Andrew Holleran / Photo editor
Since the day Urban Meyer arrived in Columbus to coach the Ohio State football team, fans have been preparing for this season as they would any other, despite the team’s bowl ban.
I’m warning you now, Buckeye Nation is going to regret that in the end.
OSU finished 2011 with seven losses, but the Meyer-led Buckeyes still earned placement in the Associated Press’ preseason top 25 poll.
The No. 18 Buckeyes then made short work of Miami (Ohio) to begin the bowl-less, postseason-less campaign.
The opening win against the RedHawks was throttling – Meyer showed no mercy and sent the Scarlet and Gray marching up and down the field on touchdown drives up until the final minute of the 56-10 pounding.
Fans cheered louder still, increasingly hopeful that OSU can upset the rest of the Big Ten Conference and throw a scarlet-colored wrench into the postseason picture for the rest of college football.
The ranking increased too – OSU jumped to No. 14 when the AP released its second poll of the young college football season Tuesday.
Now, the Buckeyes are heavy favorites against Central Florida, a team most figure will put up far more fight than the RedHawks did before limping out of Ohio Stadium. Meyer’s squad could very well make good on the 17 1/2 pointline put to OSU, according to vegas.com.
Should OSU beat a formidable UCF team, the cheers of the fans will grow louder. The hands bearing wrenches will cock back even farther in anticipation of the Buckeyes upsetting the rest of the Bowl Championship Series-eligible teams.
How high can the Buckeyes climb in the rankings? Will they win the Leaders Division and therefore assign an asterisk to the team that advances to the championship game in their place? And, as I suspect many OSU fans would like, will Buckeye Nation forever be able to stamp a permanent “What if?” on this college football season? As in, “Sure, Team X won the national title, but what if the Buckeyes had been eligible?”
The rhetorical debate about whether OSU would have beaten the eventual national champion would serve as the ultimate taunt to the NCAA and opposing fans that relished in this university’s bowl ban.
The Buckeyes may well mount a case as the best team in the Big Ten by season’s end. Sure, OSU could also run the table. And with Meyer at the helm, the team is that much less likely to falter during one of those tricky night games on the road later this season, such as the contests in East Lansing, Mich., and Madison, Wis., this fall.
Then Buckeyes fans can go to the Big Ten title game in Indianapolis and have their fun – taunt both the winner and the loser of the game because, hey, what if the Buckeyes had been around for it? No one can say OSU wouldn’t have won.
Yes, I can hear it now: “What if we were eligible?”
My caution to each Buckeyes fan is that this very mindset is the real taunt. It’s the Scarlet and Gray-clad fans of Columbus that will suffer, not the fans in Ann Arbor, Mich., or Baton Rouge, La., or Tuscaloosa, Ala., or even Los Angeles for that matter.
If OSU has the best record in its division or goes undefeated or loses only a single game as so many Buckeyes fans hope and then ascends to the top of the AP poll, well, there will be misery in the end. Everyone will walk out of Ohio Stadium on Nov. 24 after the Buckeyes beat Michigan, high-fiving and “what if-ing” the whole damn nation. But after the Buckeyes fans go their separate ways after that game, they won’t be reconvening in a tropical location where the team will play for a new addition to the trophy case.
That’s it. All that’s left, really, will be speculation. All the “what if’s” will be rebuked by the college football fans of the world, and rightfully so.
After all, you won’t even be sitting on the sidelines during bowl season – you and I will be sitting at home in frigid Ohio on our couches.
“What if?,” an Alabama fan might say to a Buckeyes fan prior to the national title game. “What if Jim Tressel ran a clean program? Then you could join me in the stadium and we could find out what OSU’s really made of.”
Then, the Alabama fan, ticket in hand, would smirk and turn to begin the final walk into the stadium in the tropical locale where he or she will meet his postseason destiny.
Not Buckeye Nation, though. Not this year. You can “what if” and taunt all you like – the fact is that the rest of the country will proceed to the bowl games with all the pageantry and sparkly souvenirs.
By no means does the postseason ban mean we should root against the Buckeyes or pray for a loss or two just so we aren’t tortured by the thoughts – the what if’s – of how we might have fared in the national title game, or some other BCS game.
I don’t know what the alternative is. For my friends and readers numbered among those that are hoping OSU upsets the national postseason picture, maybe I’m hoping there’s an opponent lurking on OSU’s schedule that undoes all the potential “what-if’s” and puts to bed the notion that this team has national title potential. At least this would help prevent the inevitable heartache that will accompany theorizing about what OSU could have done.
Can’t say I’m not looking out for you.
All I’m saying is that Columbus is going to be pretty quiet and pretty unhappy as bowl bids are handed out in late November. ESPN won’t be talking about the Buckeyes anymore; the focus will inevitably shift to those teams left standing.
No all-access TV specials. No flights to Miami or Pasadena. You couldn’t even go back to Jacksonville for the Gator Bowl if you wanted to, not that many of you went back in January when you had the chance.
No new T-shirts. No pep rallies. It will all be over.
But doesn’t this sound like an empty fate to be actively rooting for? Think hard – is a would-have-been-BCS-bowl-eligible OSU team really what you want from the 2012 season?
If so, you could be regretting that while you’re sitting on your coach watching the bowls in December and January.