By Chris Mahr
Ohio State is 10–0 in Urban Meyer’s first season at the helm. But as far as the BCS is concerned, the Buckeyes don’t even exist. They may be the fifth-ranked team in the AP Poll and the most talented team in the Big Ten. But by season’s end, any victories that the Buckeyes earn beyond what they win in the regular season will be moral ones.
As punishment for the NCAA violations that went unreported under former coach Jim Tressel, Ohio State is banned from postseason play. Which means no Big Ten Championship Game. No subsequent bowl appearances (in a sanction-less world, that could mean a BCS title game appearance). No games between the season finale against Michigan and OSU’s 2013 opener against Buffalo.
While the Buckeyes have looked like a legit Top 10 team at several points this season, the glass ceiling under which they’re playing out 2012 begs the question: Does this year even matter?
An undefeated season is a special thing in college football. It normally represents a trip to a high-profile bowl game at the least, the BCS title game at the most. So to point out to Ohio State fans that their beloved team might run the table for nothing has to be the equivalent of a punch to the gut.
Especially when looking back on athletic director Gene Smith’s decision not to place a self-imposed bowl ban on the program for the 2011 season and, instead, accept an invitation to the inglorious Gator Bowl. Don’t worry, Smith assured his constituents. We won’t be banned from the 2012 postseason as a result.
Well, Smith was wrong. And now media outlets that make their bones covering the Buckeyes are talking themselves into writing columns convincing themselves that it’s a good thing they’re not eligible for the BCS title game because the numbers indicate they’d be shut out. You can taste the sour grapes.
If I were a dyed-in-the-wool Ohio State apologist/optimist, I suppose I’d take solace in two things.
One is the infrastructure that Urban Meyer is building for the program. He brought his reputation for ruthless (some would say borderline illegal) and top-notch recruiting from Gainesville to Columbus and is starting to restock the Ohio State cupboard with some scarily talented players.
Meyer also brought along his offense, which has starting QB Braxton Miller on pace for a season of both 2,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards and the Buckeyes scoring nearly 40 points/game. After proving that the spread can work in the SEC, Meyer’s doing the same in the smash-mouth Big Ten.
The second is the example set by the 1993 Auburn team. Even though they were banned from TV and postseason play and suffered reduced scholarships, the Tigers went 11–0, finished No. 4 in the AP Poll and forever gained the respect of fans on The Plains.
All that is well and good. But in the case of the former, Ohio State has to maintain a “Wait until next year mentality” — something that any impatient, diehard fan will admit is hard to do. And if you’re a player, you won’t be satisfied with being told, “What you’re accomplishing this season won’t count for anything, but your legacy will live on.” You want championships. You want the bowl game experience. You want to play more football beyond your regular season finale in November.
Yes, Ohio State is undefeated and cutting through the majority of its Big Ten schedule like a chainsaw. But when the trees fall in their forest, no one is there to hear them.
Chris Mahr is the managing editor of Lost Lettermen. His column appears Tuesdays and Thursdays. You can follow him on Twitter at @CMahrtian.