During this football offseason, I’ve been writing about the aspects of Ohio State football that I’m looking forward to for next season. There’s a lot to be excited about: returning stars, new coaches, the momentum from the Rose Bowl. Obstacles pop up, though, and today I’m going to flip things and write about my worries – or my dreads – those things that have in the past disrupted a season and dashed high hopes and could do so again.
Obviously, there could be occurrences that we can’t anticipate and, therefore, don’t worry about. I’m not afraid of meteorites hitting the Buckeye practice field or of an earthquake tumbling Ohio Stadium to the ground. Possible, but not likely. I’m limiting my discussion to three events that have happened in the last 10 or 15 years, and one other that I see as popping up in the not-so-distant future.
COVID-19 (or some variant thereof)
Flashback to that wonderful Buckeye season of 2019. Yeah, I know that it finished on the sourest of notes with the playoff loss to Clemson, but, until then, it was great. For 2020, Justin Fields would be back, and he’d have a room full of outstanding wide receivers to throw to. The future looked rosy. Then, in early spring of that year (about this time of year, actually), the COVID pandemic was on us, and seemingly everything got cancelled.
I was watching a first-round Big East tournament basketball game on ESPN. I can’t remember the teams, but the game was close at halftime, and I made a sandwich. When I returned to the TV, I learned that the second half and the rest of the conference tournament had been called off. Talk about sudden.
Then the NCAA Tournament was cancelled and spring football practice. It looked as though the Big Ten would bag the whole 2020 football season, but the conference ended up starting it late and playing only conference games. The league changed the rules so that OSU could beat Northwestern in the championship game. The Buckeyes, as we know, avenged the loss to Clemson and then got smashed by Alabama in the national championship game. The season was screwy throughout. You never knew if a particular game would be cancelled or which players would test positive and be out for a couple of games. Really, the season that we had so much anticipated, was ruined.
In 2021, players were occasionally left out of uniform because of the “COVID protocol,” but, all in all, the season, with fans in the stands, was fairly normal. We’ve lost some basketball games this season with Omicron sweeping the land, but it looks as though we’ll have basketball tournaments.
After two full years, we’ve gotten so used to the pandemic, to vaccines and masks, that we take minor disruptions from it in stride. Will COVID affect the 2022 football season? Maybe. But not much, I would guess.
Scandal: players, coaches, team physicians, etc.
In 2010, Jim Tressel’s Buckeyes went 12-1 (7-1 in B1G play), beat Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl and finished the year ranked No. 5 in the AP Poll. Outstanding quarterback Terrell Pryor passed for 2772 yards and 27 touchdowns, while rushing for another 754 yards. He would be back for 2011, and the Buckeye future was bright.
Then, the scandal broke. Pryor and the other four players who were members of the “Tattoo Five” – OL Mike Adams, RB Dan “Boom” Herron, WR Devier Posey, and DL Solomon Thomas – were suspended for the first five games of the 2011 season by Ohio State for selling football memorabilia and trading such items for tattoo discounts. Although the suspensions were handed down in late December 2010, the players were permitted to participate in the bowl game, and they did.
Coach Jim Tressel attempted to cover up his earlier knowledge of the NCAA violations and his failure to pass his knowledge along to Athletic Director Gene Smith. When Tressel’s role was revealed and about to be made public by Sports Illustrated, the head coach resigned on May 30, 2010.
With Tressel gone, Luke Fickell became interim head coach. Pryor was gone too, and backup quarterback Joe Bauserman, who had thrown for 174 yards in 2010, became the Buckeye starter. Although freshman Braxton Miller would emerge later in the year, another season was ruined. The 2011 Bucks lost their final four games to finish 6-7 for the year. 2012 looked grim too, as OSU was prohibited in playing post-season games.
But then Urban Meyer was hired for the 2012 season, and, winning a ton of really close games, finished a perfect 12-0. And some of us declared the Buckeyes national champs.
Since lots of stuff goes on in college sports (and everywhere else) that we know nothing about, scandal could hit at any moment. I worry about it, sure, because the fallout can be devastating. But mainly I just close my eyes and hope nothing happens.
Injury – not just any injury, but a really key injury
Braxton Miller led the Bucks to an undefeated 2012 record and led them again in 2013, as the Bucks won their 12 regular season games (yes, Meyer won his first 24 OSU games) before losing to Michigan State in the Big Ten championship game and to Clemson in the Orange Bowl. Nevertheless, 12-2 is not bad, and Miller, who accounted for 36 touchdowns, would be back at the helm for 2014.
Miller, however, suffered an injury to his right shoulder in the Orange Bowl and underwent surgery during the off season to repair it. He missed spring practice but in August, in the middle of fall practices, declared himself 100% ready to go. Until he wasn’t. ESPN announced on August 19 that Miller, a favorite for the Heisman, had re-injured his throwing shoulder and was out for the season. In fact, Braxton Miller would never play quarterback again.
For the 2014 season, Meyer had to turn to redshirt freshman J. T. Barrett to play under center. My reaction at the time was “who?” Barrett was shaky in a sloppy win over Navy and then lost to Virginia Tech by two touchdowns in the second game of the season. It looked as though another season was down the drain.
Then the Buckeyes started winning, as Barrett became comfortable as a starter. They kept winning until, with Cardale Jones replacing an injured Barrett, they had finished off Bama and Oregon in the playoffs and claimed a national championship. The unknown Barrett passed for 2,834 yards and 34 TDs, and he rushed for 1117 yards and another 11 scores. The even less known Jones threw for 860 yards and seven more touchdowns through the air.
Injuries are a part of football at any level. Often, a crucial part. If injury were to strike the 2022 Buckeyes in a big way, are there are many players on this year’s roster who could be considered “irreplaceable.”
SEC bullying and conference realignment
I hope that college football conferences are set for at least a few years. But the SEC is loading up and can’t be trusted not to keep adding teams that it wants. I know that the Big 12 still exists, but it’s hard to call it a “Power Five” league any longer. The supposed alliance among the Big Ten, ACC, and Pac-12 hasn’t amounted to much, as the Midwesterners aren’t eager to reduce in-league matchups in order to play teams from the other two conferences.
Messing with the playoff structure is sure to keep coming up. And the SEC, which now seems opposed to the 12-team structure that it had previously favored, will call the shots. The Big Ten, because of its huge fan base and big TV money, will have a say as well. But I worry that things will get out of hand and that the football season, as we know it, will be gone. Not this year, but some time. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens on this one.
Let’s hope that none of these disasters occurs and that 2022 presents the stage for Buckeye dominance.