Monday, Jul 16, 2018
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David Briggs

If this was down year, Ohio State football in middle of golden era

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    Ohio State coach Urban Meyer lifts the trophy after the Buckeyes defeated Southern California in the Cotton Bowl, 24-7.

    ASSOCIATED PRESS

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    Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett looks to pass as offensive lineman Billy Price blocks Southern California defensive tackle Josh Fatu during the first half of the Cotton Bowl game.

    ASSOCIATED PRESS

  • BRIGGS-MirrorsOnSport-12

By the end of a long-winded Cotton Bowl that featured more reviews than a Zagat’s guide and less offensive sizzle than a rubber steak — Ohio State had more tackles for a loss (14) than passes completed (11) — maybe you just wanted it to be over for the Buckeyes.

The game.

The season.

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Ohio State coach Urban Meyer lifts the trophy after the Buckeyes defeated Southern California in the Cotton Bowl, 24-7.

ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge

The third-down-draw-and-a-cloud-of-dust program as we know it.

Thank you, J.T. Barrett, for setting a million records, now set sail.

Or maybe we have it backward.

Maybe you’re the Buckeyes fan more like Ferdinand, and in the Rose Bowl that was not between Ohio State and Southern California, you clicked off the message board to smell the petals.

Maybe you wished it would never end. (Thank God it did.)

Truth is the Buckeyes’ 24-7 victory reaffirmed we’re living in an unsurpassed era of Ohio State football.

“I’m going to enjoy this,” coach Urban Meyer told reporters early Saturday morning.

And why not?

No, the Buckeyes’ defensive tour de force in a deceptively lopsided game did not prove they got cheated by the playoff committee. I had no strong feelings either way in the debate between Ohio State and Alabama for the final spot, and the same goes today. For as much as OSU’s meet-at-the-quarterback line gave heralded Trojans passer and turnover machine Sam Darnold a nightmare preview of a potential future life with the Browns, would you have trusted its offense in a semifinal rematch against Clemson? Me neither. (I can’t be certain, but was that Meyer — the once-go-for-the-throat killer who former Buckeyes lineman Jack Mewhort said “would score 100 every game if he could” — wearing a sweater vest in a second half called more conservatively than Breitbart?)

Nor did the win make the year an unconditional success. When you recruit at a level matched only by Alabama, the standard is playoff or bust. That’s reality.

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But it is important to keep perspective, which has been lost more than ever in the playoff era.

Consider the following traditional powers: Florida. Miami. Michigan. Nebraska. Penn State. Southern California. Texas.

Know how many 12-win seasons they have between them the past six years? Zero.

Ohio State has five.

To put in historic context, this will be Meyer’s fifth top-six finish in the AP poll in six years — a feat equaled in 128 years at Ohio State only by Jim Tressel. Even the greatest of them all — Woody Hayes — never enjoyed such a run.

And it’s not over yet. 

If Ohio State lost the benefit of the big-game doubt with blowout losses to Clemson and Oklahoma the past two years, its response to the medium-game debacle at Iowa proved the program’s foundation is sound.

Meyer deserves a lot of credit here.

This could have gone a much different way. Imagine if the cleat was on the other foot and Southern California throttled Ohio State. The narrative would be of a program on the decline. A program losing its vise grip on the state after Ohio’s top recruit in the 2018 class went to Clemson. A program gone stale after losing three games for the first time in the Meyer era. A program with a mercenary culture symbolized by All-American cornerback’s Denzel Ward’s decision to skip the bowl game to protect his draft stock. (Which is not fair, by the way. It is Ward’s life and future, not ours.)

Meyer said his players were “devastated” by the playoff snub. It would have been easy for them to buy a roll of stamps at the Walmart across the street from Jerry World and mail in a reputedly meaningless game. 

Instead, the Buckeyes came ready, leaving their fans celebrating the past and present and hopeful for the future.

Nobody entwined these two emotions quite like Barrett, and that’s OK. There is nothing wrong with appreciating the all-time Ohio State great’s toughness, leadership, and excellence running Meyer’s zone-read offense and looking forward to the prospect of coaches — gasp — opening up the playbook for presumptive successor Dwayne Haskins, a bigger, more traditional passer.

Expectations will be the same as ever, with Haskins stepping into an offense set to return seven starters — including star freshman back J.K. Dobbins — and man-mountain Nick Bosa leading a rebuilt but just as talented defense.

Sometimes we forget it. But fresh off a Big Ten title, a win over the Pac-12 champions, and landing another marquee recruiting class, this scarlet era remains as golden as ever.

If this season was a low, there are few canyons grander.

Contact David Briggs at dbriggs@theblade.com419-724-6084, or on Twitter @DBriggsBlade.

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