Ohio State Football Week 12: The Only One

Who better to rock us into Michigan week than Ohio’s Black Keys? We thought of a song of their most recent good album while looking at where the Buckeyes are and where they could be after another edition of the greatest rivalry in all of sports.

What we learned last week: Maybe there is something to be said simply for going undefeated in and of itself.

I had not really believed that before, but I’m inclined to reconsider after the Buckeyes pulled out another close one at Wisconsin and the rest of the top five endured another week of upheaval.

No, that does not mean I am going to make the case for them as Associated Press national champions, at least not yet. (Certainly not before Notre Dame loses as it seems to me from here the Fighting Irish have played a tougher schedule, but there will be plenty of time to examine that in December.)

But where does gettin’ er done rank in terms of valuing a sports team?

I like to rank by power, by how a team looks on the hook. Who has the most effective and talented players? That’s who I want to find in my championship search.

But maybe there is more to it than that. Or maybe it just varies from year to year.

Undefeated seasons are often as much about luck as anything else, as there have been many reminders through the years.

For some people I’m sure that 2002 Ohio State team is a prime example, but not for me. If you look at how many players were drafted off of that team (hint: almost all of the starters) and how many are playing in the NFL, it’s clear that talent was not an issue. Those Buckeyes played a very tough schedule, maybe tougher as it turned out than it seemed at the time.

Their fits and starts were sort of like this team in that they were related to a new coach still implementing his style with a different group of players then he might have brought in himself.

I look at Urban Meyer’s 2006 Florida team in much the same way. Throughout the preparation for that game, I wondered if that was a group that was more effective than it seemed a based on raw results. It was clear they had a lot of players with a lot of availability, but they never seem to all be on the same page. Those Gators also played a very difficult schedule. I recall actually considering them the best team in the country prior to the season but figuring they would never make it through the SEC schedule undefeated. Just like the Ohio State team of 2002 didn’t beat Miami on a fluke, 2006 Florida team had every right to beat 2006 Ohio State based on the talent matchup alone.

Of course that undefeated Ohio State team doesn’t really provide us any lessons for the undefeated debate now. That’s because they rolled through their schedule, one that was just not very difficult especially until the end. The weakness of their schedule also made their most significant win from the regular look that much better then and worse in the years that have passed. Michigan rolling over the same teams Ohio State was spanking (along with an incredibly overrated Notre Dame team that was walloped in its bowl game) inflated their ranking by November, but at least it made for a great story when it came time for The Game.

Ohio State was blown out in the first standalone BCS National Championship Game in January 2007 because it played poorly, but I think if both teams played their best it would’ve been a close game probably decided by field goal or so.

Obviously Ohio State came nowhere near playing its best, in Florida probably did show up better than it did at any point in the regular season. The Gators also had field position on their side all night, and they were the more angry team, something that we can’t overlook.

Until a couple of weeks ago, I had no delusions of Ohio State competing with some of the best teams in the country. But now we’ve seen that anybody is beatable this year – as Notre Dame has already looked mortal on multiple occasions and of course Ohio State has, too.

It’s kind of moot now, but I suppose this is another example of why college football needs the playoff. Comparing these teams’ resumes (which we only started doing seriously in 2006) is next to impossible and always has been. It just looks like it might be even more difficult this year than usual. Ohio State has a lot of holes, no doubt about it. Their head coach has said as much on multiple occasions and he’s not just blowing smoke.

So maybe it does make a difference this year, if not every year. Maybe this year in particular going undefeated is a significant boost when we’re comparing teams, like a few extra points in the power rating.

The reality is that it doesn’t really matter at this point, but it will continue to be a factor with the first incarnation of the NCAA Division I FBS playoff being only four teams. And next year could see it come into play as Ohio State will probably not have a schedule that is impressive to anyone.

For now there is only one thing left for the 2012 Buckeyes to worry about, though.

 

What we can expect to learn this week: How it ends.

The finality of this week started to set in shortly after the last play of Ohio State’s win over Wisconsin.

The Buckeyes beat the Badgers, and thoughts turned almost instantly to Michigan.

A Michigan team bus outside Ohio Stadium in 2010

That is not unusual. That’s how it is supposed to be. It’s part of the greatest rivalry in all of sports.

Sure, the realization the team is 11-0, that it won a division title and that it had pulled out a nail-biting victory was all in there somewhere, but it all pales in comparison to the coming of the Wolverines.

The same was true after the overtime win at Illinois in 2002. Ditto 2006 at Northwestern, when even Jim Tressel admitted in a cramped postgame interview room at Ryan Field he wasn’t interested in talking about beating the Wildcats so much as preparing for undefeated Michigan. Even the upset loss to Illinois in 2007 seemed to lose much of its sting because of what was next. I can still see Kirk Barton, a bit of a vacant look in his eyes, saying, “All that matters now is beating Michigan.”

There is nothing else that compares to this. There are those other 51 weeks, and then there is Michigan Week.

The campus buses don’t stop telling you where they are going so they can flash encouragement for the Buckeyes to beat someone in particular any other week. The students don’t jump in the man-made lake on campus any other week. There’s the blood drive, and the chance to clinch everything that’s been worked so hard for or perhaps the possibility of redemption from failures if only the next 60 minutes of football go well.

Spin it anyway you want, you’ll end up in the same, glorious spot: Michigan Week.

And this is no average one, not by a long shot.

Going into The Game without certainty of more practices and another game to follow has become very abnormal for both sides in the past two decades.

Only once have the Buckeyes entered it without their bowl eligibility secured since 1989. They were 6-5 in 1999 when .500 teams weren’t yet allowed to play in the postseason (Remember that?). Michigan won that game to improve to 10-2, and the Buckeyes stayed home for the holidays.

Michigan was already eliminated from postseason contention in 2008, and the Buckeyes finished off any thoughts of Rich Rodriguez’s second Wolverine squad going bowling in 2009 while clinching their own trip to the Rose Bowl.

Prior to that ’08 debacle, the Wolverines had played in a bowl following every season since 1976.

Of course, going into The Game unbeaten but without a postseason destination is unheard of now, but it’s not unprecedented. The ’69 Buckeyes went to Ann Arbor on a 22-game winning streak. Ohio State had already clinched a share of its second consecutive Big Ten championship but couldn’t go to the Rose Bowl or any other bowl because of the Big Ten’s agreements with the Pac 8 and the Rose Bowl, but Woody Hayes’ team was looking to make a final case that it should be voted No. 1 in the polls for a second straight year. That team looked like it would go down as one of the greatest teams in college football history, but it was not to be. Head coach Bo Schembechler’s Michigan team shocked Ohio State 24-12 in what many consider the worst loss in program history and the game the kicked off a new era in the rivalry.

The Buckeyes will look to avoid letting history like that repeat itself, of course, and there are a lot of intriguing things about this game as far as Xs and Os go.

Michigan looks a little soft on the defensive line, but they’ve got some linebackers that around and hit people. Coordinator Greg Mattison has done an excellent job coaching up the players there and scheming around some of their deficiencies.

The Wolverines are dangerous in multiple ways on offense, even without injured running back Fitzgerald Toussaint. It remains to be seen what they will to get out of Denard Robinson, but maybe he could’ve been a productive running back all along. I don’t think what Devin Gardner is doing is a fluke either. He’s certainly always been regarded as a guy with a lot of raw ability.

Ohio State give up more yards and they would’ve liked to Wisconsin, but they only allowed 14 points and half of those came in desperation with a short field to work with.

I think we might be in for another shootout similar to last season’s game in Ann Arbor, but we’ll just have to wait and see.

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