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.

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Scratching The SEC Itch

If there’s one thing that drives Ohio State fans to distraction, it’s the Buckeyes’ notorious lack of success against the SEC.  Whether it’s the shellacking Bear Bryant put on Woody Hayes back in the ’70s, or the crushing losses to Florida and LSU in back-to-back BCS National Championship games during the Jim Tressel era, loyal members of Buckeye Nation have endured terrible performances against SEC teams in big games.  And when Ohio State finally seemed to lance the boil by beating Arkansas in a bowl game a few years ago, that victory was snatched away as a result of the “Tattoogate” scandal.

So, what’s an OSU fan supposed to think about the fact that when Ohio State made the first-ever four-team major college playoff this year, it was paired against the Alabama Crimson Tide, the consensus choice for best team in the land and an SEC team to boot, in its first game?

Call me crazy, but I welcome this challenge.  Ohio State might get its butt kicked, but it will never have a better chance to definitively end the SEC Curse and stop all the laughing and name-calling than it does in this game, this year.  Alabama is the SEC personified, and they will be the prohibitive favorite, too.  If Ohio State can somehow prevail — despite the presumptive advantages to the Tide stemming from “Southern speed,” the murderous schedule they’ve played in the world-beating SEC West, and the legions of five-star studs that Nick Saban lures to Tuscaloosa every year, maybe the SEC fans will finally shut up and recognize that Midwestern teams know their way around a pigskin, too.

I’m old school about how sports are supposed to work.  Alabama is the most successful college football program right now; Ohio State aspires to that position.  The best way for Ohio State to achieve its goal is to beat the best in a big game — and they’ve got that opportunity.  Now is the time.  If the Buckeyes lay an egg and Alabama crushes them like it did Notre Dame, we’ve got no one to blame but ourselves, and the SEC buffs have every right to crow and call the Buckeyes an overrated program from a candy-ass conference.  If Ohio State somehow wins the game, however, we’ll lance that SEC boil, once and for all.

I really, really want to lance that boil.

The Bloody And Battered Big Ten

Rutgers and Maryland may want to reconsider their decision to join the Big Ten, because apparently the Old Conference really sucks this year.

Saturday, September 6, 2014 was an embarrassing bloodbath for the Big Ten.  The top teams — including, unfortunately, the Buckeyes — all lost convincingly.  Virginia Tech came in, pulverized the overmatched Ohio State offensive line, sacked poor redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett more times than you can count, and came out of the Horseshoe with a tough, physical win.  Kudos to them for a great victory.  Meanwhile, Notre Dame beat the tar out of hapless Michigan, shutting out the Wolverines 31-0 and leaving Brady Hoke looking sweaty and bewildered, as always, on the sideline.  Oregon put on a track meet in the second half and drubbed Michigan State, 46-27.  Purdue got crushed by Central Michigan, and Northern Illinois beat Northwestern.

Even the wins that Big Ten teams racked up yesterday were pretty lame.  Nebraska needed a last-second miracle to beat McNeese State.  Penn State squeaked by Akron, and Minnesota slipped past Middle Tennessee.  Maryland and Rutgers, at least, held up their end of the bargain and won.

The season is young, of course, and I’m hoping that the Buckeyes get better.  They’re young, and without Braxton Miller to energize their offense with his special talents I wasn’t expecting them to contend for a national championship.  But there’s no doubt that, after yesterday’s crippling losses, the Big Ten has taken another black eye and its national reputation, which already was battered, has slipped another notch.

I hope I don’t have to take any trips down to SEC country soon.

The SEC Kicks Butt

I’m a Big Ten fan — always have been, always will be.  But even diehard Big Ten fans should be tipping their cap to Alabama and the teams of the SEC, which have established a dominance in college football that would make the New York Yankees of old green with envy.

Alabama crushed unbeaten Notre Dame last night, 42-14.  The game wasn’t that close.  Alabama has won three of the last four national championships.  Add the championships won by LSU, Florida, and Auburn — all of the SEC — and you have an amazing record of success.  The truth is that, right now, the SEC teams are better.

We can argue about why.  Some Big Ten fans will tell you its because SEC teams oversign, or boot kids who aren’t performing as expected for bogus reasons so they can sign other prospects, or don’t have the academic standards that Big Ten teams and other schools do.  But on the field, the results are inarguable:  the SEC teams are just better, and they are proving it, year to year and national championship game to national championship game.

Ohio State and Urban Meyer hope to get to the mountaintop, where Alabama has set up camp.  Last night’s trouncing of the Fighting Irish shows what the Buckeyes need to aim for.  It’s not going to be an easy target to hit.

Big Ten Chumps (Cont.)

