The Context Of A Season

Tonight the Ohio State Buckeyes play the Clemson Tigers in the first round of the College Football Playoffs. As a lifelong Buckeyes fan, I’ll of course watch the game, and I’ll be doing my part to move the karma dial in favor of the Men of the Scarlet and Gray by wearing the lucky hat I wore when I witnessed Ohio State beat Oregon for the National Championship and carrying two lucky buckeyes I picked up at our place in Maine.

Of course, a game like this is about players and coaches, not fans. Ohio State has released an epic hype video for the game that is so good even people who hate Ohio State are raving about it. The video is an adrenaline-pumper that does a great job of capturing the game in the context of a season — a season that, for the players and coaches, covers off-season conditioning, spring practice, fall camp, and three months of games leading up to this one. It’s been a fabulous season, and you know in your heart that the players and coaches will make every effort to see that season extended to include one more game.

No doubt Clemson players and coaches feel the same way. They’ve won a ridiculous 28 games in a row and are the defending national champions. That’s why the game tonight promises to be a classic.

In the context of a season, it’s a game, but it’s also another step in a long journey marked by hard work, effort, practice, and teammates helping teammates. May the Ohio State journey continue!

On To The CFP

It was nail-biting time for members of Buckeye Nation at about 9:30 ET last night.  A talented and gritty team from Wisconsin came out swinging in the Big Ten championship game, and when the Badgers scored an improbable touchdown to go up 21-7 at the end of the first half Ohio State fans had visions of past disasters against Iowa and Purdue dancing in their heads.  But the Buckeyes made adjustments at halftime and righted the ship, scoring 27 points and shutting Wisconsin out in the second half to win, 34-21, and take home their third straight Big Ten crown.  Although the Buckeyes ultimately won by double digits, the Badgers fought until the final minute, and held the high-powered Ohio State offense to two field goals when touchdowns would have put the game out of reach.

ohio-state-2019-big-ten-championship

As the seconds ticked down to zero, I thought that Ohio State had been truly tested by a very good football team, and that the Big Ten championship game had taught us something about this Ohio State team — they don’t wilt in the face of real adversity on a big stage, the coaches and players are adept at making adjustments and game plan modifications under pressure, and the whole team can draw upon an ample reserve of inner toughness and guttiness.  And we also learned, again, that head coach Ryan Day has a bit of riverboat gambler in him, as his fake punt call showed.  Ohio State should be grateful to Wisconsin for making the Buckeyes draw deep and for providing a very stern test that will foreshadow what lies ahead.  Last night’s game showed why fans of the Big Ten like the conference and its particular, hard-hitting brand of football — which continued up until the final play, when the Ohio State defense gave the Wisconsin quarterback a tooth-rattling hit as the clock ran out.

Although things looked dicey at halftime, by winning Ohio State undoubtedly punched its ticket for the College Football Playoffs.  The big question to be answered by the CFP Selection Committee in a few hours is whether the Buckeyes will go in at number one or number two — or even number three, and that’s what the talking heads on ESPN and Fox Sports will be debating this morning.  I may be alone in this, but I really don’t care where the Buckeyes end up.  Ohio State clearly is an excellent unbeaten team, but so are LSU and Clemson — and I think all of this talk about “resumes” and “performances against Top 25 teams” and various weird computer metrics is kind of silly when the questions about who is more deserving will be resolved with actual games in about three weeks.  I also think such argument just puffs teams up — and that might not be good in the long run.  If I were Oklahoma, the likely number four seed and a great team in its own right, all of the talk about how important it is for other teams to make it to number one so they can play the Sooners rather than somebody else would be doing nothing except providing motivation and some prime locker room bulletin board material.

