It was late in the second half. I knew it was coming because I had been thinking the same thing myself.
“Scott,” my friend Mick asked, “you cannot write about this game. Don’t do it. Please.”
And part of me agreed. I really wanted to erase this night from my memory, bury it in the depths of my mind that no one can touch. I want to just move on and forget about it.
But you can’t. Not now. Not after the team you’ve bled and died for since birth garners nothing but constant ridicule across the nation. Not when there are variables left unanswered. Not when the moment that’s been on your mind for over eight months blows past you in a heartbeat.
Ohio State-USC, the game that had been hyped for months and months, turned into a laugher shortly after halftime. More importantly, it left an entire state and a nationwide fanbase wondering what’s next.
The Buckeyes have turned into college football’s version of the Buffalo Bills, only with a negative perception. The similarities are there—teams with great individual talent (Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, Andre Reed, Bruce Smith, etc.), rolling through lesser opponents (a fairly weak AFC in the early 90’s), only to get blasted when they reached the be-all end-all (particularly Super Bowls XXVI-XVIII).
But those Bills teams of the early '90s are now considered loveable losers. The Buckeyes are treated with disrespect nationwide, and that I’ll never understand, because they remain one of the top-10 or -15 programs in the nation, year in and year out—regardless of the outcome against Florida, LSU, or now USC.
Really, the most disconcerting thing for me, as we analyze Ohio State’s current status, is that, despite the great number of individual talents, they do not seem to mold well together as a team.
The Buckeyes have had as many, if not more, players drafted—and drafted in the first or second round—than any other college over the past 10 years. Players such as James Laurinaitis, Malcolm Jenkins, and Alex Boone would have been high draft choices last year, but opted to return for one more season, one last shot at a national title.
Then 35-3. Poof.
So are these guys not as good as we think? Are the scouts and the NFL teams wrong in their evaluations? Or—gasp!—is Jim Tressel and his coaching staff just not as special as we thought, and is he not preparing the team for these big games?
I realize that that’s damn-near blasphemous to say in Ohio, but it’s a valid point to be made. I hate losing as much as the next guy, but if we had played Florida, LSU, and USC tough, down to the wire, then you can live with that. Call it a “Hey, we gave it our best shot—orange slices for everybody!” kind of mentality.
But when the game is basically over when you start the fourth quarter...three consecutive times against highly ranked opponents...after talking ad nauseam about learning from mistakes of the past...well, it makes a rational Buckeyes fan think a little. And it makes me scared, to be honest.
Ohio State can and probably will rebound and still win the Big Ten, fly back to California for the Rose Bowl, and hammer the Pac-10’s second-best team (I say that after watching Cal and Oregon scuffle against mediocre teams Saturday.)
And it will still be a successful season, by most accounts. Ninety-eight percent of the teams in the country would love to have the kinds of problems that Ohio State has.
But nothing—smacking around Michigan, winning the Rose Bowl, etc.—will ever fully erase the sting of another embarrassment on the national stage.