Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Buckeye

Today I’m going to go watch the Ohio State Buckeyes play the Michigan State Spartans at Ohio Stadium.  It will be a noon kickoff, on a cold day.  That’s about all I can tell you with any certainty, because I sure can’t predict which Ohio State team might show up to play the game.

crib-jekyllThis Ohio State squad is a total head-scratcher.  They play uninspired football against Oklahoma and get drubbed, then right the ship and convincingly win a bunch of games against the Big Ten Little Sisters of the Poor, then they stage a titanic comeback to beat Penn State in a thriller that puts them squarely back in the conversation for the College Football Playoffs . . . then they lay a colossal egg against Iowa and get obliterated.  The Iowa loss not only was a butt-kicking, it was a revelation of sorts:  this team obviously hasn’t jelled, and when things started to go south against the Hawkeyes, there was no one who stood up and made the key stop, or secured the key turnover, or broke the tackle and made the long run to turn the momentum around.  Iowa was the kind of game, and the kind of embarrassing result, that never would have happened to other Ohio State teams.

Having never been an athlete, I can’t possibly understand what goes in to playing college football at the big-school, Ohio State level, but this year’s team shows that there is a mental component to the game that is every bit as important as the physical component.  If a team isn’t focused, if the players don’t play with the right attitude and drive, if the athletes don’t give that extra effort that might make the difference between failure and success, size and speed don’t mean all that much.  When everybody on the field is an elite athlete in their own right, grit and determination and toughness count for a lot.  Against Iowa, the Buckeyes just didn’t have that indefinable quality.  I’m guessing that Urban Meyer and his coaches have spent a lot of time thinking about and working on the team’s mental game this past week.

So at today’s game, will we see Dr. Jekyll, or Mr. Buckeye?  I’m sure hoping that the coaches figured out how to get the players ready for this game.

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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.

Be Careful What You Wish For

After 13 seasons, Thad Matta will no longer be coaching the Ohio State University men’s basketball team.  Matta and OSU Athletic Director Gene Smith announced the decision at a joint press conference today.

It’s not clear whether the decision is a firing, or a retirement, or more likely a little bit of both.  Coach Matta has had some significant health issues, and those health issues may have affected his coaching.  After having an enormous amount of success for most of his Ohio State career, the Buckeyes had fallen on hard times lately, and this past season was his worst one yet.  Recruiting, which once was Matta’s forte, also has been a struggle of late, and it may be another aspect of the coaching job that may have been affected by Matta’s physical condition.

Many Ohio State fans have been calling for Matta’s head.  I wasn’t one of them.  I think he was a total class act who turned around the Buckeye basketball program and brought in some great players; by virtue of the great results he achieved for most of his Ohio State career, I thought he deserved a chance to rebuild the program if he was so inclined.  In my view, Matta’s farewell remarks at the press conference today, shown below, demonstrate exactly why he was such a good coach at OSU, and why he remains a terrific human being.

Some times you need to be careful what you wish for.  I hope the Ohio State fans who urged that Matta be discharged because they thought it will be easy to get another top coach to come to Columbus don’t end up ruing the day that they got their wish.  In the meantime, I wish Coach Matta good health and good fortune, for a good guy.

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.

When All Will Be Revealed

Tomorrow we’ll see the finale of HBO’s Westworld.  We’re being assured that all will be revealed, and after the episode the show will actually make sense.

Yeah, right!  I’ll believe it when I see it.  That’s like expecting triumphant Trump staffers  and bitter Clinton campaign operatives to reach friendly consensus on why Donald Trump won the election, or imagining that fair-minded Michigan fans will freely concede that the referees correctly spotted the ball on the 15-yard line after J.T. Barrett’s fourth-down keeper in the second overtime of this year’s classic version of The Game.

Westworld is right up there with The Leftovers as the most confusing show since Twin Peaks.  It’s so intentionally mystifying that I don’t even try to understand it, or piece together the disparate threads of the plot.  I just wince at the horribly bloody violence that is likely to occur at any tender moment, groan at the show’s troubling core assumption that any human who goes to a fantasy world will promptly turn into a blood-soaked, sex-crazed lunatic, and recognize that any character in the next instant could be revealed as a robot, a cold-blooded killer, a psychopath, or all three.  (I also cringe for the actors who have to routinely sit buck naked on chairs on a sterile set while other characters question them and tap iPads, but that’s another story.)

I’ve stopped trying to figure it all out.  Kish and I watch the show, and I just let it kind of wash over me, rather than struggling to make sense of why Dolores’ outfit changes from instant to instant or why Bernard’s interactions with his fake dead son are so significant.  I realized that the show had reached the point of ridiculousness this past week, when I was walking back from lunch with two friends, one of whom watches Westworld and one of whom doesn’t.  The watcher and I started talking about the show, and after a few minutes of discussion of “Billy” and the possibility that the show’s plot is running along different timelines and the importance of the photo of Billy’s bethrothed and whether the twitching beings at the church Dolores visited were troubled robots looking for some kind of salvation, the non-watcher asked, with a baffled laugh:  “What is this show?”  And I realized that it was all pretty silly.

So I’ll watch the finale, but I’m not expecting that I’ll get everything in this episode, because that sure hasn’t been the case in the past episodes.  I just make one request:  before we move on to “the new narrative,” can you at least let us know what the old narrative was all about?

The CBJ Test My Hypothesis

I’ve gotten into an odd new habit this year:  I check the ESPN website the morning after a Columbus Blue Jackets to see how the team fared.  I did it this morning and learned that they won . . . again.

622873784_slideI don’t know beans about hockey.  I also don’t know if, or how, I could watch a CBJ game on TV.  I do know, however, that the team has been winning a lot this season.  As we roll into December, the Blue Jackets are 13-5-4.  In their last 10 games they’re an even more impressive 7-1-2.  You don’t have to know much about hockey to know that a team with that kind of recent record is playing well.  My friends who know hockey say that the team finally has a good offense, an even better defense, and a capable goalie.  (Then they lapse into increasingly enthusiastic and animated hockeybabble about first lines, power plays, power play kills, and other inexplicable topics, and my understanding of what is being discussed falls to zilch and I start wondering what the hell happened on the most recent episode of HBO’s Westworld.)

What’s interesting about all of this to me is what it might mean to Columbus.  Our fair city has two professional sports franchises — the Blue Jackets and the Columbus Crew soccer team.  The Crew has a very devoted following, but even though they’ve been extremely successful they’ve never really captured the city’s imagination.  The Blue Jackets, on the other hand, have never been successful.  Usually they get off to a terrible start and are effectively out of the running a month or two into the season — which isn’t exactly a recipe for developing legions of new hockey fans.  As a result, by December sports fans in Columbus are talking about Ohio State’s upcoming bowl game, the prospects for the basketball Buckeyes, and not much else.

I think there’s plenty of room for more dedicated sports fandom in Columbus, outside of our passion for Ohio State — provided the fans have something to root for.  I’m hoping the Blue Jackets continue to play well so they can test my hypothesis.  This year, I’m detecting a bit of a buzz about the team, even apart from the hockeyheads.  And of course it would be great for the city if the CBJ made a run in the NHL playoffs and brought some excitement, visitors, and hotel and restaurant and bar patrons to the Arena District.

So, let’s go, Jackets!  (Clap . . . clap . . . clapclapclap.)  Who knows?  I might actually go to a game this year and have a pal explain icing to me for the 45th time.