility of injury, so it won’t be like a real game.  We’ll get a chance to evaluate QB Braxton Miller’s continuing progress, and see with our own eyes the new players who’ve been dominating the news reports on spring practice — players like defensive linemen Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington.  Every spring game there is one player who has a flashy performance.  Then we will put away the pads and wait until fall practice, when things get real with the Big Ten season looming on the horizon.