No, no, no, no, no!
NOTHING, Bill Connelly of ESPN, stats man extraordinaire! Quit providing hints to these former glory hogs of college football about how they can finally, legitimately, claim to be "back." Backness is a state of being that can only be achieved by first being "away," which in of itself requires that a football program be somewhere to begin with. That's a fancy way of saying that the Texases and Nebraskas and Notre Dames of the world should never be allowed to be back, and their continued downfall should be facilitated by the Ohio State Buckeyes.
My thesis is this: college football (and by extension, all of sport) is best when it is weird. I don't care for hegemonies or dynasties or whatever you want to call it when one program or team dominates a sport for a lengthy period of time because not only does it stagnate the sport creatively, but it also amplifies the dumber aspects of how fans and media react to it.
No one is "owed" anything in college football.
No one should be a presumed champion of a conference before the season even starts and definitely no team should have a guaranteed spot in the College Football Playoff simply because they survived the regular season mostly intact.
The exception to this is Ohio State, which I rationalize in part because the Buckeyes have been anything but a monolith in the past few decades aside from their consistent virtue of "being kickass," but also because they're My Team so screw everyone else. It's not an internally consistent position, but the refs got that call wrong in the Clemson game, so you know... they deserve it.
Plus, if you really think about it, Ohio State's impact on a national scale in the past few decades has mostly come when they've been a welcome agent of chaos. It doesn't make a ton of sense that Jim Tressel's "aw gee guys, just glad to be here" squad beat a supposedly legendary Miami team in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl, but they did and it was hilarious.
And actually, let's dwell on Tressel for a second: it is extremely funny and good that a dude so aggressively retrograde in his football tactics was so successful for such a long time, especially as football was moving in the exact opposite direction.
It doesn't make any sense that a third string backup quarterback with zero useful experience would annihilate three venerated programs in a row en route to a national championship, but that happened too. Even the losses, like against Urban Meyer and Gators, were crazy reminders that pretty much anything can and should happen in college football.
The other football blue bloods, when they've won championships or had sustained success, have generally gone about it in a depressingly boring fashion. Alabama winning another crystal football is about the worst thought that I can think of, because none of the differences between any of Nick Saban's teams are interesting enough to be worth remembering. It's like if a team of Scottie Pippens guided the Bulls to six NBA titles in the 90's: impressive, amazing even, but in a decade the cultural impact of those teams will be a collective "...huh, how about that."
Texas was crazy once. Vince Young running wild over college football and beating the golden boys from USC is one of the most fun, unexpected stories of the game in the last 25 years. But that was a long, long time ago.
Since then, the Longhorns have turned to a parade of super-generic good ol' Texas country boys to quarterback them to the promised land, and have mostly fallen off the radar nationally. Tom Herman was supposed to revitalize the program, and in doing so he's gotten them back to being "fine, but that's about it." Great job.
Notre Dame and Nebraska are weird curio cabinets in the form of college football teams.
No one ever really believes that Brian Kelly's teams are any good because they usually aren't, but boy howdy do writers love spilling September ink trying to wake the echoes for readers that mostly aren't old enough to remember the last time the Fighting Irish won anything important. Notre Dame being Actually Significant wouldn't be fun or interesting or new, just malaise-y and dumb, with added Rudy clips.
Nebraska, like Texas, used to be fun as hell. Tom Osborne lost seven bowls in a row before saying the hell with it and bringing in whoever he needed, however he needed, to win the big one. And he did, three times! It was super dope and fun, but it was a blip on the radar compared to the years of staid mediocrity that followed. I'm, frankly, kind of over Scott Frost; Nebraska better be damn good next season because nine wins in two years takes the shine off real damn quick.
Let's go back to Bill Connelly. His advice to Texas and Nebraska explains why and how they can "play better defense," "figure out how to win close games" and "find consistent playmakers," which... great! They should do that. Every team should, and Connelly does an excellent job of showing just what deficiencies the 'Horns and 'Huskers had last year. But why them?
I understand the reflex. I've had it myself once or twice. "Oh look, the media is propping up [insert fallen blue blood here]. What a surprise." My Twitter mentions got hit pretty hard when my 2020 SP+ projections declared Texas a top-15 college football team and Nebraska a top-25 team earlier this offseason [...]
Reflexes are important, Bill! They can prevent an errant cheeto from falling uselessly to the ground, or stop us from walking in front of a truck full of chickens. The reflex that says "hey, maybe these guys have had their chance" also happens to be the correct one.
Ohio State, therefore, needs to be the cudgel that keeps these boring-ass blue bloods in check while also paving the way for B and C-tier teams to make an impact in their own goofy fashion. I'm not suggesting that Elon suddenly become a college football darling, but the likes of P.J. Fleck and Minnesota or the West Virginia Mountaineers replacing programs in our national consciousness that don't deserve to be there is a good thing.
The Buckeyes play home and homes with Notre Dame, Texas, perpetually underachieving Georgia, and of course a regular tilt against Nebraska in the coming years. All of them must be defeated, badly, so that the seeds of new college football mainstays can be sown.
Ohio State took down Miami, maybe forever. It can do it again.