National Narrative Could Prove to be Buckeyes' Greatest Foe
by Tony Gerdeman
I'm rarely surprised by what I see, hear or read when it comes to the national media and Ohio State football anymore. With ESPN and the like, my cynicism level goes to eleven, but it is what it is. Ohio State football is a popular subject which draws ratings from haters and lovers alike. It's one of those rare topics that really can't saturate the market enough. Buckeye fans hate it, editors love it.
I think there are national writers who have written about Urban Meyer more than I have since he's been hired, and I write about the Buckeyes just about every day of the year. Ohio State doesn't just move the needle, it moves the entire apparatus encasing the needle.
Currently, the Ohio State football team – ranked #4 in the AP poll and probably soon to be ranked #4 in the Coaches Poll – is on the outside looking in when it comes to the BCS National Championship Game, and that's where they should be. If an SEC team, a Pac 12 team and an ACC team all go undefeated, then an undefeated Ohio State team should absolutely be behind every one of those three teams given the schedules that each of them has played. I don't think that's an outrageous assertion.
I have to admit however, that I'm pretty surprised at what I'm seeing from members of the national college football media right now. It really picked up on Saturday during ESPN's College Gameday show. The topic was the national perception of the Buckeyes, and David Pollack said that a blowout win for Ohio State over Northwestern would make the Big Ten look weak.
A blowout win over Northwestern would make the Big Ten look weak? So then a close win would make the Big Ten and the Buckeyes look strong? No, of course not, because in his next breath he said that the Buckeyes looked bad for letting Wisconsin get back into the game the week before.
So a blowout win makes the Big Ten look weak, and a close win makes the Buckeyes look weak. Therefore, there is no possible way in David Pollack's mind for an Ohio State win to be overly positive, no matter what type of win it is.
He acted like this was understood and that he, as just one simple man, was powerless to change that perception. ESPN however, creates perception (remember Manti Te'o and Jadeveon Clowney), and they can change it whenever they like (there's suddenly nothing wrong with college kids taking a little cash). Pollack was basically lamenting the fact that he couldn't change the perception of Ohio State and the Big Ten, while in fact continuing to shape the very perception he was putting into question. It's nothing more than ham-handed sleight of hand.
No matter what the Buckeyes do – either win big, or win little – it will be perceived exactly how certain people want it to be perceived, and it will never be looked at as a positive for Ohio State.
Later in the show, fellow Gameday participant Desmond Howard echoed Pollack and said that an Ohio State victory over Northwestern wouldn't be a big deal. This, of course, begs the question of if it's not a big deal, then why is Gameday coming to us live from Northwestern's campus? It's the biggest game of the week. That's why you're there, remember? Either it's a big deal or it isn't. Obviously, it would have been a very big deal had Ohio State lost.
On Sunday, the rhetoric became that Ohio State's 18-game winning streak is nice and all, but their best win was against #16 Northwestern the night before. I must have heard that stat five times from different outlets on Sunday. I'm not even sure why there's a need to tear down a team's winning streak that spans two seasons, given that wins don't carry over from the season before.
So now Ohio State's schedule is getting ridiculed, which is fine. It's not a great schedule, and it could have been much better had Gene Smith wanted it to be. But I just wonder why the same wasn't done with Oregon's schedule last year. Their best win as an undefeated team was over #18 USC last year – yes, the same USC team that went 7-6. Did anybody question the Ducks' schedule as they were voting them #1 in the polls a year ago?
The problem with all of this is that it's completely unnecessary, and it looks absolutely petty. As long as any of five or six other teams go undefeated, they'll finish ahead of an undefeated Ohio State team, and deservedly so. A 13-0 Ohio State can't put the same resume on the desk as an undefeated Alabama or Oregon or Stanford or Clemson or Florida State. Only the homer-est of Buckeye fans will dispute that.
This recent string of attacks has me wondering where this angst is coming from? Why does the national media care who plays in the BCS National Championship Game? And why are they actively trying to make sure that it isn't Ohio State? This just all seems very preemptive to me.
Of course, it all pales in comparison to what Tony Barnhart wrote on Monday. Barnhart, a writer and TV personality for CBS (an SEC partner), wrote on Monday that “unbeaten might not be enough for Buckeyes”.
In his piece, he says much of what I'm saying – that other undefeated teams would deserve the BCS National Championship spot ahead of Ohio State. But then he did the unthinkable.
He writes: “What about a 12-1 Georgia team if it somehow overcomes the injuries and gets back to Atlanta and beats No. 1 Alabama in the SEC championship game? If Georgia gets that far, and that's a big if, it will have beaten two top-10 teams (LSU, Alabama), two more in the top 17 (South Carolina, Florida) and No. 25 Missouri. Its only loss would have been to No. 3 Clemson on the road by a field goal.
After winning seven consecutive BCS national championships, would a one-loss SEC team (like a Florida or Texas A&M) get the benefit of the doubt over a 13-0 Ohio State?
I don't know the answer to the question. I'm just asking. Let the debate begin.”
No, let's not let the debate begin. Losses still matter, even if they're quickly forgiven in the SEC.
I knew this argument was coming, which is why I've said for the past eight months or so that any person who suggests a one-loss SEC team could get in ahead of an undefeated Ohio State team should be completely disregarded because it's pure wishery. I still absolutely believe that, but based on what I've seen just in this past week alone, Barnhart won't be the last person openly “debating” this topic.
In fact, should Ohio State remain undefeated, and others do not, it will become a rallying cry.
After the Buckeyes' win against Wisconsin, Gameday host Chris Fowler made it a point to say that Ohio State only has two more ranked opponents on its schedule, trying to diminish the Buckeyes' schedule in some way. He of course failed to mention that those two ranked opponents were twice as many as Alabama had remaining on its schedule.
The Buckeyes will likely be favored throughout the rest of their schedule, but don't expect the national media to give up without a fight. Their long national nightmare is just getting started, and it's only going to get more contentious.
The chances of three teams going undefeated this season is very unlikely, which is perhaps why there has been such an early game plan to combat Ohio State's schedule.
The Buckeyes still have a long way to go to get where they want to be. They are not perfect, but what team is? It would be nice if we could just let the games play out, and go from there, but for some reason that's not going to be allowed this year.
And again, I have no choice but to wonder why.
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