One of my personal pet peeves is when writers try to tell people how to fan. It’s especially problematic to me when it comes from newspaper columnists, reporters, or others who must professionally pretend that they aren’t fans themselves, merely dispassionate chroniclers of events.
That doesn’t describe me. I’m a fan of Ohio State football and would prefer they win their games rather than lose them, not just because that’s good news for my websites, but because I actually like that college football team.
But even with me talking as a fan here, I’m going to make myself a hypocrite and offer this suggestion for other Ohio State fans.
It’s okay to enjoy Ohio State beating a snot out of overmatched teams!
It’s true that Ohio State hasn’t really beaten anybody of consequence over the last few weeks. Rutgers may have a pretty good defense as far as the efficiency stats are concerned, but nobody is going to be impressed by Ohio State thoroughly dunking on them. Army and UNLV are not good football teams. Indiana may be a bowl team, and that was on the road, but fans who don’t regularly refresh Football Outsiders probably won’t be very impressed by that.
I understand the impulse to then try to review every single thing that happens in those games through the prism of Penn State, or perhaps Michigan. I check Twitter during these games, and it’s easy to see how every pass over 15 yards can be interpreted as a referendum on J.T. Barrett, or Kevin Wilson, or if this offense has actually fixed anything. And if they did, well shoot, it’s just UNLV, or just Rutgers, so why does it matter?
As my friend Ryan Ginn broke down, those takes miss the point, because improvement *can* happen against inferior competition. A good throw against scholarship competition is a good throw against scholarship competition, and games against teams with less talent can still be instructive in showing what younger players can do, different formations or tactics that could be employed later, and how Ohio State works on things they’ve struggled with, like secondary play.
It’s also worth noting that if dominating inferior competition was easy, everybody would do it. Every week, some big name team lays an egg against a squad with inferior athletes, pedigree, or record. Just two weeks ago, we saw Oklahoma struggle mightily against Baylor, Penn State nearly lose to Iowa, USC battle hard with Cal, Michigan have a legitimate battle with Purdue, and Tennessee nearly lose to UMass. And that’s all just from Week 4!
Ohio State fans should remember this principle well, since it wasn’t that long ago when the Buckeyes would routinely struggle to put away inferior teams. I remember sitting in the stands in the Horseshoe as Ohio State struggled with Ohio and Troy. One possession games late in the 4th quarter against G5 or bad Big Ten teams were not uncommon during the 2000s (although losses were). They were not always fun television experiences.
There’s an emotional angle to consider here as well. We only get so many Ohio State games a year, and then we’re plunged into a long, long offseason. Why artificially limit the supply of Ohio State football games to just the two or three marquee matchups a season? “It’s just whoever” is still an opportunity for fun highlights, moments, jokes, and the enjoyment of the single thing we all profess to enjoy here on this website: Ohio State football.
Constantly trying to frame everything in “yeah, but it doesn’t matter until they do it against X” isn’t completely sound from a football perspective...there are insights to be gained, albeit more limited ones, by completely dominating inferior opponents like Ohio State has.
But more importantly, I don’t think it’s a path to happiness as a fan. When Ohio State beats some fools by 40 points, you can nit-pick the three passes that sailed or the one time a RB gained 18 yards, or you can enjoy a beverage, think “that was fun, Ohio State killed ‘em”, and move on to the next thing.
Ohio State will play a team that doesn’t have as many good players as Ohio State tomorrow. They will probably win, and will probably win by a lot. I’m not your dad, so y’all can do what you want, but I think you’ll enjoy the weekend a lot more if you resist the urge to tweet, or even think, “yeah, but will that work against Penn State?”.
Leave that to the coaches. They get paid to be unhappy. You don’t.