The 2014 edition of The Game won't be one Ohio State fans want to revisit anytime soon. Joey Bosa (and honestly, much of the defense as a whole) continued a string of less than his usual elite standards performances, marred by mistakes and penalties. The early quarters particularly showcased a Buckeye team struggle to maintain consistency after an extremely promising first two series.
Though the team appeared to show signs of improvement in the second -- mental lapses aside -- the entire atmosphere in the stadium was sucked out after Buckeyes signal caller and potential Heisman finalist J.T. Barrett had to be carted out of the stadium with an apparent ankle injury.
Whatever happens when the Buckeyes face either Wisconsin or Minnesota next week in Indianapolis remains to be seen, but it's a whole new season for the Buckeyes, one with more questions than answers. How will Cardale Jones fair as potentially the Buckeyes' principal signal caller? Can the Ohio State defense stop either Melvin Gordon or David Cobb when they need to? And perhaps more importantly, is this even a playoff team regardless of the answers to those?
3 things we learned:
1. Nothing at this point is certain. With J.T. Barrett gone for who knows how long, expect to see a lot more Jalin Marshall out of the Wildcat, and a lot more vanilla plays designed to minimize mistakes overall. How far that gets them is one thing, but whether the committee can even make any kind of certain assessments of a one game and change Ohio State team without their heart-and-soul is another all together.
The College Football Playoff committee is pretty clearly just much making it up as they go along, but how much will their decision making mirror the NCAA basketball tournament's after Kenyon Martin was lost for Cincinnati for the season, knocking the Bearcats down a seed line?
Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, if the incredibly small sample isn't inherently self evident, it's going to be difficult for the committee to give them the benefit of the doubt. And the margin of error in the Buckeyes' case might be the difference between making the playoff and not.
2. Sustained focus remains this team's Achilles' heel. The Buckeyes started this game like they were playing Michigan, but similar to so many other times this season, after getting a quick start, OSU seemed to lose their mental edge.
Given how intense Urban Meyer is, that kind of approach can act as a double edged sword. Though it can pull guys from nearly dialed in-to-laser focus in certain instances, when the goings get tough, it can also tighten the collar and make a team play anxious or tight.
When Ohio State plays focused for four quarters, they can play with anyone in the country. When they act like they've won a game after just one drive, even a 2014 Michigan team can take them to the wire.
3. ...and Michigan still sucks. Well, clearly not literally. The team's roster is still littered with 5-star talent and will almost assuredly be ushering in an entirely new coaching staff next year, but in a rivalry sense, it's [insert time] ... and you know the rest.
The Wolverines' brutal 2014 is mercy killed and at 5-7, there won't be a postseason in what has the makings of Brady Hoke's final season at the helm.
The Game remains The Game, however. No matter the records, no matter what preconceptions we have going into it, what we continue to see year in-year out is that anything can and will happen in rivalry games. Michigan was extremely game on Saturday, and with Devin Gardner having arguably the best game of his final season in maize and blue proceeded to give Ohio State all they could handle. The respectful rivalry aspect of said rivalry necessitates tipping the hat. Michigan played maybe their best game Saturday, and that's not for nothing.