Ohio State is back. Will its wait for redemption finally end?
The Buckeyes are one of the best teams in the country. But they still might not get to prove it.
To have a real shot for the College Football Playoff following Saturday’s Big Ten Championship Game, Ohio State had to do more than win. The Buckeyes had to beat a good Wisconsin team with third-string quarterback Cardale Jones making his first-ever start, prove that Jones could compete with the best in the country, and look good doing it.
And third-string be damned, Ohio State put together arguably the most impressive performance of the season, stomping Wisconsin, 59-0. It was the kind of showing we haven’t seen from the Buckeyes in a long time.
The fans knew it. The Buckeye faithful who made Lucas Oil Stadium “Horseshoe West” stayed until the end, celebrating the return of the Buckeyes of old.
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany knew it. Some Buckeye fans booed when he took to the award podium, but he turned those to a deafening roar.
“Before recognizing the champions of the Big Ten, and one of the four best teams in the country…” JIM DELANY
— Land-Grant Holy Land (@Landgrant33) December 7, 2014
Oh yeah … about that Playoff.
There will be many legitimate arguments for which teams should round out the four-team field. The loss to 6-6 Virginia Tech could define the Buckeyes’ season. But you can’t convince me, or most of the Midwest, that Ohio State is not one of the four best teams in the country.
Wisconsin’s defense ranked 11th in the country coming in, according to the F/+ ratings, and Ohio State did whatever it wanted. The Badgers allowed 10 more first half points to the Buckeyes (38) than they had allowed in a game before this. Jones, in his first start, averaged 16.2 yards per pass attempt in the first half, with two touchdowns and no interceptions (for reference, Marcus Mariota averages an insane 10.1 yards per attempt — still an average of six yards per attempt less than Jones’ first half average against a top defense). Wisconsin Heisman contender Melvin Gordon was the main attraction, but he was out-paced by Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott, who gashed the Badgers’ run defense for 220 yards.
“It was a huge statement, I think,” Jones said. “This was a great defense, and we put 52 points on them.”
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One of the biggest reasons Ohio State wasn’t considered a top contender for the Playoff for much of the year is that the Buckeyes don’t get the benefit of the doubt anymore. And perhaps this performance could help OSU earn that back.
This is something the Buckeyes have been fighting for nearly a decade. Their coach, Urban Meyer, is the one responsible for it. When Meyer’s Florida Gators demoralized Ohio State in the 2006 season’s BCS National Championship Game, the Buckeyes’ perception in the eyes of the nation was sealed.
OSU’s wins came because they were in a weak conference. They didn’t have the athletes to compete with the rest of the country. If it came down to them or someone else, they shouldn’t have the chance to prove themselves. They’d already gotten that opportunity — twice, counting the following season’s loss to LSU — and twice they fell flat on their asses. The Big Ten didn’t help the cause, with dismal bowl game performances.
The Buckeyes nearly put together performances to change their narrative, but all were fruitless. The Terrelle Pryor years yielded some good teams, but no great ones, and then ended in scandal. When Meyer took over during the bowl ban, he went 12-0, but still wouldn’t have made the title game over Alabama even if OSU had been eligible.
The next year, OSU had an undefeated record heading into the Big Ten Championship Game with the chance to get Meyer’s first big win as Buckeyes coach, but the narrative held. OSU lost to Michigan State.
This year, the Buckeyes got their signature win against Michigan State, with their second quarterback. They got a signature win-plus-some in their beatdown of the Badgers, with their third quarterback.
This was a preview of what is to come in Indianapolis every year. The Buckeyes have the best coach in the league, they have the most talent, and they have a seemingly endless supply of players they can plug in whenever they want.
While I’m sure fans in Columbus are looking forward to regular trips to the Big Ten Championship, the Buckeyes’ future won’t help with the committee. Nobody knows exactly what the committee’s looking for, but in the array of anecdotes chair Jeff Long has cited this year, the Buckeyes have a lot of their bases covered.
- Multiple top wins? Check.
- A major road win? Check.
- A conference championship? Check.
- The eye test? If anyone was watching Saturday, that’s a big check.
As the celebration raged on well past midnight, Buckeye fans chanted, “We want Bama,” over and over. Last year’s team almost got Alabama, and this year’s team could very well fall short, as well.
But unlike last year, this team deserves it.