By Pete Fiutak
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Path To The Playoff: Ohio State, Part 2
Until the end of human existence, Ohio State will always be first.
Even if a Reggie Bush-like scenario comes up and some phony-baloney governing body gets asterisk happy, and no matter how college football determines a national champion ten, 25, 100 years from now, the Ohio State Buckeyes won the first ever College Football Playoff national championship. Nothing can ever take the historical accomplishment away.
So now what?
The bar is always set at an impossibly high level in Columbus, and that’ll never change as long as Urban Meyer is at the helm. But even for the biggest monster of monstrous college football programs, the national title expectations this season are going to be about four notches above 38-0 Kentucky basketball level.
And what not? 2015, not 2014, was the year everything was supposed to come together and gel – the Buckeyes just so happened to win the national championship a season early. There’s an abundance of riches across the board, the Meyer recruiting classes are kicking in full-force, and things are just like they’re supposed to be in Columbus.
Unfortunately, though, Ohio State still has to deal with the formality of the season before it can book tickets to either the Orange or Cotton Bowl.
OSU will be everyone’s preseason No. 1 team – unless someone is trying to be trolling/quirky/different – with the schedule, the talent and the coaching in place to get back into the fun for a second year in a row. It’s still going to be a fight, though, as the hunted on Ohio State’s Path to the Playoff.
Step One: Accept that the quarterback situation is going to be a distraction and just live with it.
The Buckeyes have three of the best quarterbacks in college football in Cardale Jones, Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett, but even though everyone wants to make a huge deal out of the derby for the starting gig, Jones is the only one who’s healthy. Barrett is coming back quickly from his broken ankle, but he’s still going to be a question mark when August camp kicks in, and Miller’s banged up shoulder is still healing.
Meyer has to continue to play this loose until he knows everything he has to deal with, but it’s obviously an easy choice if Jones is the only 100% healthy option. If everyone is okay and looks and plays like they’re supposed to in the fall, then there’s really no right or wrong answer other than to simply go with the guy who appears to be the best option for right now and this season.
Meyer’s biggest task might be to keep the team from dividing into camps and taking sides in the debate – the media will be happy to fuel that fire all summer. As long as there’s an attitude that the best players get the top spots on the depth chart – always – then the controversy ends. The second-biggest job might be to make sure the backups in the pecking order stay happy and there’s no second-guessing whenever the starter struggles.
Considering he has more of a pro future as a receiver or a running back, will Miller switch positions? Will Barrett take a year off to let his leg fully heal? Did Jones put off possibly being a first round draft pick because he knew he’d be the main man? It’s going to be college football’s biggest soap opera.
Step Two: You’re the defending national champion. Act the part.
The rhetoric is going to be so obvious. Meyer is going to grouse about how this year’s team is missing this, or how it’s being overrated because of that, and the No. 1 ranking is ridiculous because of a variety of pretend issues, but he has to say that. He can’t come out and tell the world that his 2015 Ohio State Buckeyes are absolutely loaded and should obliterate everyone and everything in their path.
But he should.
Of course the players know they’re good, and of course the coaches know this team is great, and of course everyone around the program thinks a playoff berth is a must, but there’s a difference between overconfidence and swagger. Unlike the end of last year, though, Ohio State could actually use the Nobody Believes In Us mantra, because it was true.
Last year’s team came into the Big Ten championship against Wisconsin as the underdog – one 59-0 win later, and it was off to the playoff.
The Buckeyes couldn’t handle an SEC champion like Alabama in the Sugar Bowl – until they got nasty and physical. They couldn’t stop the high-powered, Heisman-led Oregon attack in the national championship – until they did. But the key to the three massive wins to close out the season wasn’t due to any sort of smoke-screen motivation. Ohio State won the national championship because of brutally efficient and effective execution, and it could and should do that again.
This is the best team in college football. It’s okay to know that and play accordingly.
Step Three: Dominate, just in case.
The precedent of caring mostly about conference champions was set in the first year of the playoff, but it also helped the committee’s cause that Ohio State thundered its way to a Big Ten title. The criteria isn’t going to waiver in the second year, but the committee’s job is still to pick what it believes to be the four best teams in college football for the playoff, and Ohio State has to protect itself.
A two-loss season – even with a Big Ten title – guarantees nothing, but a 12-1 championship campaign would make the Buckeyes a mortal lock to get in. However, what if they go 12-1 with the defeat coming in the conference title game?
Ohio State has to instill an attitude that every game matters and appearances will count. If it limps along to a 12-0 regular season like Florida State did last year, there might not be any margin for error. But if it crushes everyone along the way to an undefeated regular season, then one bad night in Indianapolis might be forgiven.
Path To The Playoff: Ohio State, Part 2
Path To The Playoff: Ohio State
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