The Ohio State Buckeyes lost their first games under Urban Meyer to close out the 2013 season. It was the second time in three seasons that they lost consecutive games to finish the year, and it extended the outright conference championship drought to a fourth year.
Despite that very real backslide, the external pressure to succeed may have been even greater this year than last. It was to be the final season for Braxton Miller. The first year of the new college football playoff. How much that kind of pressure matters to the team internally is another question entirely, but fans and media would certainly have been looking to point fingers if the Buckeyes didn’t wind up in the bracket come December. That was all before August 19th. Miller, a legitimate contender for the Heisman Trophy, will spend the next several months rehabbing and (presumably) return for his swansong do-over in 2015. In his place stands redshirt freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett. On the one hand, it’s a devastating turn for Miller. On the other, it’s an incredible opportunity for Barrett. Expect growing pains, sure. Maybe a head-scratcher or two. But the ship sails on, the players play, and I dare say that the season just got a whole lot more interesting. To finish in the top four (as declared by Condoleezza Rice & Friends, more generically known as the College Football Playoff Selection Committee), Ohio State will almost certainly have to run the regular season table for a third consecutive year, which is mid-’90s Nebraska/Greek myth type stuff. Can it be done? If they weren’t a shoo-in with Miller healthy, they’re certainly underdogs now. If Barrett (assuming he stays on the field himself) delivers, and Meyer and his staff can guide this team to thirteen more wins, one wonders if reaching the Final Four in football will carry the same kind of import as it does in basketball, or if it will make the waters only more turbid, make winning it all even more necessary for people to be able to validate the success of the team and its relevance in their own lives. The budding Mr. Barrett and the young men at his side would certainly have reason to celebrate. It’s a new year, a new team, and a new overall landscape. However it ends up, we at least get to discover it all together once again.
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