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When Winning Isn’t Enough: the Ohio State Story

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Buckeye Nation has been in an interesting state throughout the month of October 2016. While most people in America are fretting over the ridiculousness of presidential politics and the specific candidates to choose from, it seems that many Buckeye fans are struggling to enjoy this football season.

Following a spectacular September with four blowout victories, the Buckeyes have seemingly regressed to a state of growing pains throughout a month filled with conference games. For those keeping score at home, the month included:

  • A 38-17 home win over Indiana where the passing offense completely stalled out for less than 100 yards;
  • A 30-23 overtime road win at Wisconsin where the team was out-schemed for over a half before making adjustments to come back from a double-digit deficit in the second half;
  • A 21-24 loss at Penn State where the offensive line faltered (6 sacks) at the same time the play calling turtled by playing not to lose, and also in a game where special teams had an unusually awful night with two blocked kicks in the fourth quarter; and
  • A 24-20 win at home against Northwestern in which a 10-0 early lead was followed by offensive ineffectiveness for the remainder of the game.

While it is certainly fair to ask some questions and evaluate what this team is doing to work through the youth growing pains and fix any play calling deficiencies on offense, an overwhelming sentiment has emerged the past two weeks that feels familiar after watching Buckeye Nation be frustrated all of the season with the 2015 Buckeyes.

That sentiment is this: winning by small margins against teams like Northwestern is just not good enough.

In short, many fans are not enjoying a bounce back victory over a hot Wildcats team that came in on a 3-game winning streak, but instead, are complaining about every deficiency this team shows. Complaints about the offensive line, the weak play at wide receiver, the overly conservative nature of J.T. Barrett, the slow down of turnover generation on defense, the special teams mistakes, punt return adventures, and on and on.

Hell, even the beat writers at Cleveland.com started a topic online that gained traction throughout the fan base along these lines: “Urban Meyer is 56-5 (57-5 now) at Ohio State, but…

Yes, seriously.

http://gty.im/460394431

A program with a national title two seasons ago and dominance over much of the Big Ten for the last 15 years is being criticized for flies in the ointment when the overall background is a 57-5 record since 2012. Oh, and that also includes a 13-2 record against Michigan since Coach Tressel took over in 2001.

How quickly some of these fans forget: success is fleeting for almost everyone in this sport where rosters turn over in their entirety every 3 or 4 years. Dynasties happen, but they do not tend to last for very long. Before the 2002 national championship, Ohio State had not won a title since 1968! Lest we also forget how badly OSU fared against the Wolverines under prior coach John Cooper in the 1990s (2-10-1).

If fans cannot enjoy being a consistent player in the national championship picture and the type of team that loses about one game per year, on average, then those fans are doing it wrong. Every program outside of Tuscaloosa would absolutely kill for what Ohio State has right now.

Here’s another dose of reality. The Big Ten has five, count them, FIVE teams in the top 12 of the initial College Football Playoff committee rankings. The only conference even in the same ballpark is the SEC, which similarly has five teams in the top 13. This is a huge sign of respect from the highest authority about the depth of the Big Ten.

It’s not just the ranked teams, as the next tier of teams (Northwestern, Iowa, Indiana, Michigan State when not in 2016, etc.) are solid competitors as well. In that type of conference which is the best in college football, there are very few easy wins or weeks.

If that sounds familiar, it should. That’s precisely how the SEC dominated this sport for an entire decade, as the depth of competitors in that conference made every week interesting in conference play. The depth also made it abundantly hard to go undefeated, and also to repeat as conference champs. Alabama finally pulled that feat off in 2014 and 2015, but before that, a different team won every year going all the way back to the 1990s when Florida and Tennessee each had consecutive titles.

Those rules are how life is in the Big Ten now. None of those October games (post Rutgers) on Ohio State’s schedule was a pushover opponent, especially considering these are the opponents which know OSU the best. It’s exactly why Alabama has struggled at times with teams like Ole Miss, opponents which know the Crimson Tide well.

Teams, even the top-level ones, in the SEC got through this period of dominance in the sport by being content with wins of any variety. Wins move a team towards the goals of conference titles, which often leads to a playoff appearance. Survive and advance.

That’s what a young Ohio State team did in October, most of the time. While the loss against Penn State was disappointing for Buckeye Nation, it did nothing to take the season goals off the table. A second loss would do that, but it has not happened yet.

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In the context of this outstanding run of success and a super-competitive conference and East Division, every Big Ten win should be cherished, no matter how big or small. Instead of suffering through every Saturday in a season that flies by quickly when the team does not meet some sort of standard of perfection, delight in the exciting close games and the big battles between top contenders which focus the attention of the nation on Big Ten country.

