Trinity’s End

Tomorrow Ohio State plays its first game.  That means it’s almost time to put aside The Trinity.

The Trinity, of course, refers to the last three games that Ohio State played to reel in the first ever college football playoff championship.  The Buckeyes crushed Wisconsin to get into the playoffs, roared back to upset Alabama in the semifinal game, then spanked Oregon in the National Championship Game to bring home the trophy.

For members of Buckeye Nation, this Trinity of games is just this side of heaven.  They are three of the finest games Ohio State has played in my lifetime, and for them to come back-to-back-to-back, with all of the marbles and pressure and SEC jinxes on the line, is just short of incredible.

So, I’ve watched them, and watched them, and watched them.  I’ve seen the 30-minute version of the Buckeyes’ win over Wisconsin so many times that I’ve pretty much memorized dvery Cardale Jones completion and every catch phrase in Gus Johnson’s commentary.  I’ve watched Ezekiel Elliot split the Alabama defense and rip away for 85 yards so often that I see it in my dreams — which is a good thing.  And the fourth-and-goal stop of Oregon, following by the relentless ground game that chewed the Ducks into bits, is indelibly carved into my memory banks.

But now, it’s time to put those wonderful things away.  When a new season starts, you’ve got to forget the past and focus on the present.  There’s nothing sadder than football fans who live in the past.  I’m sure there are Michigan and Penn State fans who need to go deep into their history to find happy moments — and that’s pathetic.  I’d rather live and die with this year’s team than revel forever in last year’s glory.  That’s part of the fun of sports.

I’ll always remember The Trinity.  In fact, since we’re still more than 24 hours from kickoff, there’s still time for me to enjoy them — one more time.

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Cardale Comes Back

Cardale Jones, the Cinderella Story quarterback who went from third-stringer to the man who led Ohio State to a National Championship over a three-game span, had a press conference at 4 p.m. today.  Everyone assumed that Jones, who was eligible for the NFL draft and has definitely showed the cannon-powered arm that NFL teams covet, was going to announce that he was leaving the Buckeyes to turn pro.

Not so.  Cardale Jones surprised just about everyone by announcing that he was staying in school.  He said: “I don’t know why you guys made it such a big deal,” and added “the  NFL after three games was really out of the picture for me.”  That’s a very sensible, mature perspective for a 22-year-old who could be expected to have a swelled head after being the talk of the sports world during his improbable rise to stardom.

But that’s not all that Jones said, and did, that was remarkable today.  He also mentioned that he didn’t expect to be handed the starting quarterback job and just wanted a chance to compete for it against Braxton Miller, who was out all season with an injury, and J.T. Barrett, who played brilliantly before suffering a brutal injury that ended his season and gave Jones his chance.  It’s refreshing to see that Jones doesn’t feel that his three-game blitzkrieg entitles him to special treatment.

So why did Jones have a press conference to announce that he was staying in school?  The location of the presser was the Ginn Academy in Cleveland, a school that caters to inner-city kids and tries to give them a quality education and a future.  By having the press conference there and announcing that he was going back to school, Jones tried to show some leadership and demonstrate to the kids of Cleveland that he values an education.  That’s a very impressive effort by a guy who, before the last month, was known mostly for an ill-advised tweet he sent years ago about not coming to Ohio State to “play school.”

I don’t know whether Cardale Jones will ever be a star NFL quarterback — but I really don’t care about that right now.  I think his actions today show he is a pretty good person who has grown a lot, and that really is a lot more important.

Undisputed National Champions

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They did it. This doubted and disrespected Ohio State team, one that had absorbed so many blows and endured so much adversity, somehow did it. They swept the big games, toppled the mighty Crimson Tide, beat the Heisman Trophy winner, and won the National Championship.

And they did so in very convincing fashion. Despite four drive-killing turnovers, the Buckeyes never quit. And when Oregon pulled to within one point, the Buckeyes ran the ball down their throats and stonewalled them on defense. For anyone who likes old school football — and I’m one of them — it was a very satisfying, affirming win. By the end of the game the Buckeyes had beaten Oregon physically and mentally, and the Ducks just wanted no part of the Buckeyes, on offense or defense.

So here’s to Urban Meyer and his staff. Here’s to Cardale Jones and Ezekiel Elliott and the bulldozers on the offensive line and the great receivers. Here’s to Joey Bosa and Michael Bennett and Adolphus Washington and Darron Lee and Tyvis Powell and the rest of those hard-hitting defenders who didn’t get rattled and stopped the supposedly unstoppable Ducks offense.

So now, the Buckeyes are Undisputed National Champions, and the Omni Hotel in downtown Dallas was lit up to proclaim that fact. What a win!

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No More SEC Monkey On The Back

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The SEC monkey is finally off the back of Buckeye Nation. In fact, the poor chimp has been hurled to the ground and is left bloodied and whimpering as Ohio State roared back from a 21-6 deficit to stomp number 1 Alabama. Ohio State now moves on to the national championship game against Oregon.

It’s great to finally win a clutch game against the best SEC team when all the marbles were on the line, but it’s especially sweet to come back from a big deficit when many people thought a blowout was coming. The Buckeyes rolled on the ground, with Ezekiel Elliott rushing for more than 200 yards and two TDs, including a backbreaking 85-yarder. And Cardale Jones, OSU’s third-string QB, played with poise and made a number of big throws and runs. And Ohio State’s defense forced three turnovers in the second half to seal the win.

Tomorrow I’ll think about Oregon, but for now I’ll savor that win over the SEC’s best and the demise of that damn monkey. The Big Ten has finally regained a bit of its luster.

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.

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,

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.