It's not fun to dwell on Saturday's loss to Michigan State, or the crushing disappointment that has resulted from it. It felt like the successes of 2012 and 2013 were negated by that loss. It felt like every narrative surrounding Ohio State leading up to that game suddenly carried weight. That loss was so much bigger than breaking the winning streak and not winning the Big Ten. The Buckeyes had a viable shot at a National Championship, and it all came down to that one game. The Buckeyes had the opportunity to establish some real credibility for the program, and it slipped away.
The Orange Bowl bid feels like a consolation prize. Does it really even matter, when hopes for a shot at a National Championship were so high? While it's hard to shift toward excitement about seeing the Buckeyes take on Clemson in the Orange Bowl, a win in that game can benefit the program in many ways. It's imperative for the Buckeyes to shake off the disappointment, and bounce back and get focused on beating Clemson.
Quarterback Braxton Miller was a Heisman favorite when the 2013 season began, and for myriad reasons, primarily missing time due to injury, Miller slipped completely out of contention. A strong showing in the Orange Bowl against Clemson could entrench Miller in voters' minds as a viable favorite for the Heisman next season, assuming, of course, that Miller returns for his senior season.
Does it matter if Braxton Miller wins a Heisman, or is a viable contender? Yes. It matters for recruiting purposes, and it makes the program more credible. Coveted recruits want to know that the Buckeyes have a program that is not only capable of being a relevant contender for bowl season, but is also able to put players in contention for top honors, like the Heisman.
Another reason it's important for the Buckeyes to learn from their loss to the Spartans and correct mistakes for success over Clemson is, people love to hate Urban Meyer, and it rubs them the wrong way when he wins. The problem for them is, Meyer wins a lot. Meyer's detractors are having a field day with Saturday's loss, reveling in it, but Meyer's overall win percentage, .842, is good for third all-time in NCAA history.
That's why Meyer looked so dejected sitting in a golf cart, eating cold, stale pizza in the depressing hallways of Lucas Oil Stadium. He's a winner. He rarely loses. He takes losses to heart. That's one of the best attributes a program can have in their head coach. Meyer doesn't want that tragic, depressing pizza-eating photo to be the enduring image from this season, and the Buckeyes can establish a different, celebratory image to remember the 2013 season by with a win in the Orange Bowl.
The Buckeyes need to beat Clemson, too, to shift the narrative. Following the loss to Michigan State, the narrative was at its strongest. Ohio State hadn't played anyone of consequence, so when they finally did, their weaknesses were exposed. Overrated State University. "This will forever prove the SOUTH has the best football teams and play the tougher schedule." (That last one is verbatim from an email I received from a hybrid Auburn/Alabama/FSU fan, and it's unclear how a loss to Michigan State proves southern football superiority even short-term, much less forever, but I digress.)
Clemson is a team with a great deal of credibility. Quarterback Tajh Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins have the ability to exploit the Buckeyes' obvious weaknesses in coverage. A win won't come easily for the Buckeyes. But, a win can restore credibility to a program that is 24-1 over the course of two seasons.
Meyer says he is confident the team will rebound to prevail against Clemson. The players and coaches are focusing on finishing the season the right way. Meyer used the word "heartbroken" to describe the team's reaction to the loss, and who can blame them? The Buckeyes can channel that disappointment and heartbreak into the focus they will need to prepare to take on Clemson.