Buckeyes Stake Claim As College Football’s Best
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — I was there the day Urban Meyer found out his team was going to a postseason ban during his first year as the head coach at Ohio State.
The look on his face said it all.
Meyer walked slowly out of the Woody Hayes Athletic Center with Mark Pantoni, his trusted director of player personnel, by his side. He looked like he was headed to a funeral.
In many ways, he was.
“It felt like a sucker punch right in my stomach,” Meyer would later say, but the two-time national champion would not stay down for long. He bounced back up, he kept going, he kept pushing his team to be the best it could be.
To be better than the best.
“It’s so easy to be average,” Meyer told his team back in August.
“You know it as well as I know it. It takes a little something to be special. It takes a little something special to be a great player. We don’t have enough great players. To hell with that. We don’t want to coach average. I don’t want to be around you. Why be around average? Did you push yourself to be great today?”
It’s a question that fueled the Buckeyes through a grueling offseason and four tough months of football, despite the fact there was no reward at the end. No BCS bowl game. No national championship to shoot for, but this team never stopped fighting, never stopped improving.
“And I'd say at this point in time Ohio State could go play with anybody in America,” Meyer proclaimed after the team’s 26-21 win over Michigan on Saturday.
“I wouldn't say that five weeks ago. But I think you've seen the growth, what we did today and the growth of our defense. I've been blessed to be a couple of teams of championships, and the common denominator is not rushing yardage, passing yardage, blocked punts, whatever it is, it's great defense.
“So I just want to make sure I verify, that it's not just some coach up here opening his big mouth. It's statistically analyzed for ya. We could play with anybody in America as of today.”
The Buckeyes won’t get that chance. Their season ends 12-0, just the sixth team in school history to finish with a perfect record and the first since Jim Tressel led Ohio State to a BCS national championship back in 2002.
Unlike that group, which won 14 games and knocked off a heavily-favored Miami Hurricanes team in the Fiesta Bowl, this group won’t get to prove it belongs on the same field with teams like Notre Dame, Alabama, Georgia and Oregon.
The Buckeyes are currently ranked No. 4 in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll, but the players believe they deserve some consideration for the top spot, especially if they were to finish as the only undefeated team in the country.
“Absolutely, yeah,” senior defensive end Nathan Williams said after the game.
“We're undefeated. We couldn't have done any better. That's all I've got to say about that.”
Ohio State will have to watch two teams it beat, Wisconsin and Nebraska, face off in the second Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis on Saturday. It will be a tough pill to swallow for this group, but not a surprising one.
“There’s a part of you that wishes we were doing it, but we’ve known for so long that the Michigan game was going to be the last game of the year,” senior Jake Stoneburner said.
“There’s nothing we can do about it. It sucks we can’t play in it, but everyone knows we’re the undefeated team that should be there.”
The fact Urban Meyer says this team could compete against anybody in the country might catch the attention of AP voters, although what else would they expect Meyer to say about his undefeated Buckeyes.
The one thing that might help them more in their quest for some kind of recognition as national champs is the fact there is not a truly dominant team in college football. Notre Dame, the only other undefeated team, will likely face the winner of the Alabama-Georgia matchup in the SEC title game.
If the Fighting Irish were to lose in the BCS championship game, the Buckeyes might get some consideration as the top team in America.
“I hope so. That’s reality,” Stoneburner added.
“If they lose, we’re the lone man standing. If the AP feels generous, I think they should. A national championship would be unbelievable.”
Not to mention wholly unexpected.
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