This is exactly what college football fans live for and yearn for. The chance to play meaningful games in November and December against Top-10 programs like Nebraska and Michigan. That’s what faces Ohio State in 2016.

If substantial parts of Buckeye Nation cannot enjoy this period of unprecedented consistent excellence (57-5!), then how sad will we all be when times get worse in the future? If you count yourself among fans who believe in national championship or bust, especially with a young developmental team like the 2016 version of the Buckeyes, then I truly pity you. There’s nothing more sorrowful than failing to smell the roses and enjoy the abundant levels of success when the opportunity is there.

Winning is enough. Survive and advance. Enjoy it, and seize the moment. 

After all, if you choose not to, then some other fan base (Michigan or otherwise) will do it for you. Trust me, Buckeye Nation, you will not enjoy that.

Dave is a FWAA member and a Columnist focusing on Big Ten football for talking10. Before joining talking in 2014, he was a Featured Columnist for three years at Bleacher Report and previously wrote for seven years on SouthernCollegeSports.com. He was born in Hawkeye Country and went to college in Columbus, so there's plenty of B1G running through his blood. Dave is a patent and trademark attorney in his day job. If you have any questions in those areas or about his latest articles, please contact him on Twitter @BuckeyeFitzy.

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Talking10 Podcast Episode 100: Something, something Urban Meyer

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Ohio State made its decision on Urban Meyer. Andy and Phil are here to break it all down for you and give you the truth in a hazy situation. What better way to celebrate episode 100 of the podcast than to spend 50 minutes breaking down a mess of a situation in Columbus, right?

We’ll talk our reactions to the press conference, break down the actual findings of OSU’s investigative report and we’ll even talk how the media-at-large and the OSU media handled the fallout from Wednesday night’s press conference.

Don’t forget you can listen to the podcast each week via Radio Public and other podcasting apps. 

Also, don’t forget to follow us on Instagram and Twitter @talkingB1G

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Urban Meyer and OSU AD put on suspension following investigation

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The media stakeout of the Ohio State Board of Trustee’s meeting can now end. It only took 12 hours or so, but answers finally came. 

According to multiple reports, including from the AP, OSU head coach Urban Meyer is suspended for the first three games of the season. In addition, athletic director Gene Smith will serve the same suspension from Aug. 31 to Sept. 16 — both will not receive pay during that time frame as well. 

Both came under fire as this story unfolded. It began just prior to the Big Ten media days in late July, the story that Zach Smith had been arrested for criminal trespassing in April of this year broke and Meyer fired Smith on Monday morning of the start of Big Ten media days.

Brett McMurphy then detailed in an exclusive report that Smith had previously been “arrested” back in 2015 for a second allegation of domestic abuse against his then-wife Courtney Smith. 

Meyer was questioned about that arrest and allegation from 2015 at media days and struck out against reporters repeated questioning. He would deny knowing of the arrest report back in 2015. 

However, further reporting by McMurphy put that denial in to further question and Ohio State decided to get to the bottom of it. 

Once Meyer was put on paid administrative leave, he would put a statement out admitting to knowing about the 2015 incident and alerting athletic administrators of the domestic abuse allegations. 

Meyer has stayed silent since that statement and awaited the outcome of the 14-day inquiry in to whom knew what and when and what action was taken. 

That investigation ended this past Sunday, with the committee verbally advising the Board of Trustees on Monday morning of its findings. Two days later, the Board of Trustees would come to meet publicly and then behind closed doors to discuss what would happen to Meyer and others involved in this situation. 

Meyer’s suspension is for the first three games, and on the field that is a big hit with three FBS games coming at the start of the season. OSU kicks off the year against Oregon State, plays a Big Ten contest against Rutgers and a massive game against TCU at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. 

We will have more on this situation and the reaction to what Meyer and Smith had to say on the talking10 Podcast tomorrow. 

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Buckeyes Football

Report: OSU to suspend Urban Meyer

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The Ohio State University board of trustees have been verbally read in on the findings of a 14-day investigation in to the conduct of football head coach Urban Meyer. 

So, what will happen next? 

According to the Columbus Dispatch, it appears a suspension or even lighter punishment is coming for Meyer:

“Two sources connected to the investigation said the likely recommendation to university President Michael V. Drake is a suspension for Meyer. Drake and the board could also opt for a ‘time served’ punishment since Meyer has been removed from football activities for more than two weeks.”

Meyer has already been on suspension (or paid administrative leave) for the better part the month of August.

