The Usual

By Ramzy Nasrallah on June 13, 2018 at 1:05 pm
Nov 25, 2017; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes running back Mike Weber (25) rushes at Michigan Wolverines linebacker Devin Bush (10) in the second half at Michigan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

© Rick Osentoski | USAT Sports

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Quick trivia question: What do Ohio State's 1969, 1970, 1973-75 and 1979 teams all have in common?

Take a moment. That's six teams over an 11-year span.

No, they were not all Woody's (the last one was Earle's). They had mixed results against Michigan and in bowl games, so that's not it. Yes, every single one of those rosters had dozens of players with rich, volumous locks, vibrant afros and fantastic mustaches - but that is not what unifies them historically.

punt block that beat Michigan, 1979
Michigan's fourth blocked punt of 1979: Cool.

The answer is all of those teams were ranked either No.1 or No.2 in the country at some point during their season, but none won a national title (if you’re going to but-but-but-1970 yeah, don’t). It's even passable to suggest 1969, 1970, 1973, 1975 and 1979 all blew it, far more than it was taken from them.

Despite coming up agonizingly short so many times within the span of a 11 years, that stretch is objectively a golden era by golden era standards; an upper-class neighborhood just one gated community over from where dynasties and the idle rich reside.

It is a blessed and frustrating place to live, which is exactly how you could describe the majority of Ohio State football seasons with only a few notable exceptions. That 1969 team that came up short was basically a more talented version of the 1968 edition that won it all.

If those Rich People Problems sound familiar in the high-definition era, well congrats - you've been paying attention.

OHIO STATE FOOTBALL SINCE 2002: CLOSE, BUT ONE CIGAR
YEAR RECORD HIGH FINAL ENDED AS EPITAPH
2002 14-0 1 1 BCS Champs Clarett, Tresselball and the dawn of greater expectations.
2003 11-2 2 4 Fiesta Bowl Champs First and last time this century OSU entered The Game overconfident.
2004 8-4 7 20 Alamo Bowl Champs Rebuilding. But by season's end: Reloaded.
2005 10-2 4 4 Fiesta Bowl Champs Teeming with generational talent, burdened by frightened playcalling.
2006 12-1 1 2 BCS Runner-up A Heisman and two victorious 1-vs-2 outings overshadowed by one of the most damaging nights in program and conference history.
2007 11-2 1 5 BCS Runner-up Stumbled into a BCS title shot and blew it with one catastrophic quarter.
2008 12-3 2 9 Lost Fiesta Bowl 0-3 vs. Top-3 teams; 12-0 against everyone else.
2009 11-2 5 5 Rose Bowl Champs Choked on the revenge opportunity vs. Southern Cal. Purdue Harbor. Dominated the Rose Bowl. A split-personality team like only one other in this era.
2010 12-1 1 5 Sugar Bowl Champs When the How (Tresselball frustration) overwhelmed the What (12-1).
2011 6-7 15 NR Lost TaxSlayer Bowl Scandals: Bad. Still should have beaten Michigan and forfeited the bowl bid.
2012 12-0 3 3 Ineligible for Postseason Bowl bans: Bad. Iffy Nebraska and Notre Dame teams would have been the only obstacles in the way of another 14-0 season.
2013 12-2 2 12 Lost B1G CG & Orange Catastrophic safety play kept this team from running the table.
2014 14-1 1 1 CFP National Champs Hard to find a greater three-game stretch in program history.
2015 12-1 1 4 Fiesta Bowl Champs An embarrassment of riches squandered by mismanagement.
2016 11-2 2 6 Lost National Semi Won five games by more than 48 points and went down to the wire numerous other times before imploding. Rivals 2009 for split personality.
2017 12-2 2 5 Cotton Bowl Champs Return to Glendale 2007, Iowa City-edition.

Top-10 finishes and even Top-5 finishes are practically expected and hardly celebrated now. This is why. Outside of the 2011 reset-season, every team since 2004 has spent time in the top five. Every. One.

The 2003 and 2015 teams both should have been stronger than the ring bearers that preceded them, but they both came up short. Aside from being in title defense mode, they’re almost exactly like the garden-variety Buckeye football team from the current era: Blessed and frustrating.

It's the program's boilerplate - the Buckeyes have been good enough to win the conference every season of the current century including 2011, which says as much about the Buckeyes as it does about the Big Ten. They have been engineered to be a national title contender since 2003, which means 2018 will be the 16th year we enter the fall reasonably anticipating the possibility for unblemished run.

Outside of the 2011 reset season, every team since 2004 has spent time in the top five. Every. One.

It's practically guaranteed they'll be a contender. That's the usual. Contending.

bosa vs. penn state 2015
The 2015 Buckeyes downgraded themselves to contenders.

Ohio State is favored, often heavily, in north of 95% of its matchups. It was favored from start to finish last season and will be again this fall. Last season’s linebackers, 2013’s safeties and whatever the hell has been going on with the Zone Six meritocracy since 2014 have been the only holistically soft areas since Urban Meyer took over, which is to say a staggering 58 out of 63 units have been strong enough to be more than just contenders (we’re ignoring most of last season’s kickoff coverage here since it was an unfortunate aberration, like that trip to Iowa City).

Those 2003, 2006, 2010, 2015 and 2017 teams all seemed like sure things from the outset, which probably worked against them psychologically. Each absorbed a fatal flaw, from Maurice Clarett flaming out of college to 51 days off from a historic campaign that survived two No.1 vs. No.2 showdowns but not a third; from a bad start and slow recovery one night in Madison to the inability to properly coordinate an offense filled with NFL talent.

And last season, it was that One Indefensibly Bad Afternoon. Alabama's best win last season was against Fresno State. Sometime you're the Luckeyes, two other times you had the Crimson Tide another title shot.

Setbacks like those are hard to anticipate, let alone prepare for (the 2015 bungling was a season-long affair and the outlier among the rest of this So Close fraternity). But the foundation for title runs runs marrow deep throughout the program for so long, current players have no memory of a time when that wasn’t the case.

That run that began post-1968 until the beginning of Earle’s tenure was objectively a golden era for being in the national conversation. The current one from Jim Tressel’s arrival through the current moment has all of the same luster, with added gloss for unprecedented mastery over the rival that matters most. Being blessed and frustrated year after year is our longest tradition.

Ohio State has been the senior resident of this upperclass neighborhood for the past half-century. It just rarely gets over the gate that separates contenders from champions. So expecting perfection is not weird at all - and neither is coming up just short. It’s the usual.

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