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Column: This Ohio State team is still a work in progress, and that’s ok

Have they been perfect this year? No. Do they need to be? Also no.

Arkansas State v Ohio State Photo by Gaelen Morse/Getty Images

I admit — either because I am a massive Ohio State homer, or because I know very little about college football (or perhaps some combination of both) — I expected the 2022 Buckeyes to look more like a finished product to start the season than they have through their first two games. I obviously understood that there would be adjustments and growth throughout the season, especially on the defensive side of the ball as those players adapted and adjusted to the new scheme implemented by first-year defensive coordinator Jim Knowles.

However, I foolishly expected Heisman Trophy finalist C.J. Stroud to immediately fall into a rhythm with a nearly entirely new slate of starting wide receivers without skipping a beat. I expected the Buckeye offense to pick up exactly where it left off as the No. 1 unit in the country last season. While both the OSU defense and offense have been sturdy in wins against Notre Dame and Arkansas State in their first two games, they certainly haven’t been perfect; perhaps partially because of the injury to Jaxon Smith-Njigba, the offense has looked more disjointed at times than the well-oiled “Greatest Show on Turf” that I anticipated.

But you know what? That’s on me. Ohio State is 2-0 and has played really well in its first two games of the season; it was unreasonable to expect them to be perfect right out of the gate. I did not appreciate how hard it would be to replace two top-11 NFL Draft picks at wide receiver. I didn’t give credit to how important in-game reps would be to get Knowles’ reconfigured secondary to gel. I did not give much credence to the need to build up to mid-season form.

Being a Buckeye fan is always an exercise in managing unreasonable expectations and uncontrolled rage when even the slightest thing doesn’t go perfectly. However, watching Saturday’s full slate of games reminded me of something that I’ve always known intellectually, but often forget emotionally in the moment: College football is built on chaos, and even if your team isn’t perfect, surviving any test should be celebrated, instead of taken for granted.

As someone who covers the team, I clearly need to be a bit more analytical about OSU’s on-field performance than I would if I was strictly watching the games as a fan, but it is important to not become too myopic when focusing on a single team. If I get too far into the weeds on the Buckeyes, it becomes incredibly easy to miss the forest through the trees, to mix my flora metaphors.

Yesterday alone was a perfect example of how special every win is in college football:

No. 1 Alabama nearly (re: should have) lost to unranked Texas
No. 6 Texas A&M lost to unranked Appalachian State
No. 8 Notre Dame lost to unranked Marshall
No. 9 Baylor lost to No. 21 BYU
No. 12 Florida lost to No. 20 Kentucky
No. 17 Pittsburgh lost to No. 24 Tennessee in overtime
No. 19 Wisconsin lost to unranked Washington State
No. 25 Houston lost to unranked Texas Tech

But No. 3 Ohio State beat unranked Arkansas State 45-12. Was it the 60-6 outcome that I predicted? Nope. Were there things that the Buckeyes need to clean up before they start playing better competition? Yep. Should I still be happy with the performance and the team’s continued growth and development? Absolutely.

Because we as fans build our entire weeks around the 3+ hours that the Buckeyes are on the field each Saturday, and the team’s accomplishments play such an out-sized role in our day-to-day moods, we can forget that football is an incredibly complicated sport and that the players that we are hanging our happiness on are 17 to 23-year-olds; it is foolish for us to expect perfection out of the gate and we need to recognize that things take time.

This is already a really good football team in a sport where there are very few of those to go around. And what’s exciting is that they will undoubtedly get better the further they get into the season.

More so than I have in a really long time, I have a ton of faith in this coaching staff to get guys in the right spots and to put them in the best positions to be successful. Yes, there are still things that need to be fixed, but I truly believe that Ryan Day, Knowles, and the rest of the coaching staff can get those issues figured out in time to accomplish all of the team’s goals (and — more importantly — meet my incredibly high expectations).

The passing game still needs to be tightened up, especially when Smith-Njigba and (presumably) Julian Fleming return, position coach Tim Walton needs to get something figured out at the cornerback position, and Parker Fleming needs to sure up the punt return operations. But, to steal a phrase from a franchise that was not ultimately successful, we Buckeye fans need to “Trust the process.”

This team is more than talented enough to beat their rival, win the Big Ten, and take the national title for the first time in eight years. So, while we shouldn’t ignore poor play and coaching decisions if/when they happen, context is always important, and — even with ample room to improve — the Buckeyes are better than just about every other team in the country and have plenty of time to get even better.