It's gonna sound strange, especially after tonight's heartbreaking loss to Texas, but strangely enough my faith in OSU football was restored tonight.
For those who don't know our family eat, drinks, and breathes OSU football. Dad is a grad of THE Ohio State University, and while a student there, I was born at THE Ohio State University Hospital. That's right friends... my first breath of air was taken on sacred Buckeye soil. So my earliest memories consist of watching Archie Griffin run past the Wolverines, Woody Hayes screaming obscenities on the sidelines, and lots of hours sitting my family - father, grandfather, Unc, and later, Brother Esq - watching the Bucks. For seven magical years in the nineties, Mom worked on her undergrad and masters, meaning we got season tickets in the student section, further cementing with each trip to the football shrine that is the Horseshoe, our devotion to our team. It was one of the reasons, after living six years in Illinois and Indiana, I desperately wanted to come back to Ohio. There's nothing like watching a game with the fam on a Saturday afternoon. Every weekend stuck watching the God-forsaken Fighting Irish in Northern Indiana was a reminder that time was too short.
I am a Buckeye, and proud of it.
But the last three years have been a trial for not only Buckeye fans, but Big Ten fans throughout the great Midwest. The last three big non-conference games OSU faced - Florida, LSU, and USC - were all total blowouts. Since the Bucks have been the cream of the conference during that period, each terrible defeat was a reminder of how "slow", "fat", and "mediocre" our team, and our game in this part of the country, had become. And when fans across the country started saying "anybody but OSU in the National Championship" cause they knew the Bucks wouldn't show up, I, and my Buckeye brethren began to dread the national stage.
A stage, I might add for my Auburn friends, their team hasn't stood on since Bo Jackson played there many, many years ago (excluding this fall when Charles Barkley, an alum, called the school the most racist in the country.... they were on the national stage that day).
So when it was announced that the Buckeyes had been selected to go to the Fiesta Bowl to play another national power a few weeks ago, you can imagine the feeling in the collective stomach of Buckeye Nation. Stories were rampant out of Columbus that the university couldn't sell their allotment of tickets. The Lima News ran stories on a travel agent who, only last year, booked sixteen full busloads of Buckeye fans for the B(C)S Championship Game, and this year couldn't book one. And while the economy has tanked, and Ohio is at the bottom of that bowl with Michigan, I can guarantee you that if the team looked unbeatable, those buses would have been full, recession be damned.
Two losses, a squeaker to Penn State, and an embarrassment at USC (which I witnessed live and in person) convinced us that more than likely, we were probably up for another shellacking. That's why people who could have gone, stayed home. And Vegas agreed, making the Bucks anywhere from an 8 to 11 point underdog.
Even the biggest Buckeye fan I know, the Eric the Buckeye (I named him "the Buckeye" for pete's sake) called me today to tell me he had a bad feeling about tonight's game.
"You don't think they'll hang half a hundred on us, do you dude? I don't think I could take another blowout."
To be perfectly honest, I didn't know how to answer him. With the sounds of USC's student section singing "Na, Na, Na, Na - Hey, Hey, Hey - Good-bye" at the end of third quarter back in September, I, like most everyone in this part of the world (cept Dad, who, when it comes to Buckeye football, is Don Quixote in a beard and flannel shirt) weren't excited about tonight. Not at all.
But now, everything has changed. Here's five reasons why:
1) Terrell Pryor: Let's face it, the kid is special and next year he's coming back with a year's experience under his belt. As long as he's standing the Bucks will have a chance.
2) Jim Tressel was Jim Tressel again: Gone was the stoic, stonefaced coach whose sphincter seemed to tighten to unbearable proportions, and back was the guy showing emotion on the sidelines, breathing life and hope into the youngsters on his team. The Buckeyes looked prepared. They made adjustments. They showed up, and that's how Jim Tressel got us to believe in him in the first place.
3) Colt McCoy took a beating tonight: You can bet that every team in the country will remember how badly McCoy got pounded repeatedly all evening, and how they largely neutralized him to bring Texas' Texas sized offense back to earth. If you thought the Bucks D was too slow, you didn't think that by the end of tonight. When they started going man-to-man and busting those receivers on the line at the end of the third, you saw the future of what they'll be doing next year. They are catching up with the rest of the country in terms of defensive speed, and they're only getting faster.
4) We Don't Have To Dread Big Games Anymore: In the third quarter, after Texas scored two unanswered TD's, it looked like the same tired movie: OSU fails to show up for a big game. I even texted Skyscraper Kent to tell him that I was giving up college football for English Premier League Soccer next year. And then... they just put the hammer down on the Texas QB and receivers. And what's more, the O started moving the ball, even taking the lead down the stretch. They might have lost the game, but they didn't roll over. Take notice SEC, Big 12, and Pac 10 fans... a game against OSU is no longer a gimme. Just ask Mack Brown. He hopes he never sees them again.
5) We Got Our Swagger Back: Listen, I know there are no moral victories in college football. A loss by one is the same as a loss by 91. But after tonight, nobody in this state will dread a chance to play on the big stage. I'm sure USC tickets for next fall just got harder to get, and the team leads the whole state in wanting to shut up the naysayers in the south and west. Tonight was the first time they've looked hungry since the Michigan game two years ago. The monkey is off the back, but there's still something to prove and I've a sense that will drive this team all winter long.
I can't wait for next season to begin.
O - H!
I - O!