The Dignity of Work

By Ramzy Nasrallah on August 23, 2017 at 1:05 pm
J.T. Barrett warms up with Michael Thomas, 2015
Greg Bartram-USAT Sports

Urgency was absent from the outset.

The Buckeyes made the necessary plays in order to make that Virginia Tech rematch look like bloodthirsty vengeance. Peel back the broken secrecy over who would start at quarterback, Zeke busting 80 yards through the heart of Blacksburg, Michael Thomas destroying a 1st round draft pick for a touchdown and, of course, Braxton's 360 and the defending national champions were otherwise uneven and clunky for most of the evening.

It seems silly to nitpick. They won comfortably. But that team with those guys should have won every game comfortably. When you win, nothing hurts. It was all going to be fine.

Ohio State had been favored to win by 14.5. It was already up 25 when the Hokies scored a garbage-time TD with under two minutes remaining. Covered the spread, despite a bunch of kinks - and in a hostile environment. Plenty of time to smooth things out.

No rush. They knew how good they were. It would click, eventually. It had to.

No program can win the national title on the first Wednesday of February alone.

That Saturday (it was a short week; the Buckeyes got home from Virginia early Tuesday morning) Ohio State blanked Hawaii, held the Rainbows under 100 yards of offense and then spent the postgame press conference trying to explain what went wrong.

A 38-0 home opener. And then, an apology. 

This continued over the following two weeks, against eventual MAC division co-champions Northern Illinois and Western Michigan. The Buckeyes went long stretches where they sucked out loud, but then still won. A month into its title defense, Ohio State football was both joyless and riding a 17-game winning streak.

It knew it should be better, and also realized that hadn't mattered. The Buckeyes barely escaped Bloomington after that. They kept the Penn State and Maryland games far too interesting for far too long before pulling away (Ohio State did make easy work of Rutgers, because some teams are impervious to narratives - try not to let that outlier distract you).

Win after win, it was ace recruiting that saved each Saturday. The 2015 Buckeyes should have been good enough to beat absolutely anybody quite comfortably that season - from practically any era - en route to a repeat.

They just didn't. And it was because urgency was absent from the outset. When you're that freaking good, it's hard to panic about anything.

A full season removed from the surest sure thing Ohio State has fielded since 1998, the 2017 edition submits a delightful mix of weathered NFL-ready veterans and blue chip teenage man-children for college football's consideration.

The Buckeyes are not the preseason No.1 team. They're the preseason No.2. That single integer separating them from the top spot is about 100 votes and a mile wide. They're going to be exceptional. They are absolutely not a sure thing.

Two years, two canceled December trips to Indianapolis and zero points scored since Curtis Samuel galloped into the north endzone against Michigan later, Ohio State is once again talented enough to beat any team in 2017. It just hasn't. If urgency is absent from the outset again - in spite of winning games - you will quickly recognize the path down which the season is heading.

They're 23-3 over the past two seasons; 15-2 in conference play. They haven't collected a single commemorative shirt or hat in that span. Ohio State sells its football program on three member benefits: Gold Pants jewelry, NFL aspirations realized and the birthright timeshares it holds on championship stages in Indianapolis and at CFP sites.

The Buckeyes are going to be exceptional. They are absolutely not a sure thing.

It's an all-or-nothing contract. This is explicitly why blue chip teenage man-children choose Ohio State, as well as why Urban Meyer doesn't work at ESPN anymore.

One year is a blip. Two is drought. Three would be a trend, especially with the diminished number of Ohio State players bothering to stick around for a fourth season. The last time the Buckeyes gifted themselves with urgency like this, Virginia Tech was celebrating in the Horseshoe. Perhaps the embers from 31-0 will continue glowing as wins accumulate.

No program in America - not Clemson, not Alabama and as we know too well from recent, high-definition memories, not Ohio State - can clinch the national title on the first Wednesday of February alone. The Buckeyes will have to do it on the field, again, and it's going to require urgency that should have finally made its way back to campus after a brief hiatus and a whole bunch of wins that didn't end on stages.

And it's going to be hard as hell, but nothing is harder than having everything and winning nothing.

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