Michigan Fitting Ending To Bowl-Banned Season

Saturday's Michigan game will be unique version of the rivalry for members of the Ohio State football team. The Buckeyes know that because of a postseason ban, their season will come to a close in The Game. It's a good way to go out, players say, but emotions will still be raw.

It's not quite the Kennedy assassination, but the seniors on the Ohio State football team remember where they were a season ago when the prospects for their final campaigns changed forever.

Many of the Buckeyes were taking part in a charity visit to a local hospital when the news broke – not the ideal situation to receive bad news.

Head coach Urban Meyer has described the feeling as a shot to the gut before. The players, who had been reassured by the athletic department that such a punishment was unlikely, were equally as floored.

"I don't think anyone saw it coming," fifth-year safety Zach Domicone said Monday. "It really was shocking. Everyone was kind of at a loss for words. People were angry. We were in the hospital visiting patients and that's when it broke. It was on TVs, on ESPN. People were like, ‘How do you feel that you can't play in a bowl game?' and we were like, ‘What are you talking about?' "

While the political fallout of that decision continues to be debated – Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said Monday that the university made its best decision it could at the time to not ban the 2011 team from the postseason – there is one fact that cannot be argued: The 21 seniors on the roster will be playing their last games in scarlet and gray Saturday.

But for Zach Boren, Dalton Britt, Ben Buchanan, Domicone, Reid Fragel, Garrett Goebel, Travis Howard, Orhian Johnson, Storm Klein, William McCary, Ross Oltorik, Vincent Petrella, Taylor Rice, Etienne Sabino, Justin Siems, John Simon, Stewart Smith, Kharim Stephens, Jacob Stoneburner and Nathan Williams, there is one silver lining – they will be going out with history on the line in the historic matchup with Michigan.

"It's kind of fitting," Domicone said. "The chance to go 12-0 against the team up north and then that's it. I know our seniors will give it our all. There's definitely something special added to it."

Indeed, this is a unique opportunity for the Buckeyes, whose recent streak of success has meant that 12 consecutive teams have finished their careers with trips to warm locales for December or January bowl games.

The last squad to see its season end against the Wolverines was the 1999 team, which was 6-5 and needed a win in Ann Arbor to qualify for postseason play. Instead, the Buckeyes left with a 24-17 loss to the No. 10 Wolverines to bring the campaign to a sudden completion.

In fact, one has to go back to 1988 to find a team that knew beforehand that its campaign was ending vs. the Maize and Blue. John Cooper's first squad was 4-5-1 going into the Michigan game, and the Rose Bowl-bound Wolverines posted a 34-31 win that year.

Indeed, in a series in which The Game usually has Big Ten and national championship implications, it's hard to find many examples of it serving as a season capper for either side. That's what makes the Buckeyes' current situation so unique.

"It is kind of hard to think about but then again, I don't think it will really hit me or hit the seniors until after the Michigan game when we're like, ‘Man, we really just played for the last time in the scarlet and gray,' " said Boren, who grew up in a Michigan household before making the switch. "I think it is kind of unique that my last college game is against the team up north. It should be fun."

While the game will be one that will go down in the history of the rivalry's lore, there is a certain finality that the Buckeye players will have to deal with. For someone like fifth-year safety Orhian Johnson, the fact that there is only one game to go hits home.

"It's mixed feelings right now," Johnson said. "I really don't know how I feel about it. There's going to be a lot of things going on, there's going to be a lot of emotions. It's the circle of life, man. I just had to deal with what it is and I wouldn't trade it for the world. It made me who I am today, and I'm thankful for it."

Up to this point, the Buckeyes have made the most of their bowl banned season. Ohio State will become the sixth team in school history to be unbeaten or untied with a win, as the team has shown a remarkable focus even while knowing a chance to play for the BCS title or the Big Ten championship was off the table.

What is still possible is the chance to set an enduring legacy.

"A lot of the seniors and leaders on this team dealt with what we could and really tried to find a way to salvage this season that we had in front of us because that's all we had was 12 games," Johnson said. "That's all anybody has ever promised, so we just tried to make the best out of it. If we were sitting here 0-11, nobody would be worrying about it."

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