The Sports Page: A Reflection on Perfection
With Saturday’s 26-21 victory over That School Up North, The Ohio State University Buckeyes did what few believed they could: capped off a perfect season. The Buckeyes won four non-conference games followed by a clean sweep of the conference to finish a sparkling 12-0. Unfortunately, because the Oakland Raiders’ third string quarterback wanted some free tattoos two years ago the Buckeyes will play in neither the Big Ten Title Game nor any postseason bowl game. While it is tempting to wonder how much further OSU might have gone, it is much more productive to appreciate the year that was.
It all started in Gainesville. January 1st of this year Ohio State lost 24-17 to the Florida Gators which buried a 6-7 season, their worst since 1988. The 2011 campaign was a shambles at the best of times and a trainwreck at the worst. Even with the addition of Ohio native Urban Meyer and a “Meyer’s Seven” of assistant coaches few pundits had Ohio State pegged for more than seven or eight wins. The incoming recruiting class was unremarkable and many key skill players were perceived to be too young to make a difference. Some ventured to say that the bowl ban was coming at an opportune time. They reasoned that few would lament a chance to play an ACC school in the Meineke Car Care Bowl. Still, the Buckeyes started the year ranked #18 in the AP poll.
Miami (OH) and UCF did their job as college football appetizers to set up a home game versus the Pac-12’s California Golden Bears. Despite some tense times during the second half Ohio State walked away with the 35-28 win. They were 4-0 before their game against Michigan State in East Lansing. OSU willed themselves to a 17-16 victory giving Meyer his first Big Ten win. It was about this time that whispers about perfection began. The players had little to say on the matter, they had Nebraska to prepare for.
The Buckeyes blew the doors off the Cornhuskers in Columbus. Then a preposterously close win over Indiana and a “did we seriously go to overtime against Purdue at home?” win against the Boilermakers put the Bucks at 8-0. Earlier in the year, the Big Ten ruled that even though the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions were ineligible for any kind of postseason play, their games and records would in fact count. Therefore, both teams would be eligible to win the Leaders Division. While it has almost none of the glamour of a conference championship, a division title meant a trophy and t-shirt were still on the table.
The only team angrier than the Buckeyes this year was Penn State. Burdened with a four-year bowl ban the Nittanies were playing amazingly well considering their situation and felt a win over the Scarlet and Gray at home could balm the season a bit. Braxton Miller had other plans and led OSU to a 35-23 victory. The following week Ohio State retained the Illibuck trophy handily to hit the bye at 10-0.
The last time Ohio State went to Madison, Wisconsin they lost their number one ranking, undefeated season, and pride. This time, the Badgers took their guests to overtime before Carlos Hyde scored the finishing touchdown and the defense shut down Wisconsin. All that was left was the Wolverines at home. The first half went back-and-forth before the Silver Bullets embargoed UM’s offense in the second half. The final whistle blew and OSU stood tall with a 26-21 win and 12-0 record.
While the Buckeyes are technically eligible to win the AP National Title the odds are slim at best. A soft non-conference schedule and a historically weak Big Ten will likely work against the Bucks, though they will likely finish in the top 5. So, the season is over. What’s next?
Looking ahead to the 2013 season, there are not many scary games on the schedule. Next year’s non-conference opponents went a combined 20-27 in 2012, and three of those matchups are at home. Home games include contests with Wisconsin, Iowa, Penn State, and Indiana. The Buckeyes will be challenged on the road versus Northwestern, Purdue, Illinois, and Michigan. Those games (minus the Illini) are the most dangerous to Ohio State’s title hopes. Also, in a strange scheduling fluke, three of the final four games will be on the road. The biggest opponent facing OSU next season is likely in the press box. The team is a lock to start next year in the top five, if not the top three. Complacency kills good football teams. As soon as the team starts to believe they will win simply because they are highly ranked or because they have won 14 (or 15 or 16) straight games is when they will stumble. Coach Meyer is used to dealing with high ranked teams in Florida so he knows how to keep his team angry and motivated.
So with all this in mind, don’t stress during this upcoming bowl season. Remember: Urban Meyer has never lost a game as OSU’s head coach. Braxton Miller will be in the Heisman conversation next year. The team has a division title to defend, and dreams of Roses. These Buckeyes were something special this year and can reach even greater heights a year from now. Though they might want to practice tackling; they’ll need to get ready for that SEC speed.