One of my favorite Looney Tunes cartoons goes like this:
Bugs Bunny and Cecil Turtle are chilling out in a steam bath, talking about the Tortoise and the Hare. Bugs is pretty irritated that a rabbit would lose to a lowly, laconic turtle, and Cecil says that he could probably pull it off. Bugs takes that bet, and after the two agree not to cheat, the race starts.
Cecil cheats, because he's got a sweet rocket pack in the back of his shell, and Bugs tries everything to trip him up or slow him down, to no avail. Eventually, Bugs races the turtle straight up and somehow beats his plodding plated opponent, but after admitting that he had been doing "100 easy" in a 30 mph zone, he gets arrested by the police.
I'm not sure exactly what kind of social commentary that Friz Freleng was going for in 1947 with this deeply resonant morality play, but I for one find it to be suspiciously congruent to the situation that the Ohio State Buckeyes find themselves in during the new era of college football playoffs.
Stay with me here: Ohio State is Bugs Bunny. At least in the minds of Ohio State fans. We think, we know, that we have team speed. Doran Grant, Dontre Wilson, James Clark, and dozens of other football players are proof positive to that. But, because of the perception of the Big Ten, we'll still have frequent and vocal SECecils telling us that the world is flat, the sky is green, and that turtles can routinely beat rabbits in foot races.
So, we agree not to cheat. Then we compete. Then, SECecil cheats. We do too, but that's okay because we cheat in more subtle ways than sticking a rocket pack on our backs or throwing money at a recruit's parent or giving free dealership cars to players to drive around for four years.
Usually we lose ("Tortoise Beats Hare" and "Tortoise Wins By A Hare"), and all this does is to make us even angrier the next time the comparison comes up.
This generally hasn't been a problem, except for our own general sanity and mental well-being. Now, in a playoff era where outward appearance has a direct impact on Ohio State's ability to play in said championship playoff, Ohio State is going to have to walk the walk and talk the talk of whatever type of team that the rest of the country says it is, OR, if we can pull it off, walk the walk and talk the talk of the type of team that we say we are.
Michigan State's Rose Bowl win might've done real damage to Ohio State's effort to convince the rest of the country that we're the fast lil' bunnies that we say we are. Sparty has built a Tressel-esque team built on suffocating defense and adequate offense, which is great for them, but not so good for any Big Ten team trying to shed the image of a B1G conference that looks like lesser versions of Dantonio's squad.
Of course, last year Ohio State didn't do itself many favors in that regard either. By mostly ditching the passing game in favor of a semi-unstoppable rushing attack, the Buckeyes reinforced the concept of a ground and pound, three yards and a cloud of rubber pellets Ohio State team that beats you with power and pure rock fury, not speed and dubstep.
To change that image, the Ohio State football team needs to utilize the inherent speed that they have on their team. This involves the quarterbacks, the receivers, and more importantly, the offensive coordinator who will decide who gets what and where. Ohio State can't claim to be a "speed team" if it shuts down playmakers like Dontre Wilson halfway through the season, or limits what dynamic guys like Jalin Marshall can do on Saturdays. It has to be able to prove their mettle on the football field, even if it might be "easier" to pound inside with Dunn and Elliot 35-40 times a game.
I think that Urban Meyer is aware of this. Note that the student competition wasn't who could out-squat the football team, or who could deadlift more, or who could drag an airplane with their teeth a longer distance. It was about speed, and if Ohio State wants to give Bugs Bunny that win, we'd better make sure that we're going as fast as we can.
And damn the speed limits.