The reality is that there are many very good, well-coached teams in college football — Wisconsin is one of them, by the way — and if you’re going to win the national championship you’re going to need to beat a bunch of them.  Regardless of exactly who the top four teams are or where they are ranked, they’re going to need to beat two more great teams to get to the ultimate goal.  If Ohio State ends up playing Clemson in the first playoff game — and thereby lines up with a team that is the defending national champion and has never lost to the Buckeyes and pulverized them in the playoffs a few years ago — there is no chance that Ohio State will not go into that game emotionally pumped and ready to play.  That’s what I want to see.

So the selection show and final seedings announced today will be interesting, but I’m more focused on the fact that the Buckeyes won a very challenging game, are Big Ten champions, maintain their perfect record, and are moving on with a chance to get to their goal.  The members of Buckeye Nation are grateful that we get to watch the Men of the Scarlet and Gray continue their quest to be the best.

CFP’d Off

I’m warning you in advance that this post is going to sound like sour grapes.  And, in fact, some of the motivation for writing it in the first place is sour grapes.  But I’m here to tell you that the College Football Playoff process that was rolled out to great fanfare only a few years ago is already broken.

ype12feWho made the college football playoffs last year?  Alabama, Clemson, Oklahoma, and Georgia.  Those same four teams finished in the top five this year.  It was only because Notre Dame ran the table against a weak slate of opponents — and, because ND is nominally independent, a slate that doesn’t include a conference championship game — that college football fans everywhere avoided watching the same four teams play each other again this year.

In the five years the College Football Playoff has been in existence, Alabama has made it every year.  Clemson has made it four out of five times.  Oklahoma has made it in three of the five years.  It’s the same old, same old.

And, for Ohio State fans, what’s especially galling is that this year the playoff selection committee ranked a two-loss SEC team that didn’t win its conference — i.e., Georgia — ahead of a one-lose Big Ten team that won its conference championship.  I can understand Ohio State, which got whacked by Purdue during the regular season, being ranked behind Oklahoma, even though I think the Big 12 is a pretty weak conference.  But I don’t understand how a one-loss champion of a major football conference like the Big Ten can be ranked behind a two-loss non-conference champion.  To me, that result says that the selection committee has quaffed the SEC Kool-Aid and lost any claim to objectivity.  Every year we start with the presumption that the SEC is the best conference in college football, and every year every inference goes in the SEC’s favor.

Who did Georgia play out of conference this year?  Austin Peay, Middle Tennessee State, and the University of Massachusetts.  They aren’t exactly powerhouses, are they?  The rest of the schedule is SEC teams.  Georgia got pummeled by LSU and played Alabama close before losing.  The latter result reflects favorably on Georgia only if you conclude that Alabama is a bunch of supermen — but we don’t know that, either, because Alabama played only SEC teams, along with an out-of-conference schedule that included Louisville, which ended the season 2-10, the Citadel, Arkansas State, and University of Louisiana-Lafayette.

The system needs to be changed.  The playoff should be expanded, and every major college conference champion should be included.  I happen to think that Ohio State could give Alabama, Georgia, and any other team a good game — just as it did in 2014, when the Buckeyes somehow beat mighty Alabama and went on to win the national championship, to the surprise of every pundit and talking head on ESPN.

The champion should be crowned on the field, not in backrooms based on hype.

Kings Of The Big Ten . . . Again

Yesterday Kish and I drove over to Indianapolis to join friends and watch the Ohio State Buckeyes play the Northwestern Wildcats in the Big Ten Championship Game. We had a lot of fun, and I’d recommend the experience to any members of Buckeye Nation.

The only downside was that I was seated next to Mr. Negativity during the game. He was the kind of angry, muttering jerk who talked non-stop about how much he hated watching the team and voiced loud obscenities after even marginal plays, like a run for no gain. He added a decided element of danger to the game, because you never knew when a bad play might make him start swinging. Fortunately, the Powder Keg never was fully set off. I wonder if he even dimly realized that everyone sitting nearby thought he wasn’t a “fan” at all, but rather a colossal ass.

