About this same time last year, there were a lot of long faces in Columbus and anywhere else that Ohio State football is king. The Buckeyes had lost to USC in L.A. by the score of 35-3 and much of the hope for a great season had been vanquished.
After all, most OSU fans had not thought that the 2007 season would end in a second consecutive trip to the title game. There had been too many losses to graduation or to the NFL. 2008 was supposed to be the year.
Yet Ohio State did make it back to the title game in 2007, only to be disappointed for the second straight year. So with James Laurinaitis, Chris "Beanie" Wells, Malcolm Jenkins, Alex Boone and others, not to mention uber-recruit Terrelle Pryor teeing it up in September 2008, there was much reason for optimism. This, Buckeye fans said, is our year.
Week One saw an easy win over Youngstown State but there was an unexpected and potentially cataclysmic loss of personnel when Beanie Wells went down with a mysterious foot injury.
The Bucks struggled a bit with Ohio University in Week Two, but most fans felt that this was more a function of their conservative coach's not wanting to show USC anything from the playbook. Week Three was where all eyes were fixed.
Then came the beatdown at the hands of the Trojans.
After the loss, there was the usual chaos within the fan base that happens after a lopsided game does not go your way. But, despite the chaos, there was still reason for optimism.
The freshman Pryor would now be starting at quarterback for the remainder of the season. Beanie would surely be coming back soon, and the team was still loaded with superstars. Maybe the USC game was just a confluence of bad fortune, bad vibes, and bad play. There was still hope.
Within a couple of weeks, talk of salvaging the season with a run through the Big Ten schedule on the way to a Rose Bowl bid started to get bolder. Why, the optimists said, should we set our sights on the Rose Bowl as the peak of what we can achieve in 2008? Why couldn't we get back to the BCS title game again?
Then came the first weekend in October. Madison, Wisconsin. The rival Badgers. Fast forward to the fourth quarter and Ohio State is down 17-13 with only six minutes remaining. Field goal does no good. The Bucks needed a touchdown. Then, right on cue, comes the freshman Superman with his scarlet cape to lead the Buckeyes on a game-winning TD drive.
Joy in Columbus.
This Pryor kid can take us to the Promised Land.
Now talk shifted from winning another Big Ten crown to going back to the title game and getting redemption. There was nothing this kid Pryor could not do.
Simultaneuosly, across the country, sports talk shows were burning up the airwaves with plaintive cries from Buckeye naysayers proclaiming that it would be a massive injustice if this happened. Hadn't these Buckeyes been the ones that embarrassed themselves and the Big Ten in Glendale and New Orleans?
A couple of wins later, talk of another OSU title run was starting to reach a fevered pitch. The Buckeyes had made quick work of Purdue and Michigan State, the latter having been regarded as a potential conference title contender as well. After the MSU game, the first BCS standings were released, and OSU was #9.
Visions of 2007 and the season-ending poll chaos started anew. A win the following week against Penn State, at home, and the sledding would be downhill. A BCS berth would be guaranteed and it was well within the realm of possibilities that a trip to Miami, to play for it all, was possible. The USC loss was a distant memory.
Then came the game against the Nittany Lions. The defensive struggle. Offensive sloppiness on the part of both teams. Then came "the Fumble." The freshman, in his understandable zeal to put the team on his back and win the game, made a critical mistake. The Nits would prevail, and the hopes of making another trip to National Title Town were dashed for the Buckeyes and their fans.
The team did manage to get off the deck and run through the rest of their schedule without a loss, making yet another visit to a BCS game, this time to the Fiesta Bowl against Texas. We all know how that one ended. Long drive. Quan Crosby. Longhorn win.
Fast forward again, this time to the offseason. Rumors abound that Terrelle Pryor has bulked up to 235 or 240 pounds—all muscle. He has a solid, if unspectacular spring game. Then news hits the Internet that Pryor has been electronically timed in a 4.33 40-yard dash and is now verified as the Greatest. Player. Ever. Offseason work on his throwing mechanics have been successful.
Guys, the message boards say, I know you thought 2009 was going to be a rebuilding year. It isn't going to be. Pryor is the "Real Deal." This team is going to shake off the shackles of this run of losses to big teams, and it is going to start in Week Two when the Trojans come to the Shoe, baby.
Summer talk even manages to shift to the possibility that Pryor may be so amazing that he blows away Heisman voters with his backfield Houdini act and eclipses the Tebows, McCoys, and Bradfords of the world to win the Heisman in 2009. Then he comes back to do it again in 2010. Now, Ohio State is home to the only two players ever to win double Heismans. The mood is so giddy that people can barely contain themselves.
Then Sep. 5 rolls around and the Buckeyes tee it up against Navy. After a less than stellar showing, there is palpable nervousness within the ranks of fandom if not in the locker room in Columbus itself.
Is it possible that this version of the Buckeye Express is not as incredible as billed?
There is also the distraction of "Eye Black"-Gate.
We all know what happened last Saturday, so I won't review it.
Let's focus now on the rest of the season for the Scarlet and Gray.
The six consecutive losses to top-five teams have been well-documented. The futility has been featured on every sports show, website and magazine in the land. Media saturation. Fans begin to question whether Tressel can handle coaching in the Big Game anymore or, at the very least, if he should relinquish the play-calling to a more modern offensive coach, perhaps one not even currently employed by the school.
Pryor has now revealed himself to be human. A good game against Navy has been followed by a decidedly below-average one against USC. Poor decisions. Deer-in-headlights look on the final drive. Rumors abound that he doesn't like to be hit.
And yet, through all of this, there remains a small but vocal group of Buckeye fans out there that says, "Don't give up guys. We can still turn this thing around. We can still make it back to Pasadena. And not just for the Rose Bowl. For all the marbles."
Well, I am here to tell you that the only marbles any of us should be talking about are the ones that these deluded fans have lost.
Ohio State has about as much of a chance of going back to the title game this season as they did in John Cooper's last season as coach. And that is none.
Far too many things would have to happen. A win in Happy Valley (granted, a possibility, if a remote one). Losses, losses everywhere for everyone and their brothers.
And not just for the teams ranked ahead of the Buckeyes as of this week, but for teams ranked below them as well.
You see, the Buckeyes reside in a universe of exactly one when it comes to how they will be considered by the BCS committee. The cumulative effect of all of these losses weighs on the program like a million tons of dirty jockstraps that also happen to stink. Your program is simply not regarded in the same way that others are.
And yes, this includes Oklahoma. Sure, the Sooners have also had some catastrophic failings along the BCS way, but we shouldn't forget that they also beat Missouri twice in 2007, once when they were ranked number ONE in the BCS (by three TDs, no less).
They also destroyed Texas Tech last year when the Red Raiders were ranked number two in the BCS (by a whopping six TDs). So when we get right down to it, there is no comparable program out there when it comes to futility. At least in anyone's recent memory.
So Buckeye fans, best of luck to you. May you make your annual run through the Big Ten with few, if any, hiccups. Just remember, any travel plans that you make for Pasadena? Make sure they are for Jan. 1, 2010 and not Jan. 7. You can, of course be there on the 7th if you like. Just know that your team will not.