Ohio State will not win a national championship this season. It will not even reach the College Football Playoff.
The Buckeyes’ second loss of the season, a 55-24 blowout to Iowa Saturday, made sure of that.
As far as many Ohio State fans are concerned, the 2017 campaign is effectively over. Quarterback J.T. Barrett’s Buckeye career will end in a meaningless bowl game, and the rest of the team will begin to look to next season.
So what’s next for Ohio State?
Head coach Urban Meyer said Monday that keeping the Buckeyes motivated with few remaining game in their schedule is something he has not considered too much.
“That’s something we work on not today, that’s something we’ve been working on all year,” Meyer said. “And you try to get a close team that cares about each other and plays really hard. It’s not going to be some speech I give to the team. So it’s a process. It’s a journey that we’re on. And there’s still plenty of things, great things ahead.”
Though players and coaches will say the Big Ten is still theirs to take — and they’re not wrong — that is not what Ohio State sought to accomplish when it began the year. Players, coaches, media and fans all set the expectation level for the Buckeyes to win a championship. Despite the fact Meyer has won just one Big Ten title in his six-year tenure at Ohio State, winning the Big Ten is tertiary to reaching the playoffs and winning a title.
If Ohio State wins the remainder of its three regular season games — against Michigan State, Illinois and Michigan — then it will travel to Indianapolis to presumably square off against the Wisconsin Badgers, who are one win from clinching the Big Ten West title.
For Meyer, the matchup against Michigan State is as far as he is looking ahead. Just as it has for a large part of Meyer’s career in Columbus, the road to the Big Ten title game runs through that matchup.
“You still look at the standings and Ohio State and Michigan State are [first and second] in the Big Ten East,” Meyer said. “And everybody knows this game for the last, what’s our sixth year of playing them or something, usually it’s just a prizefight. So the tougher team usually wins. And we’ve got to understand what we’re going to play against.”
Even if Ohio State runs the table and captures Meyer’s second Big Ten championship, this season is lost for many.
And this year defines the end of an era. The core group of players that led Ohio State to a national championship, two playoff appearances, a Big Ten title and another bowl game win will exit Ohio Stadium for the final time against Illinois, leaving the Buckeyes with a plethora of position battles heading into the next season.
With so many potentially drastic changes coming to Ohio State’s roster and the struggles this veteran team has faced thus far this season, it is fair to wonder whether Ohio State will be back in the mix next season.
How will the team fare with a new quarterback under center and an offensive line replacing its two top linemen protecting him? What about a defensive line that could potentially lose four starters?
Those asking the questions might not want to admit it, but next season could prove less fruitful than this campaign. It is going to be a young team replacing key contributors all over the field, and a learning curve will await. Those disappointed by the results in 2017 could be disappointed by 2018.
Perhaps the difference in expectation levels will lessen the blow of a down year for the Buckeyes. Knowing that the team is younger could make a title-less season easier to stomach.
The Buckeyes entered the 2017 season as the favorite to win the Big Ten and among those listed as most likely to win the national championship. That they will not achieve the latter is a devastating blow and the former would be only a mere consolation prize. Though it is still early, the Buckeyes do not appear to be in a position to be named the early favorite to win the Big Ten or national championship next year.
To many outside the program, the season is over. To those inside the program, the season is still alive and well. There will be no talk of the 2018 season until the clock in that meaningless bowl game ticks down to zero.
“Where is the program headed?” Meyer asked. “That’s kind of deep. We’re playing Michigan State this week. We gotta really practice well and fix the turnover issue on offense and play a little better on defense. Kicking was much better.”