As for the Buckeyes, it’s been an interesting and successful season. The team is now 12-1, beat Michigan, and topped a gutty and game Northwestern team to win the Big Ten Championship Game. Dwayne Haskins dissected another tough defense and has rewritten the record books, too. Now we’ll just have to see whether the College Football Playoff Committee is considering this question: wouldn’t it be interesting to see what Dwayne Haskins could do against Alabama, and vice versa?

Wishing, And Hoping

Today is the day the College Football Playoff Selection Committee earns its keep.

They’ve been watching games all season, and since mid-season they’ve been issuing interim rankings after each weekend of play.  But now the regular season games and the conference championship games are done, and it’s time to finally decide:  which four teams should be in this year’s playoff?

urban-meyer-explains-why-an-8-team-college-football-playoff-wont-work-and-he-makes-a-good-pointAlabama is in, of course, as the number one seed.  They romped through a pretty pathetic SEC without a loss and drubbed an offensively challenged Florida team in the SEC championship game.  That’s an easy call.  But who else do you select?  One-loss Clemson won the weak ACC, edging out a pretty one-dimensional Virginia Tech team in last night’s championship game, and has looked good at times but bad at times, too.  One-loss Washington played one of the easiest schedules in college football and won the PAC 12, beating up a hapless Colorado team in the championship game.  Oklahoma, with two losses, won the defensively challenged Big 12.

And then there’s the Big 10.  Ohio State played one of the toughest schedules in college football, smashed Big 12 champion Oklahoma on its home turf, and beat a series of top ten teams during the season, including winning a thrilling edition of The Game against Michigan.  But because Ohio State lost at Penn State, on a blocked field goal in the fourth quarter, the Buckeyes didn’t play for the conference championship.  Penn State did and won last night, coming from far behind to beat Wisconsin.  But the Nittany Lions have two losses, one of which was a 39-point thrashing at the hands of That Team Up North.

So who should join Alabama in the playoffs?  The dedicated members of Buckeye Nation obviously hope the Committee selects Ohio State, which was ranked number 2 after last week’s Committee vote.  Should the Committee just pick the one-loss teams from the Power Five conferences, which means Ohio State, Clemson, and Washington should make the cut?  Or should Penn State’s impressive run and conference championship knock out one of those teams?  But how do you vault the two-loss Nittany Lions above two-loss Michigan, which beat Penn State like a drum early in the season?

Ohio State fans are wishing, and hoping, that the Buckeyes make the cut.  Having watched a number of games with the top teams, I honestly think Ohio State is one of the top four teams — but I’m not on the committee.  We’ll know at 12:30.

Happy Picture, Happy Thoughts

8dbb109f-2811-4942-b624-5d00d644946cOhio State isn’t playing in the Big Ten Championship Game today — more’s the pity — but that doesn’t mean we can’t still revel in last weekend’s crushing defeat of That School Up North.

And in the meantime, we’ll think happy thoughts about the dominoes that need to fall for the Buckeyes to get back into the playoffs to defend their National Championship.  I think we need Michigan State to beat Iowa convincingly in the Big Ten Championship Game, along with Alabama losing in the SEC Championship Game or Clemson losing in the ACC Championship Game — or maybe both.  It’s a long shot, perhaps, but it’s still a shot.

Thanks to Mrs. Nesser for this picture of the scoreboard at the Big House, memorializing the Buckeyes’ dominating win.

More Than Ho Hum

I think I can guess the reaction of 99.9% of the members of Buckeye Nation to last night’s 28-14 win over the Minnesota Golden Gophers:  disappointment, and a shrug.

Disappointment, because we all hoped to see the Cardale Jones and Buckeye offense that took the team to the National Championship last year — and we didn’t.  The offense got off to its customary slow start again last night, as it has in most of the games Jones has started this year.  When you’re getting close to halftime and a team that is filled with speed and playmakers hasn’t scored yet, it’s frustrating.  Is it because of Cardale Jones, or because different coaches are calling the plays this year?  We don’t know for sure — but the offense just looks totally out of sync when Twelve Gauge takes the snaps.

