The thunder rolled. The lightning flashed. The teams waited.
Ohio State and Oklahoma met on Sept. 17 in Norman, but not before some severe weather delayed kickoff by two hours. It was one of the most highly-anticipated non-conference games of the 2016 season; the wait surely didn’t help calm the nerves.
When the game finally did begin, it didn’t take long for the Buckeyes to show they were the better team. Noah Brown caught four touchdown passes and Ohio State rolled to a 45-24 victory. The questions about the Buckeyes’ youth and inexperience? Those were answered in resounding fashion. Ohio State clearly looked like one of the best teams in the country that night.
The win was massive then. It looks even bigger now.
“That game in Norman, Oklahoma, turned out to be kind of the difference in this whole situation,” Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer said recently.
The Buckeyes probably wouldn’t be playing Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl as part of the College Football Playoff without that victory in Norman. Not with the way the rest of the season played out after that game, anyway. Ohio State needed that win and it got it.
It was necessary because the Buckeyes didn’t win their conference and Ohio State became the first team to ever qualify for the College Football Playoff in its now three-year history without doing so. The committee rewarded the Buckeyes for playing a tough non-conference game against the Sooners, who went on to eventually finish 10-2 and win the Big 12. Had Ohio State played, say, Kent State instead of Oklahoma, the Buckeyes probably aren't one of the committee's final four teams.
But that night in Norman goes a bit deeper than just a resume-building win, too. Ohio State was so young entering this 2016 season — the Buckeyes had 12 players drafted from the previous year’s team and lost 16 starters — the victory over Oklahoma allowed for the rest of what happened this year to transpire.
“I remember that week very vivid,” defensive end Tyquan Lewis recalled. “Guys came out and they practiced hard. You could just tell, like, you guys, they were ready. That was their opportunity to shine, showcase their talents on a big stage like that.”
“Playing on a stage like that, it’s an away game, hostile environment and none of them were nervous. We had a rain delay. Everything looked bad, but none of them were nervous. They stayed composed, went out there and played hard.”
The win over the Sooners undoubtedly gave a young, inexperienced Ohio State team some much-needed confidence. It also gave the Buckeyes a victory they didn’t know they needed so badly at the time.
Meyer joked earlier this week he wasn't exactly thrilled to take his team on the road against a top-tier program that early on in the season. Turns out, it was the best thing that could have happened to Ohio State this year.
It helped the Buckeyes in more than one way.
“When I first saw the schedule, I wasn’t all jacked up about taking our team, a young team, on the road to Oklahoma,” Meyer said. “That was our first road trip. For half that team, they got on a plane and they’d never done that before to go to a place where they never lose.”
“I think as we go forward, that’s critical, who you’re playing early in the season. Obviously, it benefited us.”