The dust has settled, the bowls have been announced, and as expected, Ohio State won't be getting a chance to defend their title in this year's college football playoff. They also won't get a chance to go to the Rose Bowl for the first since since their 2010 victory over Oregon, since the Rose decided to take the Big Ten team ranked higher in the final playoff rankings, the Iowa Hawkeyes. Instead, Ohio State will head back to their familiar postseason stomping grounds, the Fiesta Bowl, to take on Notre Dame.
It's not the playoff. It's not the Rose Bowl. But it's fine, and honestly, it's about what Ohio State deserved.
Despite not being a game that could determine the national champion, there's still plenty at stake in a big bowl against Notre Dame. When it comes to recruiting, no other program, except possibly Michigan, threatens Ohio State's dominance in the state of Ohio like Notre Dame. That's especially true in the fertile areas around Cincinnati, where a robust parochial school system has led to lots of success for Notre Dame over the years. The Buckeyes and the Irish will go head to head for multiple top prospects in the 2017 class and beyond, and you better believe all of those kids will be watching this game.
It's a compelling game for so many other reasons, too. Ohio State's improved secondary will be sorely tested by Notre Dame's excellent Will Fuller, and what is one of the statistically most explosive offenses in the entire country. Their rushing attack will test Ohio State's elite front, and their defensive front will provide an opportunity to see how lasting the improvements to Ohio State's offense will be. If you strip all the recruiting implications and the helmets and shamrocks away, this would be a fun football game on pure Xs and Os merits alone.
But it isn't some random team -- it's Notre Dame. Urban Meyer coached there. So did Tim Hinton. So did Tony Alford. So did Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith. Notre Dame's QB, DeShone Kizer, is an Ohio kid that never got a committable Buckeye offer, and he's never forgotten about it. Daniel Cage, one of Notre Dame's best defensive players, is an Ohio kid that got away. These are two fanbases that already don't really like each other that much. With everything combined, it should be a worthwhile, fun, and important bowl game.
Many Buckeye fans, and undoubtedly the Buckeye players, are disappointed by the pairing, and by their lower playoff ranking. They might point to Ohio State's lofty rating in the F/+ rankings, where they are fourth (Iowa is 25th). They might point to their superior strength of schedule compared to Iowa, or their superior quality win, a trouncing of Michigan on the road. They may look at their recruiting rankings, their NFL talent all over the field, and conclude that Ohio State should be in the playoff four anyway, or at least, the Rose.
But for me, it's hard to get too worked up over any perceived slight in heading to the Fiesta Bowl.
Without a Big Ten title, or even a divisional title, it's hard to make a real argument that Ohio State should be in the final four, especially since they really only have one excellent win. And for all the haranguing about Ohio State's strength of schedule over the course of the season, it bares repeating that Ohio State only truly dominated one of those teams, Rutgers, who just hired away Ohio State's defensive coordinator to be their new head coach and fix the mess there.
Ohio State played maybe only three complete games approaching their potential all season, and were a little fortunate to get past Indiana and Northern Illinois. Those performances, in light of a lack of other quality wins, won't build up any goodwill or benefit of the doubt, no matter what Ohio State did last season, or how many Buckeyes get taken in the first round of April's 2016 NFL Draft. Iowa, fairly or not, earned that goodwill. And it's hard to get too upset over the Hawkeyes getting a rare trip to Pasadena.
Fair or not, Ohio State was going to be judged this season against the absolutely massive expectations for this team, given their talent level. Those expectations weren't adjusted after Ohio State lost a major WR contributor to injury before the season started, and another just a few weeks in, leaving Ohio State to trot out multiple players who aren't actually WRs at WR.
Those expectations were not adjusted after it was clear the Buckeyes struggled to integrate their new offensive coaching staff, because replacing a coordinator and an important position coach is difficult.
Those expectations weren't adjusted when the team couldn't decide on a QB, or how to use the one they picked.
They weren't adjusted until near the very end of the season, when the Buckeyes got unlucky in some terrible weather against a very good team, and by then, it was too late.
There's still plenty left to play for this year, and plenty of reasons to remain emotionally invested. It isn't the goal Ohio State hoped for this year, and maybe this year will be viewed as a disappointment no matter what, even if Ohio State beats Notre Dame. But it's hard to really argue that Ohio State was terribly wronged by this placement. They get an excellent game against an excellent team that everybody cares about. That's fine.
It's best to just enjoy it. Prior to the Michigan game, there'd been so little to really enjoy this season anyway.