In less than a month, C.J. Stroud will play what may be the final game of his collegiate career. However, he is definitely playing in the game that defines his legacy, and winning that game could totally change the narrative surrounding him. Being on the opposite end of this one could haunt him forever.
Let’s take a look at what Stroud has brought Ohio State the past two seasons. He is 21-3 as a starter. He has lost to Michigan twice, therefore failing to make the conference championship twice. Last year, the Bucks didn’t make the College Football Playoff, but did end the year with a great Rose Bowl win.
Now, Stroud has an opportunity to avenge for all of that. Yes, he failed to beat Michigan. Yes, last year’s finish was a disappointment even though it was a win. However, if he can lead this team to a National Championship, in my eyes, all will be forgiven.
Will it be enough if Stroud beats Georgia to define his legacy? It will be interesting. I don’t think there is any instance where Stroud can be classified as a failure, He was a Heisman finalist — twice. He’s got the stats. He just needs to prove that he can bounce back from adversity and show up in the big games.
And there is no bigger game he will play in than the one scheduled on New Year’s Eve. If the Buckeyes win, he will prove all of the haters wrong. Some said during the Michigan game, it looked like he didn’t care or that he wasn’t trying. While I believe both of these statements are certainly false, he can prove this wrong himself.
The hype is there. The hype has always been there when it comes to Stroud. The question is: can he live up to it? He can! He threw for 573 yards against Utah. He’s certainly talented enough and has the weapons around him to make it happen. But, this Georgia team is going to be the best team he has played in his collegiate career.
Up until this point, Michigan has been the best team he’s faced. And last year they got whomped by Georgia. Last year he played well against Michigan, despite the loss. This year, his defense failed him. Are there excuses? Maybe. Did he fail to perform to his fullest potential? Yes. There’s no question that he has failed in the past, but Buckeye nation also can’t expect him to be perfect. In high-pressure situations, nobody is perfect.
What the Buckeyes need him to be is the leader on offense. He needs to drive this team down the field, whether he has the ball in his hands or not. He cannot be shaken and he cannot lose faith in himself. As long as he is steady under center, Ohio State has a shot at winning.
If he can do that, he doesn’t need to throw for 400 yards. While I hope he does, it won’t be necessary if he keeps this team calm and effective under pressure. He needs to show why his teammates voted him captain and why he is trusted to be the Ohio State quarterback. That is what will define his legacy.