Coming into the year, it was hard to argue that the Ohio State football team — the one returning almost all of its playmakers and coming off a dominant run in the first-ever College Football Playoff — was not the top college squad for the 2015 season.
After the Associated Press Top 25 poll was released on Sunday, however, it is nearly impossible to make a case for any other team heading in.
The Buckeyes received all 61 possible first-place votes to secure the title of the first team ever to be selected No. 1 unanimously in the preseason poll — and that’s still without a No. 1 quarterback on the depth chart.
It is an achievement for OSU and a testament to the talent coach Urban Meyer — now entering his fourth season with the Scarlet and Gray — and the rest of the staff has assembled and developed.
Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, preseason championships don’t typically get pennants hung in the stadium.
That’s not to say they won’t make it two-for-two in CFP championships. In fact, it would take a very strong case to convince me that they won’t repeat, barring major injuries or unforeseen circumstances — though that didn’t stop them last year.
But, if recent history is any indication, there is nothing resembling a sure championship anymore.
Sure, the Chicago Bulls and New York Yankees of the 1990s were sure coming into the year that they would take home the title, and did so with little trouble.
But more recently, the 2014-15 Kentucky Wildcats were hyped as one of the best college basketball teams ever. They lived up to the hype with an undefeated regular season, but after narrowly escaping Notre Dame in the Elite Eight, lost to Wisconsin in the Final Four.
The 2007 New England Patriots were a similar tale, making a mockery out of their regular season en route to the first 16-0 season, but eventually lost to a seemingly far inferior New York Giants team in the Super Bowl.
The 2002 Miami Hurricanes were one of the most impressive batches of future NFL talent ever put together on a college team and were coming off a national title in the previous season. Well, about all OSU fans know how their season ended.
Those three examples are teams that did get the job done throughout the regular season only to fall flat at the end. It’s not even including teams such as the 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers or 2011 Philadelphia Eagles who not only didn’t win a championship, but just barely even made the playoffs.
Sky-high expectations can be used as a confidence boost or rallying point, but too many times they can also be used to topple a team from the top.
At the 2015 Big Ten Media Days in Chicago, Meyer mentioned the difficulties of getting his 2007 Florida Gators team — one coming off a national championship the year before — to maintain that same level of grit and intensity from the year prior. That team, despite possessing a lot of the same talent from the championship team and the Heisman Trophy winner in quarterback Tim Tebow, only went 9-4.
Whether it is a massive target on a team’s back, a loss of drive and determination or simply the pressure of living up to the expectations thrust upon you, it is usually easier for a team vastly considered to be the best to fail to get it done. And for the Buckeyes, this is an unprecedented amount of expectations, with every voter the AP has expecting them to be the best.
It’s a tall mountain to climb to reach the peak, and sometimes when you start so high up it can be even more difficult to get the momentum to keep climbing.
Both repeating as champions and living up to incredible projections are things that can trip up any team. Managing to keep the team upright is something that — having come up flat the year after a championship team before — Meyer doesn’t just monitor, but actively deals with all season long.