It’s hard to keep perspective when you’re getting your ass kicked.
This is probably a stretch, but keep with me here.
I remember a game back in my high school indoor soccer days. We were getting clobbered, something like 14-3. I was a goalie, and had a ball, or a cleated foot, flying towards my face every few seconds, completely powerless to stop it. Near the end of the game, to add insult to injury, the opposing team’s goalie decided to dribble from his own goal, through our hapless and hungover lines of defense, and then blasted it in the right corner of the net I was trying to defend.
Right then, I had no perspective. I, a 130 pound, Eagle Scout, churchgoing dork, sprinted up to the other goalie, challenged him to fight right then and there, and screamed every curse word I knew, and some I probably didn’t know either. I didn’t really learn to cuss properly until I started working in a newsroom.
My teammates peeled me away, saving me from a certain stomping, and I didn’t talk to any of them for two days. I had just had my ass kicked, and I had no time to think.
Given the benefit of time, I could have remembered that our team actually was slightly above .500, a major accomplishment given we were made up of soccer team rejects, band nerds who wanted exercise, non-athletes who just had crushes on the girls on our team, and like, two people who were actually good at soccer. We were coached by my dad, when he remembered to show up, a man whose only qualification was that he married a Brazilian woman.
The fact that we got crushed, badly, by a very good team shouldn’t have erased all the positive developments we made, and eventually, it didn’t. Other than my getting mad, I’ll remember that season with a lot of positivity. It was fun, and sometimes we were even good.
I know this is a stretch, but Ohio State is in a similar situation. They just got their ass kicked by Clemson, 31-0, in the Fiesta Bowl. Their season is now over.
It is very rare that Ohio State gets their ass kicked. I can’t even remember the last time Ohio State was shutout — a 28-0 loss to Michigan in 1993 — because I was just six years old. I can count the number of times in my own personal memory that Ohio State was well and truly clobbered on one hand. It’s a very rare thing in Columbus, and in the institutional memory of Ohio State fans, which makes dealing with it even harder.
There’s no way to get around it for this game. The Buckeyes lost to a superior team. Clemson’s defensive line crushed Ohio State at the point of attack for the entire game, and the Tigers, paced by perhaps the best group of wideouts in college football, an elite quarterback, and a nasty defensive line, probably would have won even if Ohio State’s offensive skill players had performed well, instead of having their worst game of the season. All you can do is congratulate the Tigers, and wish them the best against Alabama.
The question, at this point, is whether you let this loss, a horrible ending to the 2016 season, color the rest of the year. That’s up to you. I can’t tell you how to be a fan.
But I can at least go over some facts. Like the fact that Notre Dame finished 4-8, or that the spot was good. But here are some others:
Fact: Ohio State entered the 2016 campaign with the youngest roster amongst Power 5 teams. They replaced virtually their entire secondary. They replaced almost every single player who caught a pass. They brought in a new running back, started a true freshman along the offensive line, and used a walk-on at kicker. Even for a team that recruits as well as Ohio State does, that is an enormous amount of youth.
Fact: Ohio State played a challenging schedule, and cleared nearly every hurdle. They dumptrucked the best team in the Big 12, Oklahoma, on the road. They beat Wisconsin, a top-10 squad, on the road. They crushed a nine-win Tulsa team. They obliterated a nine-win Nebraska team. They came within two blocked kicks of finishing undefeated. Even with an experienced, veteran squad, which Ohio State did not have, that would be a season of merit.
Fact: Ohio State beat Michigan, perhaps the best Michigan team in a decade. Plus, they did it in a way that proved to be extra rewarding to Buckeye faithful.
Fact: Ohio State’s defense, and especially their secondary, was elite, exciting, and will send even more players to the NFL.
Fact: Notre Dame finished 4-8. Just case you missed that earlier. Want to make sure we’re all on the same page.
Is everything perfect with Ohio State? No. I think it’s clear that despite Ohio State’s elite recruiting, multiple prospects at WR and OL have not worked out, either due to misevaluation, injury, poor development and more, robbing the Buckeyes of important depth at those positions. Playing all season with a walk-on at kicker is not ideal. J.T. Barrett has clearly regressed, perhaps a combination of poor pass-catching targets, blocking, injury, coaching, himself and more. And Ohio State’s playcalling and offensive imagination is very clearly not at the standard it was under Tom Herman.
They were bailed out by an excellent defense multiple times this season, and that defense will need to replace some major parts.
The good news is that Ohio State is bringing in perhaps their best recruiting class ever in 2017. Freshman become sophomores. Sophomores become juniors. As many of us heard on High Street many years ago, “Help is on the way.”
If you think this stink bomb of a finale sullies the rest of the season, that’s up to you. If you want to believe that Ohio State’s program is going off the rails, subject to slide into further mediocrity unless major coaching or other structural changes are made, that’s your call. I imagine we’ll be talking about that all offseason.
But for me, I think the 2016 campaign was a success. It didn’t end quite how we’d like. But the rest of those games count too, even if they weren’t always fun to watch. Given what Ohio State was up against, what they accomplished this football season is something to be praised and enjoyed.
And they’re likely to start the preseason in the top five, if not higher. More good times are likely on the horizon.
Maybe you disagree. Maybe you’ll feel that way more in a few days. That’s up to you. Things certainly are not crystal clear right now. After all, we all just witnessed an ass-kicking.