Perfection's Direction

By Ramzy Nasrallah on August 3, 2022 at 1:15 pm
Ohio State Buckeyes wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba (11) congratulates wide receiver Julian Fleming (4) on scoring a touchdown during the second quarter of the NCAA football game against the Michigan State Spartans at Ohio Stadium in Columbus on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021. Michigan State Spartans At Ohio State Buckeyes Football
© Adam Cairns | Dispatch

Gaslighting reigns from January through July, when every college football program is undefeated.

It's an offseason tradition. Lies, Heart, Truth and Garbage - which all look the same! - billowed out of the WHAC or WHAC-adjacent information sources for the past seven months.

It's impossible to separate or identify which is what until well after the turf beads start flying and the cameras are rolling. It can even be a mixed bag in real time. Consider these 2017 camp takes:

  • (True freshman Chase) Young really is shaped like the Predator in his body armor. He practically looks photoshopped.
  • (True freshman JK) Dobbins merely appears like he's going to be a nightmare for defenses; everything he does is so snappy and crisp.
  • Guys who made me think wow, who is that?:
    • Elijah Gardiner, who somehow looks taller than he's listed at 6'4". Faaaaaade route.
    • Isaiah Pryor. NFL body. Young teenager.
    • Jaylen Harris. Ohio State is equipped for an All-Jump-Ball offense for the foreseeable future.
    • Ben Victor. If he gained 15lbs in this offseason, he's hiding it very well.

I was blissfully unaware Pryor's Ohio State legacy would become Rondale Moore (don't click) treating him like a practice dummy. My earnest attempt to forecast the 2017 Buckeyes was Lies, Heart, Truth, Garbage - the whole bag.

Truth requires barrel aging for identification. We don't know until we know.

The other three need a little marinating too, but those often come in familiar, reliable vintages. Offseason workouts couldn't be going better. Sweet! Guy who needed to put on Good Weight got bulky. Of course he did. Welcome to Unstoppable City, Population: Him.

Every August, nearly 100% of the returning players are assumed to be significantly better football players than they were when the bowl game bus parked itself back in January. That's the aspiration, but in reality it's a comforting lie we tell ourselves. Someone isn't better.

We all know that's not how humans collectively operate, yet we huff those fumes because they smell amazing. In August, everything smells like Truth. Let's all take a hit right now.

annual rite of fall

During gaslighting season this could be anything. Let's assume it's Truth and prove the assumption.

After Ohio State took down Texas Tech in the first game of Jim Tressel's second season, Richard McNutt (whose 2002 Heisman campaign web page is still up) raised what turned out to be the final Kickoff Classic trophy over his head, looked directly into the ABC camera and confidently barked, this is the start of something special.

Seemed like Heart at the time, but it was Garbage to the most cynical among us who couldn’t shake that McNutt's team was coming off a tepid 7-5 campaign. Carson Palmer might have robbed him of the Heisman in December, but his August declaration turned out to be eternal, historic Truth.

Day did not say anything last year about the Buckeyes having a different look in their eye, but the 2020 Buckeyes weren't debased by their rivals either - they lost to the best Alabama of all time with barely 60% of their roster available. You'd prefer them to bring an edge to every season, but we all know that's not how humans collectively operate.

the last MICHIGAN LOSS SPAWNED 24-GAME WIN STREAK. THE BUCKEYES don't need NEARLY that many this time to hang another BANNER in the North end zone.

So it's reasonable to believe Michigan is largely responsible for igniting that edge. Last week I attended a private event where Day and Tony Alford were both present, and they visibly fuming while discussing how much they were looking forward to this season. They brought up the first game on the schedule as well as the last one.

They also knew how many days there were until each game. Two countdowns. That's new.

Both men had an edge of their own, along with a different look in their eyes - as if they were both accustomed to being referred to as defending champions, but lacking that designation for the first time in several years. I assume Day's comment is Truth. At worst, it's Heart. He could be projecting.

This season is different from the jump on account of the scheduling, but also in that we're no longer peeling ourselves off COVID's boot as much as we're just living with it. Here's where we were a year ago, coming off a fourth-straight conference title, no Michigan game and a CFP title game appearance:

Day says he thought Ohio State needed more attention on the back end of the defense when it came to the new coaching hire. "I think (then DB, later co-DC, now-former Ohio State assistant current Memphis Tigers DC Matt Barnes) really good. I think he's really, really good."

Now that's Heart. We all wish Barnes was really good. He'd still be on the staff if that were Truth.

We can scrub the fragmented 2020 takes from the record, as they were largely captured on Instagram during the throes of the pandemic. Include the unprecedented among the precedents isn't all that useful.

matt barnes in ann arbor
Former co-DC Matt Barnes prior to his last regular season game with Ohio State.

Take us back to the pre-COVID offseason normalcy of 2019:

“Me and Zach (Harrison), we’re going to wreck some offensive tackles the next few years,” (former Buckeye, current Bearcat Noah) Potter said.

This one is still open with Harrison primed for a grand finale. Potter merely looked like a third Bosa brother in his 97 jersey - and that was inflated by offseason fumes. There's some Garbage there, but overall 2019 preseason optimism nearly matched 2019 season results.

It aged well! The 2018 preseason takes were less prescient.

Urban Meyer said he has confidence in Billy Davis' (linebacker) unit as Ohio State begins to wind down spring ball. 

"You've got some good bodies. We're not ready to say who is going to be in what position. It's our job to get the best three of them out there," Meyer said March 26. "That position, once again, they're not perfect, but they don't have to be, and they're trying. I kind of like that position right now."

Good bodies, objective Truth. They're trying, classic Heart. The rest was Garbage. It's perfectly fine to hire your best friend who has no college coaching experience to coach college kids while paying him a half-million dollar salary - if you're cool with the consequences, like conspicuously lowering expectations only for units led by your groomsmen.

One more, before we get too dizzy - let's inhale a little 2017 optimism:

With no proven wide receivers and an offense expected to improve significantly led by a new coordinator and fifth-year quarterback, there is a strong chance (Binjimen) Victor emerges into a superstar at wide receiver in 2017.

Every part of that sentence feels like a dispatch from the Woody Hayes era until you get to the receiver name. Victor ended up with 23 catches that season, which basically makes him Peak Jan White. It's like Woody never left.

That fifth-year QB ended up a unanimous 1st team All-B1G selection for the third time. Parris Campbell made the 3rd team, but that was it for Zone Six. Victor was on the verge of superstar emergence throughout his Ohio State career. Heart at best, Lies if we’re cynical.

Another effective gaslighting season is now behind us, and this year I've been able to assemble and justify a 15-0 Ohio State football campaign in my head that passes my This Could Definitely Happen test. My lungs might just be filled with smoke, but I won’t know until January.

It’s that lethal combination of an exceptional offense paired with an okayest defense which steers my easily swindled feelings in perfection's direction for 2022. As an added mystical bonus, the last time the Buckeyes lost to Michigan? They won their next 24 games.

They don't need nearly that many this time around to hang another banner in the North end zone. McNutt declared 20 years ago this month this is the start of something special. Texas Tech was the catalyst back then. Perhaps this time it's that disaster in Ann Arbor.

It could be Lies, Garbage or Heart. But this might also be Truth. Check back in a few months.

View 41 Comments