When I was 14 years old, my dad scored two tickets to The Game. And while the annual matchup between Ohio State and Michigan is never just any game here in Columbus, this was a particularly important Game.
Because if the Buckeyes won, they clinched an appearance in the Fiesta Bowl—that year's national title game. Standing in the freezing cold of Ohio Stadium while wearing my Eddie George throwback jersey, I watched my hometown team accomplish just that, as the Buckeyes prevailed by a score of 14-9.
Unsurprisingly, nearly all of the over-capacity crowd in riot-happy Columbus spilled onto the field to celebrate the Buckeyes' first-ever BCS title game berth. Me? I stood there with my father, briefly soaking in the moment before demanding that we make it back to the car in time to hear the postgame press conferences.
Why would I want to be anywhere else?
Because for me, sports have always been about much more than stat lines and final scores. To me, sports are—and always have been—about the story.
I needed to know why, after not running it once that season, Jim Tressel opted for an option pitch on the most important play of the season. I needed to know what Will Allen felt as he came down with John Navarre's final Hail Mary attempt. And most importantly, I needed to know how the Buckeyes were going to beat the almighty Miami Hurricanes.
Five years later, my college career carried me to Ohio State where there was far from a story shortage. From Terrelle Pryor's arrival to Jim Tressel's downfall, there was never a dull moment on campus when I was in Columbus. And perhaps the highlight came one month before my graduation, when Urban Meyer was named the Buckeyes head coach.
Which brings us to where I am now, having spent the past three years of my life covering perhaps the most polarizing coach in college football history. For the past two years, I've worked for Rivals.com's and Scout.com's Ohio State sub-sites, and I couldn't be more excited to bring my perspective and personality to the Bleacher Report family.
Best Coach To Interview
Meyer may not be the best talker in the world, but that's part of what makes him so fascinating. The man simply can't hide his emotions, for better or worse.
Get on Meyer's nerves, and an inevitable sneer is headed your way. Bring up a topic he was hoping to discuss, and the whole room will know it.
An example of the latter?
I was interviewing Meyer at his annual youth football camp two weeks ago on the same day that the Buckeyes happened to pick up a pair of big-time prospects. After I thanked Meyer for his time, he asked whom I was affiliated with. When I told him Scout.com, his smile lit up the room.
"Big day for the Buckeyes, huh?"
"Yeah, I thought I noticed an extra pep in your step today," I responded.
"That helped. Big time," Meyer said with a wink.
Best Player Ever Covered
It's hard for me to go against Braxton Miller, who has done things with the football that I've never seen from a quarterback. The only thing more difficult than defending his patented high kick/sidestep in the open field is finding the words to describe it.
Even though he may not be the most proficient passer in the world, he has demonstrated a knack for making the right throw at the right time. But for Miller, it's all about what he does when the defense parts and he hits that hole, as it's usually not long before he's standing in the end zone by himself.
Most Memorable Game Attended
The 2002 edition of The Game may have been the most important in Ohio State history that I've seen, but when it comes to being memorable, last year's version is tough to top.
A final score of 42-41 with the game essentially ending on a missed two-point conversion? The high-scoring nature may have sent Woody and Bo rolling in their graves, but they would have done so highly entertained.
Is the 2014 Team Urban Meyer's Best Buckeye Squad So Far?
No. 2012 was.
Maybe their schedule was weak, and maybe they struggled to adjust to Meyer's scheme, but those Buckeyes "struggled" their way to a 12-0 record. Sure they were ineligible to play in the postseason due to violations, but that team was clicking at the right time, and it's not a stretch to think that they would have beaten the Notre Dame team that got spanked by Alabama in the BCS title game.
As for 2014, the Buckeyes are still talented—they always will be—and it may be Meyer's most complete team. But the defense will have to show significant strides, and the offense will have to replace its bread and butter after the departure of Carlos Hyde.
What Does Braxton Miller Need to Do to Win the Heisman?
Staying healthy would be a start. Miller simply hasn't stayed healthy for an entire season since arriving to Columbus, and it at the very least cost him a trip to New York a season ago.
Miller has made drastic steps in each of his three seasons in Columbus, as evidenced by his completion percentage jumping more than five points a season ago. With Hyde gone, the offensive load on Miller's shoulders will only grow in the coming year, and he'll have to prove that he can stay healthy enough to carry it.
Season Prediction (Record and Bowl)
10-2 in the regular season with an appearance in the Orange Bowl.
I don't like Ohio State's out-of-conference setup. Navy is an opponent that requires more than unique preparation, and night games against Virginia Tech and Cincinnati could both present scares. I don't know which one it will be yet, but I don't see the Buckeyes escaping September unscathed. The rest of Ohio State's slate actually sets up favorably, at least until its Nov. 8 trip to East Lansing.
As we saw last year in Indianapolis, Michigan State is at the top of the mountain in the Big Ten, and nothing has happened since then to change that. For the Buckeyes to get back to Indianapolis and the first-ever College Football Playoff, they'll have to get past the Spartans, and I don't see that happening just yet.
I've been wrong before, though. Buckle up. It's going to be a wild ride in Columbus this year.
It always is.