The No. 6 Ohio State Buckeyes are 3-0 this season. They are outscoring their opponents 86-17 in the first half, and 138-31 overall. OSU is out-gaining opponents 1,505 to 758. They have 31 tackles for loss while only giving up 16. They are averaging a nice 6.9 yards per play, while allowing only 3.8; including just 1.7 on the ground.
By all analytical measurements, Ohio State is a very good football team. By the always dubious eye-test, Ohio State is a very good football team. Yet, whenever members of the media — be they local or national — talk about OSU’s early season success, it comes with caveats like, “Despite the competition,” or, “They haven’t been tested yet,” or the always popular, “OSU ain’t played nobody.” This instinctual need to temper all praise for Ohio State is completely unjustified by what’s happened on the field thus far in 2019.
However, this is not a phenomenon reserved exclusively for the media. When discussing the team, many fans are also saying things like, “We’ll know more when we play [insert Big Ten team that has underachieved in the first three games of the season],” or “Yeah, but it was just FAU/UC/IU,” or “Talk to me at the end of October.”
Well, I am here to tell you, fam, that it is time we stop qualifying our praise for Ryan Day’s Buckeyes. They are a very good team, period; one of the best four or five in the country. Are there still unknowns? Of course there are; it’s college football, there are always unknowns. Are they a perfect team? Of course they aren’t; it’s college football, there are no perfect teams. But, through the first three games of the regular season, Ohio State has far exceeded nearly everyone’s logical expectations, including mine, and have proven that they are a legit contender for the national championship.
In fairness, there are some media members who are on the Ohio State Hype Train, primarily Gus Johnson and Joel Klatt who have heaped praise on the team in both of the games that they’ve called featuring the Buckeyes this season. But, on the whole, analysts will begrudgingly include OSU as a top five or six team by default, but will reserve ultimate judgement on the team for some undefined future date when they will be free to extol the Buckeyes’ talents more freely.
I understand the inclination for media members to temper their praise for a team that has been through as much turnover as Ohio State has, I really do. You want a larger sample size before committing on the record to a specific take on the team. You want to see them perform against the better teams on their schedule before declaring them one of the best teams in the county. I get it, but stop it. There’s no need.
This — as I said before — is college football, ain’t nobody got time for that. The Buckeyes have played 25 percent of their regular season games already. If you are talking about playoff projections or potential matchups and want to cover yourself before going out onto a limb, ok, fine. There are still two and a half months before we will know who will make the College Football Playoff, and lots can happen in that timeframe, but in the here and now, three games into the season, a quarter of the way through the schedule, if you are talking about the Buckeyes, it is unnecessary and reductive to put the journalistic equivalent of air quotes around every sentence saying that the defense is elite, or that the offense is imposing, or that Day and his staff have done dramatic work on both sides of the ball in their first season.
While the media’s hesitation is built on “objectivity” and the C.Y.A. nature of the job, for fans, I think it’s more of a C.Y.H. mentality; Cover Your Heart. While I can’t speak for all fans, I think that there is an inclination to not get your hopes up too early, because we’ve been down this road before. But that’s a mindset of looking forward. I don’t know what’s going to happen against Nebraska (OSU will win big) or Michigan State (OSU will win really big), but here in this moment, on Sunday, Sept. 15, as Ohio State is 3-0 on the season, it’s ok to enjoy the fact that your favorite football team is playing great in all phases of the game, and that they are fun to watch, which we haven’t always been able to say over the last two decades.
The reason that Ohio State deserves the unfiltered recognition and appreciation from the media is simple, the press is giving it to everyone else already for doing pretty much the same things that the Buckeyes are doing.
On Saturday, No. 2 Alabama defeated South Carolina 47-23. Coming into the matchup, the Gamecocks were 28th in SP+, just eight spots ahead of where Cincinnati was when OSU beat them 42-0, and just 12 spots ahead of Indiana yesterday. Sure, the analytics say that SC is better than the Buckeyes’ two opponents (despite Cocky’s loss to The Fighting Mack Browns), but are they so much better as to warrant the skepticism for the Buckeyes, but not for ‘Bama?
No. 3 Georgia has played Vanderbilt, an FCS team (Murray State) and the Sun Belt’s Arkansas State, and yet no one is saying, “Let’s wait until they play Notre Dame in Week 4 before we really say that they’re one of the best teams in the country.” The Bulldogs have played absolutely nobody, and are only outscoring their opponents 148-23 (compared to OSU’s 138-31 against decidedly better competition), but there has been no hesitation in considering the ‘Dawgs as a favorite for the CFP.
Oklahoma had its collective hands full with Houston in Week 1, but no one batted an eye. Ohio State should absolutely be getting the same level of unrestrained respect as these teams. And the fact that they aren’t only feeds into the pervasive “The lame stream media is anti-Ohio State” conspiracy theory that is quite popular on the interwebs.
(Obviously, LSU and Clemson aren’t part of this comparison, since both have played, and beaten, quality opponents already this year.)
Let’s be honest, the only substantive differences between these teams and the Buckeyes aren’t on the field, they’re on their resumes. Dating back nearly a decade and a half, Ohio State has a history of underachieving on the biggest stages; we can’t run from that. We can only acknowledge it, accept it, and learn to find inner peace with it. It wasn’t until one of the coaches who helped start that trend defected back to his home state that this painful narrative changed, albeit only for a year.
I firmly believe that many members of the national media are still holding Ohio State’s failures in the BCS Championship Games in the 2006 and ‘07 seasons against them. I am confident that analysts and reporters are still hesitant to get onboard with the Buckeyes because of their 31-0 skunking to Clemson in 2016. And I know that many are hesitant to buy into OSU because of what’s happened at Iowa and Purdue in the last two years.
You know who coached those teams? Two guys that aren’t coaching anymore; which leads us to the other major factor for why everyone is withholding their praise for the Buckeyes. Despite the fact that everyone acknowledges that Day is one of the best offensive minds in the country, they’re gonna make him prove it as a head coach before believing he’s capable.
Despite the fact that everyone uniformly praised how he handled his interim tenure at the start of 2018, they’re gonna make him win a bunch of games as a head coach before admitting that he’s one of the best in the country.
Don’t believe that Day’s leadership has had any substantive impact on Ohio State’s talent-rich roster yet? Through three games, Day’s team has been called for just 14 penalties for 132 yards. In the final three games of the 2018 season, OSU drew 30 flags, conceding 293 yards.
I know, I know, the competition was better in those three games — yada yada yada — but in all 11 of the games that Urban Meyer coached last season, the Buckeyes were flagged an average of 8.55 times per game for 76.9 yards. Stupid penalties have been one of a handful of seemingly little things that have added up and eventually derailed OSU’s journey back to championship contention in recent years; through three games in 2019, that’s mostly stopped.
And while that is a pretty basic example of Day’s impact on the team, his presence and personality are evident in every aspect of how the team plays; under-control, instinctual, efficient, and smart. While I understand that he is not yet the all-time great that his predecessor was, that’s no reason for the journalists and analysts — who should know the sport and its major players best — to undervalue him or his team.
Ryan Day is one of the very best coaches in the country, and the Ohio State Buckeyes are one of the very best teams in the country; and both deserve to hear you say it without hesitation.