A shrug, because we recognize that a win is a win and we have confidence that the offense will play better with J.T. Barrett at quarterback.  We see other teams falling from the ranks of the unbeatens — look at what happened to Michigan State, for goodness’ sake — and we know that even if Ohio State’s win looked sluggish and uninspired, it still goes in the W column.  And in college football, staying unbeaten is still the best way to make it to the playoffs.

I think we might want to do more than take a ho hum attitude about last night’s game, however.  Sure, there are some good things to take away from it, like an improved performance from the defense, which produced a touchdown and came reasonably close to pitching a shutout.  Some will even argue that it’s a positive that the game quashes any lingering issues about a quarterback controversy.

But the big issue in my mind is about confidence.  Last year, when J.T. Barrett went down, Cardale Jones had not tasted failure.  The offense was rolling already, and CJ played footloose and fancy-free.  When he hit some long balls against Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game, his confidence went through the roof.  This year, though, he has had his struggles and — equally important — the team has, too.  They don’t play with nearly the same confidence with Jones at quarterback.  He knows it, and they know it.  It would be very difficult for the team and #12 to recapture the moxie they displayed last year.

What does it mean?  Increasingly, it looks like this:  members of Buckeye Nation had better hope that J.T. Barrett keeps his nose clean and his body uninjured if Ohio State wants to have a realistic chance to defend last year’s title on the field.

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.

That Championship Season

For the Ex-Neighbor, and the rest of you members of Buckeye Nation out there who — like me — are interested in forever reliving the events of this past season, I heartily recommend this video of Ohio State’s championship season from the Eleven Warriors website.  It’s about a half hour long, but worth every minute.

Thanks to the Damages Dude for advising me of this!

How About Those Stories About Declining Interest In College Football?

Earlier this year people were writing about how the interest in college football is declining.  This story is one of several I saw pursuing that theme.

Guess what?  The news that college football is on the outs with fans might be a bit . . . wrong.  They’ve now determined that the Ohio State-Alabama game in the Sugar Bowl drew the largest audience in cable TV history — 28.2 million viewers, which just edged out the impressive number who tuned in for the earlier Rose Bowl semifinal game between Oregon and Florida State.  And the size of the Sugar Bowl audience is even more striking when you consider that (1) the experts were uniformly predicting an Alabama blowout and (2) the game didn’t begin until 9 a.m. and didn’t end until about 1 a.m. Eastern time.

I’d like to attribute the record-setting audience to the rabid fans in Buckeye Nation, and the fact that every living soul in the state of Ohio watched the game.  I’m sure that OSU was a big draw, and Alabama, too, but I think the real reason for the huge ratings is that the college football playoff has introduced a new and interesting element to the sport.  When you consider that, under the old BCS system, neither Ohio State nor Oregon would likely be playing in the championship game, you get a sense of the shot of adrenalin and excitement that the playoff concept has produced.

American sports fans like to see people earn championships on the field, not through some subjective rankings system.  Don’t be surprised if the tremendous ratings both college football playoff games received on January 1 gives a shot in the arm to efforts to increase the number of playoff teams to eight — and sooner rather than later.

A Schizoid Beginning To Michigan Week

Thanks to being a fan of both the Ohio State and Cleveland football teams, I have a split gridiron personality.  The Dr. Buckeye part expects perfection and routine drubbings; the Mr. Brown side knows that disaster and doom will inevitably rear their ugly heads.

