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Rebutting the Buckeye Backlash Again

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Back in March, Sunday Morning Quarterback had this to say about Ohio State:

I don't know that anyone else will come closer to saying what is probably true about the Buckeyes right now, which is that, even just five years removed from an undefeated, mythical championship season, they are for all intents and purposes the Buffalo Bills. I don't think this is disputable, and encourage the skeptical reader to introduce the topic on any blog or message board with regular contributions from SEC fans if they wish to test the premises.

I, for one, was having none of it:

I doubt seriously that Ohio State will draw the short straw if push comes to shove. The Big 12 entered the 2005 season with a comparable black eye after the exposure of Oklahoma's unworthiness in championship showdowns at the ends of the 2003 and 2004 campaigns appeared to confirm a nagging suspicion held by many in the wake of Nebraska's outrageous invitation to the Rose Bowl at the end of the 2001 season, but that sentiment did not prevent Texas from earning a Rose Bowl berth that year.

Now that the early returns are starting to roll in, Buckeye Commentary has tallied the poll votes and come to this conclusion:

The upshot of SMQ’s piece, and my imperfect composition, is that Ohio State will be held to a higher standard – a standard that always exists in the future. Regardless of the Buckeyes performance each week, many around the country will project their imminent demise, i.e., "They’re good, but they cannot beat [insert SEC team here]."

AP voters and the coaches will rank Ohio State highly at the beginning of the season, but given the chance to demote them, the Buckeyes downward slide would most likely be permanent and fatal. Because of the recent past and public outcries, one loss may be too much for the Buckeyes and pollsters to overcome. The assertion that the entire regular season is a playoff may never be truer for any team.

To put it generously, the evidence for this Buckeye backlash is less than overwhelming:

* Mark Schlabach, who has Ohio State languishing all the way down at No. 3, praises the Buckeyes’ "very stingy defense" and touts Beanie Wells as a Heisman Trophy candidate before revealing his deep-seated doubts in this suspicious sentence: "Ohio State is good enough to go through the Big Ten schedule unbeaten, but a Sept. 13 road trip to USC might decide its BCS title hopes."

* Dennis Dodd tosses out the phrase "against my better judgment," revealing his true colors in spite of the fact that he ranks Ohio State No. 1 while offering this explanation:

Ohio State looks like the best thing on 44 legs right now. That is a reference to the starting 22, of which 18 are returning starters. We're talking some of the nation's best, most-decorated players -- tailback Beanie Wells, linebacker James Laurinaitis, defensive back Malcolm Jenkins. Heck, quarterback Todd Boeckman already is rated one of the best quarterbacks available in the 2009 draft.

Todd Boeckman?

Oh, there's this Terrelle Pryor kid too.

I can feel Georgia Nation's hate right now. Like everyone else, I was falling in love with the Bulldogs. They had the momentum, the coach, the talent. But Georgia did lose twice last season and didn't play in the SEC title game. (The truth hurts, so does a three-touchdown loss to Tennessee) The Dawgs are going to have to do better than that -- then win the SEC championship game -- before getting to South Florida.

Ohio State? Jim Tressel has coached his Bucks to three of the last six BCS title games, winning one, so let's not go into full mock mode here. However, the Big Ten has become so soft that even if Ohio State loses to USC on Sept. 13, it should be able to recover to play for the national championship.

Truly, the disdain for the Buckeyes and the fawning over the S.E.C. are palpable. But, wait! There’s more:

* Stewart Mandel ranked Ohio State second, noting that "[i]t’s becoming increasingly clear to me that those three teams are absolutely loaded heading into this season" . . . "those three teams" being Georgia, Ohio State, and Southern California.

* College Football News has Ohio State ranked No. 1 and, after debunking the silly notion that the Buckeyes lack athleticism with the cogent point that the team annually sends scads of players to the N.F.L., the site explains that the former "national punching bag . . . will be good enough to get another shot with almost everyone of note returning." To those who would "let out a collective groan at the thought of OSU in another national title game," College Football News offered the reminder that, "with all the returning talent, this really should be 2008’s best team."

* Matt Hayes vaulted the Buckeyes from seventh to second after spring practice, stating his case plainly:

Deal with it, people:

Ohio State is in the thick of the national title picture -- again. The Buckeyes replace four starters from last fall -- none at critical spots. The addition of uber-recruit QB Terrelle Pryor will give the offense balance, but more impressive is the attitude with which this team went back to work after a second-straight embarrassing loss in the national title game. The reality is this: No other team would've beaten Florida or LSU. The Bucks were the poor saps on the other sideline caught in the tidal wave of two teams with second chances and something to prove.

Of the five sets of rankings released already, two have Ohio State ranked No. 1 and none have the Buckeyes ranked lower than third. O.S.U.’s composite score of 121 narrowly trails that of consensus No. 1 Georgia (123) and well outpaces those of No. 3 Oklahoma (112) and No. 4 U.S.C. (111).

The Buckeyes, it should be noted, face that fourth-ranked Trojan club in Los Angeles on September 13, as well as running up against No. 10 Wisconsin in Madison on October 4, No. 17 Illinois in Champaign on November 15, No. 21 Penn State in Columbus on October 25, and No. 23 Michigan State in East Lansing on October 18.

I’m sorry, but I ain’t buying this "Buckeye backlash" business.

Ohio State, which boasts one of the most storied programs in the history of the sport, has attended three of the last six designated national championship games and has appeared in B.C.S. bowl games five times in the last half-dozen seasons. Everyone agrees that the Buckeyes are one of the two or three best teams in college football right now, and influential voices argue that they ought to be ranked No. 1.

The Buckeyes’ daunting slate includes the autumn’s marquee out-of-conference match-up and five games against teams in the consensus preseason top 25, four of which will be played on the road. If Ohio State goes unbeaten, they’re in the national championship game, no matter how many other teams finish with unblemished records; if the Buckeyes drop one along the way, they’ll still get in ahead of several other once-beaten teams, and probably ahead of an unbeaten A.C.C. or Big East champion.

If the preseason polls are at all accurate---and, after last year, heck, we could be in for a bland, predictable, uneventful year in 2008---it all ought to come out in the wash: No. 1 Georgia, No. 6 Florida, and No. 7 Louisiana State square off with one another in an S.E.C. round-robin; No. 2 Ohio State and No. 4 Southern California meet early in the year; and No. 3 Oklahoma, No. 8 Texas, and No. 12 Texas Tech will battle for the Big 12 South crown, with the winner to meet the victor of the showdown between No. 5 Missouri and No. 11 Kansas in the conference championship game. It seems likely that the process of elimination in selecting the national championship game participants will rely heavily on head-to-head results.

The Buckeyes are a major program in a major conference. Given the toughness of the slate they face, Ohio State will be given every opportunity to earn its way into a third straight national title tilt. What we are witnessing in this oh-woe-is-me hand-wringing by partisans of the No. 2 team in the country is the "backlash to the backlash."

The Buckeyes are one of the three teams whose fans need to learn to cope with being at the top of the food chain. Ohio State is where every team in the country wants to be. The Buckeyes are a perennial source of N.F.L. talent and a constant contender on the national stage. They need to come to grips with the terrible tragedy of being universally recognized as one of the best teams in the land.

Go ‘Dawgs!