Ohio State, no one expected you to be here.
The Big 10 was left for dead in week two when the conference had a disastrous showing in their non-conference schedule. When Michigan State lost to Oregon, Ohio State was sunk by unranked Virginia Tech, and Northwestern dropped a stinker to Northern Illinois; it was viewed by every non-Big 10 enthusiast and SEC apologist (read: ESPN) that the conference would not be able to recover in the public eye enough to reach the coveted college football playoff.
Nevermind that in that same week, the SEC’s three top ten ranked teams were playing Lamar (8-4), San Jose State (3-9), and Florida Atlantic (3-9). The Big 10, apparently, was a complete embarrassment.
Surely, of the five “power conferences,” a term I’m still not willing to completely adopt, the Big 10 would be the one that would be staying home. TCU and Baylor were too strong. The SEC West was exploding with power defense vs. power offense with four teams in the top ten as of week 13. Florida State was riding a 29-game winning streak and Oregon was being carried by their run away Heisman quarterback, Marcus Mariota.
Then December 6th happened. One week after the Ohio State Buckeyes lost their Heisman hopeful backup quarterback J.T. Barrett to a broken ankle, they marched into Indianapolis to Lucas Oil Stadium and laid a 59-0 whuppin’ on a strong Wisconsin team – a team that later beat #19 Auburn 34-31 in a bowl game – with their preseason third string quarterback Cardale Jones. Jones has, in fact, performed so well that it’s become recent fodder in Big 10 country to think that Ohio State might have the top three quarterbacks in the conference after viewing Jones’ most recent two starts.
Despite what could have appeared to be an embarrassing championship game for the Big 10, it actually offered hope to Big 10 fans everywhere. In our new world of playoff college football, the Buckeyes did the most important thing a brand name football team currently on the bubble of entering the 2015 playoff’s elite company could do; they set themselves apart from every other team that week by being simply dominating.
I might agree that Ohio State was certainly aided by being, well, Ohio State in the committee voting process. TCU and Baylor don’t carry the same name recognition as Ohio State does and, unfortunately, being the first college football playoff, I can guarantee there was heavy pressure to make this one – maybe more than any playoff following – as much of a financial success as ever.
I’m enough of a conspiracy theorist to believe that if you replaced either Baylor Bears or TCU Horned Frogs with the name Texas Longhorns, you would have likely seen a much different playoff result than what occurred. The playoff selection committee certainly put themselves in a pretty precarious position by leapfrogging Ohio State over both Baylor and TCU in the final week of the process. Had Ohio State gone to the Super Dome on January 1st and been beaten up 35-14 by a tough Alabama team outrage would have ensued. In fact, my guess is the Big 12 propaganda machine was ready to come out in full force after an obvious soon-to-occur Big 10 humiliation.
However, that’s not how it played out. Ohio State, lead by their incredible coach Urban Meyer, faced off vs. college football’s version of a coaching god Nick Saban and prevailed, winning 42-35.
In doing so, the Buckeyes completely made the Big 10 relevant again. They’ve been the darling of this week’s media attention and even garnered apologies for the whole Big 10 from writers everywhere, including ESPN’s Mark Schlabach:
“It’s September 7, not December 7. I would hate to think after two weeks we’d pick any teams for anything.” [said Big 10 commissioner Jim Delany]
You know what, Mr. Commissioner? You were right, and I was wrong. In fact, I was dead wrong. When I wrote that column on Aug. 19, I had a momentary lapse of judgment. I forgot who was coaching Ohio State.
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer may have even had one of the top ten moments in post game press conference history with his infamous quote: “Oregon won by 40? We got to get ready!”
Overall, it’s been a week full of met expectations for Urban Meyer, excitement for Ohio State, and a transformative week for the Big 10 in the eyes of the college football-loving public.
Just one more week to go. One more week to prove everyone wrong vs. a very tough Oregon Ducks team that might be the best they’ve ever been. One more week to set in stone Urban Meyer’s legacy and to change the college football landscape.