When returning Big Ten MVP and presumed Heisman finalist Braxton Miller was lost for the season days before the season opener, I adjusted my expectations for the 2014 Ohio State Buckeyes.
Moved the goalposts, as it were.
"Man, this is terrible," I said to myself. "With that inexperienced line and a guy I've never heard a lot about at QB, I hope we can still beat Michigan. MSU, on the road? Not a chance. If we can't beat them, we can't win the Big Ten. We can still beat That Team Up North, though"
So I moved the goalposts of expectations to a realistic level.
When Ohio State lost at home to Virginia Tech, I moved the goalposts even further.
"Wow. That was bad. The offensive line and the quarterback are terrible. The defense still has the same issues left over from last year--consistency and giving up the big plays, and they can't cover for the offense. This is a four or five loss team. We might not even beat ... them."
In the span of a month, more or less, I went from thinking Ohio State was a legitimate playoff team, to a top end version of a Jim Tressel team (think Rose Bowl/Sugar Bowl teams at the end of his tenure), to a four or five loss team that was racked with critical losses and inexperience at key positions, something along the lines of Earle Bruce's 1987 team.
That 1987 team beat Michigan, though, so that was my lifeline.
But a funny thing happened on the way to New Era Pinstripe Bowl. Ohio State got a little bit better after that Virginia Tech game, week by week. And as the wins ticked off, I thought about maybe moving the goalposts a little bit more towards ‘really good'. I mean, three straight 50 point games to open the conference schedule will do that. J.T Barrett improved, the defense got better, yet a big night game against Penn State loomed. As Penn State came from 17 down to take the lead in overtime, it just seemed that this team could not stop the oncoming wave.
Until they did.
Yeah, it took two overtimes and a superhuman play from DE Joey Bosa, but they survived. A white out at night had felled more than one good Ohio State quarterback, and it was, as Urban Meyer later said, a game where his young Buckeyes squad became ‘mentally tough'. And they grew up, just in time to meet the one remaining obstacle preventing them from going to Indianapolis-Michigan State.
Last year, Michigan State stopped the Buckeye train, derailed it, and blew up the tracks en route to a conference championship game win. The loss knocked OSU out of whatever BCS title game talk they were in, and left a fanbase dejected. And as good as Ohio State had been playing leading up to that game, I just thought it was a bridge too far for the good guys.
Then they went out and proceeded to whip MSU, on their home field, and hung nearly 50 points on what many people thought was the best defense in the Big Ten.
Naturally, I moved the goalposts back again. I think we all did.
"Hey, this team might not get to the playoffs, but we can win the Big Ten."
And then J.T. Barrett broke his ankle in the 4th quarter of the Michigan game.
I not only moved the goalpost yet again, I didn't even consider the fact that OSU could beat Wisconsin and secure a playoff spot.
Because, as it's been well documented here and elsewhere ... I am a dope.
"Look, it's Wisconsin. Melvin Gordon should've won the Heisman. He can't be stopped. And the college football playoff? Come on, man. They'd have to beat the Badgers 50-0. And Ohio State is starting Cardale Jones. That isn't happening, it just isn't."
I actually said that to a fellow OSU buddy of mine, almost verbatim. And even though I was cool with whatever happened in the B1G championship game, wherever OSU ended up come bowl season was fine with me. I surmised the Buckeyes were playing with house money for the rest of the season. You can't expect a big win here. My thinking was give Cardale Jones those extra 15 practices, and he can be the next Kenny Guiton ... which really isn't that bad of a gig.
Improbably, they won 59-0, in the most dominating a performance I can remember an Ohio State team playing in a long, long time.
I now moved the goalposts to the playoffs. But man ... Alabama.
Ala-freakin'-bama. Wisconsin was one thing ... but this was the Evil Empire, led by Darth Vader in crimson.
Goal posts? Moved, again.
"This has been a great season, but all good things come to an end. OSU won't get blown out, but you can't expect Cardale Jones to come in and beat the Crimson Tide. I mean, they have the best defense in the country, one of the best offenses, and they steamrolled most of the SEC. It's been a fun ride, but you can't squeeze blood from a turnip. And I'm going to HATE hearing BLAH BLAH SEC SEC BLAH BLAH SEC all off season. Damn it."
Let me emphasize yet again -- I am a dope. But Phyllis from Mulga? Gold, Jerry. GOLD!
So now, improbably, Ohio State is playing for a national championship. When they were written off before the season began, I moved the goalposts. In September, after the Virginia Tech game, I moved the goalposts. When J.T. Barrett got hurt, I moved the goalposts. Before the Alabama game, I moved the goalposts.
Most everyone is now telling me Oregon will blow out Ohio State, their fast paced offense will wear down the Buckeyes, and they will face a fate the same as Florida State.
Okay. Cool story, bro. Tell it again, because I've heard it half a dozen times about this team this season. After what I've seen the last month or so, let people think what they want. I know what I see, I know Ohio State has the best football coach in the country, and come Monday night, we'll see if they have the best team. I'm done doubting this group, and I'm done moving the goalposts.
I don't give a damn for the whole state of Oregon, we're from O-HI-O.
Go Bucks, Beat Oregon. Win the whole damn thing.