DALLAS — Regardless of the outcome of Friday’s Cotton Bowl, Ohio State will not end the 2017 season with a national championship trophy.
At best, the Buckeyes’ resume will feature a Big Ten East division title, Big Ten conference championship and a Cotton Bowl victory. For most teams in college football, that is considered a successful season.
Ohio State is not most teams.
Many fans view the Buckeyes as national champions or bust. And while a win in the Cotton Bowl might help to alleviate the pain of not winning the title, it still does not quite meet the standard many have for the school.
“We want to go win because 12-2 isn’t a bad season,” freshman running back J.K. Dobbins said Tuesday. “It’s not great. It’s not what’s expected in Columbus, Ohio, but it’s a great season and this will be one of the best teams that we’ve had here.”
Quarterback J.T. Barrett said at any other school, a national championship would not be needed to make 2017 a successful year. A conference title is not something easily achieved, particularly among Power Five schools, and for many it has not seemed to be enough to justify Ohio State’s season.
“I think at Ohio State, it’s very interesting what we see as success,” Barrett said. “At other places, when you go 11-3, it’s a really good year. But at Ohio State, it’s not. It’s hard to win a conference championship in those Power Five conferences.”
But is that enough to justify calling 2017 a successful season? Based on preseason expectations set by followers of the team, it might not be.
Ohio State brings in top recruiting classes every year; it consistently is given some of the highest odds to finish the year as the top team in the nation; and it always has several players in postseason award discussions and early-NFL draft consideration. The expectations are high from the fans because the team always seems to be set up for a championship-caliber season.
While fans can have their own opinion on what determines a successful campaign, redshirt senior center Billy Price said those in the program keep much more reasonable preseason goals.
Those expectations start with the division title and the conference championship, Price said. Anything that comes after that is just a result of the pursuit of the Big Ten accomplishments, he said.
“If you’re in the program, you understand the business of college football. If you’re looking at it, a win or a success or a failure of a season based on a national championship, then you’re in the wrong business,” Price said. “If they don’t think that we have our own high expectations, you’re crazy. Because there’s a certain trait in your blood that says, ‘OK, that’s not acceptable at all.’ Three losses, conference championship.”
Even though Ohio State accomplished its goal of winning the Big Ten championship, it still felt defeated to an extent after it was omitted from the College Football Playoff. Every team strives to be the best in the country, and being kept out of the top four teams meant the Buckeyes would not have a chance to prove that in the postseason.
But Price said the team has no one to be upset about other than itself. Its path to the playoff — even after the loss to now-No. 2 Oklahoma in Week 2 — was clear: run the table and win the Big Ten. It did not accomplish the former. The Buckeyes lost 55-24 to an Iowa team that finished with a 7-5 record, and Price said a team with championship aspirations cannot afford to lose that game.
“We weren’t prepared or whatever the case, guys weren’t up for it, guys weren’t, you know, ‘OK, we’re going to walk in and just score 45, 50 points.’ Didn’t happen,” Price said.
Many were disappointed with the choice made by the College Football Playoff committee on Selection Sunday, but Price said the veterans, himself included, were not quite as devastated because they were already expecting the loss to Iowa would keep them out.
“There were a lot of guys who were upset, a lot of guys who were hurt about it,” Price said. “But again those guys don’t have the years, they don’t have the experience, they don’t have the amount of snaps that I’ve played and then some of the other things, the experiences that you’ve been through, so of course that hope is to be in the national championship.”
The 2017 season will be remembered for a lot. It will be the final year of Barrett and the rest of the decorated senior class. It will be the 39th season the Buckeyes have claimed a Big Ten title and it could potentially be the second time Ohio State claims a Cotton Bowl title.
It will not be remembered for a national championship. Many on the team are comfortable with that. But many will still reflect on the year, wondering what could have been.
“We’re here to win this Cotton Bowl, but I mean, I think about it sometimes because who doesn’t want to play in a national championship or compete for one,” Dobbins said. “That’s why I kind of think about it sometimes, but I think this is a great bowl as well.”