Indulge me, for just a paragraph or two.
In the 2004 Guillermo del Toro film Hellboy, there's a devastatingly cruel moment in which Ron Perlman's titular character gets set up for a reality check. Hellboy has been doing battle with a trans-dimensional monster called Sammael, destroying an awful lot of property along the way. He achieves a brief moment of triumph as he throws Sammael into the path of on oncoming train, and we all see the beast get absolutely wrecked.
But it turns out that Sammael actually means "hound of resurrection," which we learn when the shot cuts to Rasputin (it's a weird movie, alright), who beckons a revived Sammael out of the wreckage of the first. It's a major plot point, because Hellboy has to keep killing these things, and as soon as he does, another one appears. Sammael is far from the major antagonist of the film (hey, Rasputin), but he just keeps coming back no matter how many times he's killed.
As I watched the seconds tick away on New Year's Day, as Ohio State did the impossible and took down the heavily-favored Crimson Tide, it struck me that Ohio State was the Sammael of this college football season. Virginia Tech was our train-induced splattering. But after that... they did something weird: they kept coming back to life.
Ohio State was counted out as dead in August, when Braxton Miller went out for the year. They were counted out after that Virginia Tech game, and doubly so the following week when the Hokies fell to mighty East Carolina. A double-overtime head-scratcher against a milquetoast Penn State team only furthered the perception that Ohio State was not a team to be taken seriously. J.T. Barrett, the savior of the season, broke his ankle against Michigan -- you could hear the national desire to stick a fork in us.
But here's the thing. At some point in Hellboy, I started believing that maybe Sammael couldn't be killed. It was a logical fallacy, a seeming impossibility. And I reached that same point with this team. It was quiet at first, my belief that Ohio State might secretly be one of the best teams in the country. Then it grew into this nagging thing, the kind of thing you don't want to share with anybody because you're worried how silly it might sound coming out of your mouth. And then it erupted, announcing itself in dramatic fashion, until the Buckeyes couldn't be ignored.
Ezekiel Elliott had his coming-out party this year, racking up touchdowns as if they were the only currency that could buy him a jersey that was the correct size. Zeke ran wild all season, shouldering the load for the Buckeyes at times when his quarterbacks couldn't. Will any fan of the scarlet and gray ever forget that run against Alabama in the semifinal? That's a tell-your-grandkinds-where-you-were-when moment, along with about eight different carries from the Oregon game.
J.T. Barrett established himself as the smoothest man in college football for a season that was written off before it began. He got savvier and more dangerous by the week, making his case as one of the best quarterbacks in the country. Barrett looked classier on the ground clutching his broken ankle than I do in a suit (though my not knowing how to tie a tie might factor in here). I, for one, welcome Joe Thomas Barrett as our new overlord. If Texas fans don't hate Tyrone Swoopes already, they might after they find out that their program passed on Barrett for him.
Joey Bosa, who has been almost singlehandedly responsible for the popularity of the man bun (move over, Leo), is a scary-awesome beast who would be going to the NFL to make millions of dollars this spring, were he not so young. The EDM enthusiast was streaky at times, but we get him for another full season, and that's cause for some serious celebration. Cue up some Deadmau5 and get yourself psyched for 15 more games of Joey Bosa.
And then there's Cardale Jones. An enigma wrapped in a mystery wrapped in an infectious smile. Will the tale of Jones' career be another footnote? Is he simply a shooting star, making a brief, glorious appearance that is short in duration and long in impact? Is he the next great superstar? Is he probably above all of this fanboying on our part? Jones exceeded every expectation, and then went out and did it again, because that's just how he is. Jones' smile was as constant as his unflappable nature, and there may never be another story like his. The last three games were that singular.
In a way, it will be strange to enter next season as the heavy favorites to make a repeat run at the title. The Buckeyes, and Urban Meyer, were at their best this year when they were counted out. They embraced the underdog role (Meyer's now 6-0 against the odds as OSU's coach) in a manner that could fill a staggering amount of Bill Simmons "NOBODY BELIEVED IN US!!!" column inches. That reality is over and done with. Our new world is one of national respect (not counting clownbabies Mark May and Clay Travis, obviously), of lofty expectations, and of a seat at the table so hogged by the SEC all these years. Everyone will be gunning for Ohio State in 2015, not vice versa.
But we are months away from that noise, from the glorious carnival of sound and fury that the 2015 season will be. There are quarterback controversies to be argued, parades to be thrown, thinkpieces to be crafted and drafted. So we will close not by looking to the future, but by embracing the sweet whiff of the recent past. And now that it's all said and done, here's the chief difference between the Buckeyes and Sammael: it turns out the Buckeyes really couldn't be killed. A chain reaction of high-tech bombs placed in the spawning grounds of the hound of resurrection did in Rasputin's pet killer, but even three consecutive Heisman Trophy finalists being thrown at Ohio State wasn't enough to take down Urban Meyer's team. We are the champions until proven otherwise. It's good to be a Buckeye.