IMG_3501Today’s Ohio State win over Indiana fed both halves of my schizoid football fan persona.  The Buckeye Nation part nods approvingly at the fact that Ohio State is undefeated in the Big Ten and has clinched a spot in the conference title game.  The Browns Backer saw a sloppy game in which Ohio State had three first-half turnovers and actually trailed an overmatched team in the second half.  The Buckeyes fan saw Jalin Marshall score four second-half touchdowns and show some of the lightning-in-a-bottle capabilities of the OSU offense.  The Browns fan saw the defense gashed for more than 200 yards and two appallingly long runs by a good running back as well as a ridiculous rumbling, stumbling, fumbling run by a freshman QB that set up Indiana’s first score.

The commentators say that Ohio State needs style points if it hopes to make the college football playoffs.  Maybe, but the Browns fan in me says that I should be happy with a win that followed on the heels of two high-intensity, on-the-road wins and just be pleased that the college kids on the team finally righted the ship in the second half and prevailed.  And the Buckeyes fan says that Ohio State had better have worked all of the turnovers, penalties, and blunders out of their system, because now things begin to get really serious.

It’s Michigan Week!

Playoff Peculiarities

Ohio State fans are happy because the Buckeyes vaulted up two spots, to sixth place, in the college football playoff rankings announced last night.  That’s certainly better than heading in the other direction, but there’s just something a bit . . . unsettling about this whole process.

The Buckeyes, who won on Saturday, passed higher-ranked Arizona State, which lost.  I get that. But the Buckeyes also moved past Baylor, which had a bye week.  Why?  Who knows?  And for many Ohio State fans, the answer is:  who cares?  As long as the Buckeyes are moving up the chain and still have a chance to make the first college football playoff, they’re happy campers.

But seriously . . . why should Ohio State leapfrog Baylor?  The answer, I think, is that the 12-member selection panel that figures out the rankings is filled with people that aren’t much different from the rest of us.  They’re aware of win-loss records, but they’re not prone to some purportedly scientific analysis of relative strength of schedule, common opponents, and other quasi-scientific factors that the computer wizards have used to determine rankings in the past.  Instead, the panel members are prone to out-of-sight, out-of-mind notions, winning pretty versus winning ugly, the presence of stars on teams, intriguing match-ups, and other attributes of the rest of us everyday football fans.

That means that, if the college football playoff continues in its current form, you’re going to see it affect how the game is scheduled and played.  Late-season bye weeks that might cause you to drop a spot or two in the rankings will be eliminated.  Teams will try to pile up the points to get the most impressive wins, which means that starters will continue to play in blowouts and might suffer injuries that otherwise would have been avoided.  And you’d better hope that your team and your conference are getting pretty good, respectful coverage on ESPN and other college football venues.

All of these factors might work in Ohio State’s favor right now — no late-season byes, a schedule that is backloaded with games against good teams, a lot of scoring, and the interesting J.T. Barrett story — but it only works until it doesn’t.  If the Buckeyes get out to a good lead against Indiana and keep Barrett in the game, we’ll know that Urban Meyer and his staff have learned some lessons from how the rankings are developed.

Number 8

The Ohio State football team took a giant leap forward in the college football playoff rankings this week, moving up to number eight.  Of course, that only means that the Buckeyes have to pass four more teams to make it into one of the coveted top four spots that will earn a spot in the first-ever college football playoff.

Can they do it?  Beats me!  I’m not sure exactly how the rankings are devised, and what the voters are considering as they try to figure out whether one-loss Ohio State should be ahead or behind of one-loss Oregon, one-loss TCU, and one-loss Baylor.  I don’t think anybody else really knows, either.

But I do know this:  if Ohio State wants to make it, they had better win every game, starting with the game at dramatically improved Minnesota this week.  In essence, that means Ohio State’s playoff process has started already, and it’s a single-elimination system.  If Ohio State doesn’t win, and convincingly, as they play the teams on the remainder of their schedule they can forget about the playoffs.  So the college football gurus haven’t created a four-team, two-game playoff; they’ve really created a multi-team, multi-game playoff process that will last for more than a month.

It’s all very interesting, but it just means Ohio State had better be focused on Minnesota, Minnesota, Minnesota between now and noon on Saturday.