There are times throughout the day where I think back to last season’s Ohio State run to the National Championship and can’t help but smile. It was a season that couldn’t be scripted any better. It was a season where we beat the number one and number two seed with a team led by a third string quarterback. It was Zeke’s breakout performance, and a championship game that will go down in history. It was a true showing of overcoming obstacles, overcoming early defeat, and proving we wanted it more than anyone else.
Coming into this season, like most Ohio State fans, I expected a continuation of that drive, that “us against the world” mentality that took us through a 13 game win streak to finish the season, fighting our way to the top. We showed glimpses against Virginia Tech, and Braxton Miller made us remember how great he is as a player. The next five games, we struggled offensively, showing a lack of cohesion and our defense, although stout at times, let a few big plays make the game closer than they should have been.
We started unanimous number one in both polls, a feat that has never been accomplished in the AP preseason poll ever, but because of these close games and issues, we have seen our mountain top begin to crumble. It is almost inconceivable to think we would be in this position. The talent we had, the returning starters, Urban Meyer as our coach, we should be proving we are the king each and every week, but at times we look more like the jester with turnovers and penalties. The media has already started mocking our crown, claiming we have no right to be the king, even though we are winning our games, holding on to that perfect record.
But what does a record mean? As I recall my memories of the 2014 season, I also remember that three seed in the college football playoff, the only undefeated team in the country last season, Florida State. They struggled, and won more games from behind then they did just a season before. Already the comparisons are being made between the Buckeyes and the Seminoles, doubts and questioning of a ranking that might not mean anything at this point in the season. I myself even questioned Florida State, and their position last season, thinking they might not be deserving because of the eye-test, and how they looked in their games. Undefeated might be great, and the name of the game, but all of a sudden, because the polls are by a committee of people, how you look means a little something more.
I then realized something about this season, something that needs to be addressed, or at least I feel needs to be said. There is a difference between being the hunter and being the hunted, no matter how good you are. Teams that are fighting for our spot are Baylor, TCU, Utah, LSU, Clemson, and now a resurging Michigan team with Harbaugh at the helm. I am not going to make excuses for our team, because we are getting everyone’s best shot, but as a fan, the reason why this season doesn’t seem as exciting is because we now feel a little more vulnerable. At some point a streak will end, a loss will be had, and we are playing to stay undefeated for as long as we can. The other teams, they get the momentum because they are going after us. Before the season, ESPN launched a commercial for the College Football Playoff with Urban Meyer addressing an “audience” and repeating the phrase “They’re coming.” And we are seeing it now. Teams are coming for us, and we want to know if we are up for the challenge.
That is what the grind is, the challenge from everyone, and the wear and tear of a season while trying to remain on top, to be perfect. We are quickly halfway through the regular season, and we are seeing that we have been challenged, both from our opponents, and our own mistakes. But we are hitting a stride, and I know we will get better. We played our best football on the last half of last season, and I think we will do the same. We will peak when we need to. The football season is not a sprint, it is a marathon, and we will see this second half of the marathon who are the contenders and who are the pretenders. If we keep winning, no matter how close, we will be in the playoff. And if we run the tables once more and win it all again, no one will talk about how close our games are, but instead how we found a way to win. After all, isn’t that the true purpose of the game?