Nine years ago to the day Thursday, Ohio State kicked off the 2007 season against Youngstown State. The Big Ten Network made its debut, though not on the largest cable provider in Columbus.
Like many who didn’t have game tickets (or Dish Network or DirecTV), I made the trek to an alumni viewing party. That bar also happened to have BTN’s overflow broadcast which featured No. 5 Michigan hosting some FCS team. You probably heard about it.
Nearly a decade later, Appalachian State is a fully matriculated FBS program. They win bowl games. They play host to teams like Miami (FL) at their place. And despite that very same offensive coordinator from Michigan’s best efforts, they came up just short at beating his new employer, the University of Tennessee, on the road in Knoxville.
The near nostalgic joy of seeing another Top 10 team lose to that very same team that etched Ohio State’s rivals into the history would’ve been something. Other than how surreal and otherworldly seeing that final field goal kick blocked felt though, there’s really only one thing I remember about that day.
I couldn’t tell you what I was wearing. I have no idea what I ate or drank. But I sure remember what I listened to on the way to and immediately after leaving:
Kanye West’s Graduation was sonically and otherwise one of my favorite first-few-listen albums ever. 2007-me couldn’t have begun to fathom that a decade later it might not even register amongst his Top 3 LPs. From the Steely Dan and Michael Jackson samples to almost European dance club synth pulses, everything about it was perfect in the moment.
I heard “Champion” and “Good Life” for the first time immediately before seeing Appalachian State, well, doing what they did, and because of it, those became a soundtrack for that place in time.
2016 failed to provide a fitting sequel between the trenches. And I can probably count on one hand how many albums I’ve heard in the nine years since, even objectively better art, that impacted me that way on the inaugural listen in any similar context. Of course that doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate the near repeat we got Thursday night. And as rewarding as 06’s 38-6 Buckeye opener over an in-state rival was then, a 77-10 systematic destruction of an even better Ohio team feels pretty damn good in its own right.
2007’s big out of conference road trip would be a visit to face Washington in a game OSU would cruise to a 33-14 victory. Even after a Houston stunner over Oklahoma 33-23 in their opener this year, it’d be mighty pollyannaish to expect a similar outcome for this year’s Buckeyes. It might be hard to blame anyone for getting ahead of themselves after seeing a school record 776 yards of total offense, though.
Meyer and his staff are preaching balance this season. He said earlier last week he wanted “250 / 250”: 250 rushing yards and 250 passing yards. The Buckeyes finished with almost 400 of each.
Blue chip stocks
Curtis Samuel - Every coach in scarlet and gray, from the guy in the CEO role down to the graduate assistants, seemingly couldn’t stop heaping praise on Samuel at the end of the summer. The only thing seemingly capable of curbing Samuel’s meteoric rise was Samuel.
Saturday against Bowling Green didn’t exactly do anything to derail the hype train:
No combination of defensive backs or linebackers could even begin to slow the junior who finished the opener with 9 catches for 177 yards and 2 TDs along with 13 carries for 84 yards and another score.
Meyer told ABC in the aftermath of the game that Samuel was the “first true hybrid we’ve had here”, then immediately repeated the talking point in his postgame press conference.
"He's a tremendous talent and it was great to see him have some success," Meyer added.
Samuel was the first Buckeye offensively to touch the ball Saturday as well and seemed to really relish the honor.
“It’s a great feeling to be one of the first people out there to touch the ball. I have to keep my mind right. I just want to ball out and make opportunities for my team.”
You’re on notice, Tulsa.
J.T. Barrett - I’m on the record as being one of the Ohio State Internet’s biggest J.T. cynics.
Wait wait — Put the stones down! Hear me out.
There’s been some lines of thinking that Barrett’s nightmare 2015 was more the result of lingering complications from the injury that took him away from the Buckeyes during their national championship season. It seems almost more likely to me that if the injury played any role, it was taking away valuable reputations during the ill fated quarterback competition he ultimately lost.
I also believe the instability in the coach’s booth with respect to the Buckeyes’ playcalling, the pressures of having to look over his shoulder constantly, and even just the uncomfortable nature of the quarterbacking derby between Barrett and close personal friend Cardale Jones all played a role in his performances. To say nothing of a later OVI citation on Halloween.
Extracurricular distractions and locker room dynamics come with the territory, however. So too do playing banged up. Practically everyone in every football locker room is nursing something.
Barrett was a revelation his redshirt freshman year. No quarterback at Ohio State’s ever run the read-option better than him. His play his freshman year wasn’t a fluke -- but his play his sophomore season wasn’t either.
My guess, is that Barrett is pretty good, but maybe not, at least entering this season, as stupid good as we thought he might be before an injury stole the deserved ending to his inaugural year as the Buckeyes quarterback. Can he turn into the player we all think he can? That potential is still there, for sure.
Bad J.T. — at least from a decision making process — was in full effect on the mind numbingly poor pick 6 which gave BGSU an early lead. A few other times, we saw some suspect reads, a few textbook cases of forcing the issue. Fortunately, the rest of the game was almost exclusively pure brilliance and a glimpse towards what he might become yet.
Barrett’s final line was staggering: 21 for 31 for 349 yards, 6 TDs to just the one pick. He also had six rushes for 30 more yards including a touchdown scamper.
I think it’s always wise to temper expectations, especially considering the available evidence and a large sample size. But if ever there was a reason to throw pessimism out the window, it was throws like these we saw for three quarters Saturday:
Dontre Wilson - Look, I get it. Three years of evidence otherwise may suggest that Wilson is not becoming the player he was supposed to, perhaps never bulking up the degree necessary to stay healthy enough to make that happen. But Wilson was back in an Ohio State uniform Saturday.
Besides a bit of a back-to-the-future vibe, that promise — that ridiculously unfair unreasonable-as-hell potential — reared its head, even if just on a touch or two.
Wilson's final yard totals are modest: five carries on the ground for 36 yards, three receptions for 37 yards. But he did have two touchdowns on catches. And those touchdowns, lord willing and the creek don’t rise, are why the final season of Dontre Wilson as a Buckeye has a strong chance to be the best one yet.
Deleted tweets - We’re not going to have fun at our friend(s) who run Bowling Green football’s Twitter account expense; they had a tough enough weekend.
We will laugh *with them* a bit.
Here’s how the official Bowling Green Falcons football account reacted to the events unfolding Saturday afternoon in a later deleted tweet:
Since BG Football decided to delete this tweet here you go. pic.twitter.com/v7KLIz20W2— Sophia Rivera (@Sophia_deFrance) September 3, 2016
The internet never forgets, y’all.
Buy: Mike Weber - “El Guapito” looked like a perfect mix of strength and speed while racking up 19 carries for 136 yards. The only let down was that Weber didn’t get his first career Ohio State touchdown in his first ever start. That’ll come soon enough, of course. Bonus points for him comparing he and Curtis Samuel to former USC “Thunder & Lightning” duo LenDale White and Reggie Bush postgame.
Sell: Tracy Sprinkle’s bad luck - The young man previously best known for being arrested at a downtrodden club called the “Grown & Sexy Lounge” had rehabilitated his image with the Buckeyes and fought his way into the starting lineup after nearly being dismissed from the football program for good. Instead, during his first start of 2016, he went down with an injury that’ll require surgery and almost certainly end his season before it started. Life’s unfair.
Buy: Cameron Johnston - He was only needed once Saturday but his lone punt was a 48-yard beauty. Plus the former Aussie rules football player wore an Australian flag on his helmet to honor his home country. Very cool.