The meeting on Monday was able to take place because it was an “informational meeting” and no public business was conducted. However, there is a meeting scheduled for 9a.m. on Wednesday to discuss just what punishment would be recommended. 

Ultimately it will be the university president that makes the final decision, but the board of trustees will meet to send their recommendation to President Michael V. Drake, who is likely to adhere to the recommendation of the board. 

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Ohio State wins Cotton Bowl Classic: The good, bad and what it means for 2018

Buckeyes defense dominates USC en route to Cotton Bowl Classic victory.

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Some may say that Ohio State had a real gripe about not being selected to the College Football Playoff this season. Whether the Buckeyes believed they were snubbed or not, they certainly took out any frustration on USC in the Cotton Bowl Classic.

Ohio State used a dominating night on defense and just enough offense to beat the Trojans 24-7. Four turnovers were forced by the Buckeyes defense, resulting in a pick six and a huge shift in momentum late in the game too.

The win sends quarterback J.T. Barrett out on a high note, but it wasn’t his best effort on the field. He had just 114 yards passing and no touchdowns, while also putting up a Buckeyes-best 66 yards on the ground as well.

Luckily those 66 yards were enough to find the end zone twice in the first half for OSU.

Barrett got the Buckeyes on the board on their first possession and then put the Buckeyes up 24-0 on a 28-yard run late in the second quarter. However, it appeared momentum was shifting late in the half as Ronald Jones II put the ball over the goal line with just 1:29 to play in the first half.

That was it for the scoring though and it was a massive defensive message to the critics of the Buckeyes.

It all added up to the Big Ten coming away from a loaded day of action with a 5-0 record. Not only did the Buckeyes win, but so did Northwestern to help the Big Ten continue its banner bowl game start.

The Good

J.T. Barrett Continued to be Legendary

Few players in the history of Ohio State football have had the career that quarterback J.T. Barrett has had. Yet, it feels strange to say his career has been legendary. Maybe its the fact that he missed out on a Big Ten and national championship in 2015? Maybe it’s the fact that it somehow took until his senior season to win a Big Ten title as the quarterback?

Whatever it was, Barrett’s career just seemed incomplete. But, on Friday night Barrett added to his collegiate legend, setting the Big Ten’s total yards record that was previously held by some guy named Drew Brees.

There’s little doubt that Barrett is going to be remembered in Columbus for some time. Most importantly, Barrett was able to complete a post-season with a Big Ten championship and a win in a New Year’s Six game.

Not a bad way to go out in your college career.

Defense Got Turnover Happy

Ohio State showed it had a really good defense down the stretch run of the regular season, but it seemed to finally all come together in the Cotton Bowl. The Buckeyes forced USC quarterback and talked-about No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NFL draft, Sam Darnold, to look rather average at best.

Part of Darnold’s issue came in the form of turnovers. Well, Darnold and USC in general, as the Trojans gave up the ball via turnover a whopping four times.

The last of which came as Darnold got hit from behind and let the ball fall right in to the waiting arms of an OSU defensive lineman.

It all added up to a USC offense that came in averaging 35 points per game being completely shutdown.

Let’s just say it was a great time for OSU to give its best defensive performance of the season too.

The Bad

Ohio State’s Offensive Performance

While a 24-7 scoreline would seem flattering, Ohio State’s offense really did minimal work on Friday night.

The Buckeyes amassed just 277 yards on 55 plays in the game, including just 114 yards in the passing game. Barrett getting a win in his final game was nice, but his passing game wasn’t. Barrett finished the game 11 of 17 passing for just 114 yards and no touchdowns.

Even more telling? The dynamic duo of J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber was held to just 57 yards combined.

Given the domination of the defense all of this seems to be a bit nit-picky, but it should also be worrisome because this offense was up and down all 2017.

What it Means for 2018

It’s hard to say that this one game was make or break for any Ohio State players and their NFL draft status, but that is really the key from this game. Did Sam Hubbard’s great night make his decision easier? How many other guys will take off after this game?

Ultimately that is what is going to matter most heading in to the 2018 offseason.

However, what we can take away from the Cotton Bowl is the fact that the Buckeyes need some real work on the offensive side of the ball. Some of it is just simply growing up for young players, but we also saw what we saw most of this year in the pass game for OSU — there aren’t a lot of receiving options.

That group has got to regroup in a major way or the Buckeyes won’t be going anywhere but backwards on offense in 2018.

Dwayne Haskins is a better pure passer than J.T. Barrett, but it may not matter if no one can get open. Sure, you can give credit to the Trojans secondary, but the Buckeyes receivers did nothing to help themselves either.

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