It’s bad enough that a 7-5 Wisconsin team won the “Big Ten Championship” game.  It’s bad enough that Nebraska, the other team in the “Big Ten Championship” game, gave up 70 points in getting crushed by Wisconsin.  It’s bad enough that the Ohio State Buckeyes, the best team in the conference, weren’t playing.  But the crowning indignity is that Wisconsin’s head coach, Bret Bielema, is now reportedly bolting the Big Ten for Arkansas and the SEC.

Don’t get me wrong here.  I don’t think that Bielema, the former Badgers coach who now reportedly will be leading the Razorbacks, is a great football coach.  He won or tied for the lead in the Big Ten three times — at least, according to the conference title game organizers — but I never thought he matched up well, in terms of coaching or recruiting ability, against Ohio State or other premier college programs.  Bielema always had a squinty, slack-jawed look on his face, seemed overmatched in in-game coaching contests, and rarely won the big games.  If Arkansas thinks they are getting a great coach, they may well be mistaken.

No, what’s embarrassing is that the “Big Ten Championship” coach is skedaddling the conference to go to a marginal team in the SEC.  Arkansas apparently was willing to pay him a lot more money than Wisconsin would shell out, and perhaps Wisconsin’s discretion in that regard is wise.  Still, if winning coaches are bolting for a second-division team in a different conference, what does it tell you about the Big Ten?

Back To Square One With The SEC

The latest step in the ongoing saga of “Tattoogate,” former Ohio State head football coach Jim Tressel’s failure to disclose knowledge of apparent NCAA violations, and related issues occurred today, when the Buckeyes put in Ohio State’s response to the NCAA investigation.

Ohio State announced that it will vacate all of the Buckeyes’ wins from the 2011 season and that the football team will be on probation for the next two years — meaning the school will be teed up for bigger penalties if there are any future violations of NCAA rules.  The school also announced that former head football coach Jim Tressel was retiring, not resigning, and that Tressel will not be required to pay the $250,000 fine that was originally imposed upon him.

We’ll have to wait to see what this means from the NCAA standpoint.  The Buckeyes have a hearing before the infractions committee on August 12, and after the hearing the NCAA could decide to impose stiffer sanctions, including limiting scholarships and barring the Buckeyes from bowl games for a year or more.

Ohio State fans have had to absorb a lot of upsetting developments and embarrassment lately, so it is difficult to say how this latest news will affect the shell-shocked members of Buckeye Nation.  Ohio State’s share of the 2010 Big Ten championship will be no more, as will the Buckeyes’ latest win over The State Up North.  For me, the biggest sacrifice will be voiding the Buckeyes’ first bowl game win over an SEC team.  It has taken decades for Ohio State to get off the schneid against the SEC — and now, only a few months later, we’re back on the schneid again.

O-Fer No Longer, And Buckeye Nation Rejoices

Finally!  Finally! Finally! Ohio State has beaten an SEC team in a bowl game.  The Buckeyes held on to beat Arkansas, 31-26, in a wild game at the 2011 Sugar Bowl.

At times it seemed like this game would not end and the fates had decreed that Ohio State was destined to lose.  There was a weird safety call.  Lots of injuries to key players, including Chimdi Chekwa, Cam Heyward, and Terrelle Pryor.  A fumble by Boom Herron on a crucial fourth-down conversion.  And ultimately a blocked punt that gave Arkansas the ball in great field position.  But somehow Ohio State’s defense refused to crumble.  Solomon Thomas intercepted Ryan Mallett as Arkansas was on Ohio State’s doorstep, and that sealed the win.

Say what you will about Terrelle Pryor, but he played a great game — and he is the only Ohio State quarterback to beat the SEC in a bowl game.  Pryor ran, passed, and made a slew of big plays to convert third downs and move the chains.  And Ohio State’s defense played a “bend, but don’t break” approach to perfection.  Arkansas moved the ball, but the D would make a big play and force a punt or a field goal attempt by a team that is used to scoring touchdowns.  Cam Heyward was a force on the defensive line all night long.  He has been a great Buckeye — one who returned for his senior year, when he could have gone pro — and he was rewarded with a game that Buckeye Nation will remember forever.  He will be missed.  And the rest of the defense also did a great job in holding Arkansas at bay and then, finally, forcing the turnover that ended the game.

Ohio State can’t brag about their record against the SEC.  They sprinted to a lead in this game, and then held on for dear life.  But it feels very sweet indeed that the Buckeyes have finally thrown the SEC bowl game monkey off their backs, and in the process salvaged a bit of pride for the Big Ten conference.  Congratulations to the entire team and Coach Tressel and his staff on a 12-1 season that showed, again, that Ohio State has fielded one of the best teams in the country.