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Ohio State still has a ton to play for, even with championships likely off the table

The Buckeyes may have disappointed, but fans owe it to this special team to circle the wagons and focus on beating Michigan.

Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

It happened. The 18- and 22-year-olds you root for to be better at a game than all the other groups of 18- and 22-year-olds in the county lost a crucial match, and now the dream for your team to be champions again is likely dead.

Get over it.

It's OK to be sad, and disappointed, and even a little angry at what happened last week. It's easy to slip into using hyperbolic terms like "disaster" or "failure". Not only is it a little silly to let the fates of a group of kids have that much impact on your everyday demeanor (and it is, no matter how much a loss stings), but if you wallow that much in the pain of a loss, you're forgetting two important things.

The first is that for the last year we've all had the opportunity to witness something truly special, and a single loss shouldn't water that down.

When Ohio State lost way back in September of last year, just weeks after its starting quarterback went down with a season ending shoulder injury, all hope of a successful season seemed lost. I left Ohio Stadium that day ready to write off all thoughts of a championship, whether Big Ten or playoff.

What happened over the next 13 games was nothing less than astonishing. The Buckeyes rose from the ashes and, slowly but surely, strung together one of the most memorable college football seasons of my lifetime. The 2014 Buckeyes won games in every way possible. They destroyed teams by 40 points. They won in overtime. They squeaked out narrow wins on enemy fields. When their Heisman candidate quarterback went down, the next man up defied all odds and led the team through an epic post-season run.

The 2014 season was truly special, a once-in-a-lifetime ride. I'll remember the the 59-0 beat down of Wisconsin forever. I'll remember the over-stimulated, super-energized feeling of beating Alabama on New Year's Day forever. I'll remember watching the confetti fall on Urban Meyer, Cardale Jones, Ezekiel Elliott, and the rest of that team after whipping the Ducks forever.

I counted myself lucky in January to have watched it all unfold, and that hasn't changed. In fact, after watching Ohio State trip all over itself last weekend, the one thing I found myself thinking was how lucky our fans were to have experienced last year's miracle season. Seasons like that don't come along every year - last Saturday's loss proves that. It's rare when the talent, and coaching, and luck all line like last year. It's a little cliche, but the seasons that fall short make the successes that much sweeter. As trivial as college football really is, in the grand scheme of things, it's still an important enough tradition, and institution, and shared cultural experience that we owe it to the 2014 Ohio State Buckeye team to continue appreciating their campaign even when they fail to meet our expectations now.

Now the second thing to remember.

After Saturday's loss, I heard lots of cries about the season being over, about there being nothing left to play for now that a playoff berth seems all but foreclosed. Lost among the grumblings about coaching and locker room issues is the fact that we're entering what should be one of the best weeks of the season. It's Beat Michigan Week! The Game! This week is one of the finest traditions in all of sports. It's the constant for Ohio State fans. When teams have struggled to get over .500, when teams have been well out of the championship hunt, there's always been the chance to beat Michigan and label the season a success. Don't lose sight of that.

Beating Michigan has important implications this year. Most importantly, beating Michigan is key to Ohio State returning to the Big Ten Championship Game for the third year in a row. Whatever chance there is that Sparty falls to the Nittany Lions, unless Ohio State takes care of its business, it is all moot. Without a win on Saturday, the Buckeyes have no prayer of any championships.

Even beyond the Buckeyes' own title hopes, there's an incredibly fun opportunity on Saturday to poison all the good vibes Michigan folks are feeling about Jim Harbaugh's triumphant return to Ann Arbor. I'm sure Ohio State fans were insufferable when Urban Meyer came on board, but I'm equally certain that Michigan fans would have loved to spoil Urban's first season by upsetting the Buckeyes. They didn't, but that doesn't mean Ohio State can't. Marching into the Big House, on the last regular season game of Harbaugh's cinderella season, and punching the Wolverines in the mouth before hightailing it back to Ohio would go a long way toward easing the pain of Saturday's loss, whether or not it leads to a Big Ten Championship berth. Beating Michigan is always entertaining; when the team is riding high, it's even more fun.

And finally, there's Buckeye pride on the line here. The Game is a chance for this team to prove its not just a one-hit wonder, not a paper-tiger, that's its, in fact, a cohesive and powerful force, nine units strong, that can represent the State of Ohio on the national stage. That's got to still mean something. Buckeye fans cannot become so drunk on success that they lose sight of the rivalries that have defined Ohio State for generations. The football team and its fans, must finish the job of this season.

The Sparty loss hurts, but Buckeye faithful cannot let that loss tarnish the memory of this team's truly unique successes over the last 12 months or lose sight of the fantastic opportunity this team has to participate in the greatest rivalry in sports on Saturday. Like the team itself, the fans must shake it off and focus on the job at hand:

Beating Michigan.