Friday, August 22, 2008

Bitter Buckeye

I hate to call myself a Buckeye fan but I root for the team. I can’t stand Jim Tressel, with his button-down, fussbudget style, but I can’t complain about his record even though he’s shown a propensity for being outcoached in big games. I don’t relish it when the Buckeyes lose but there’s a sadistic little part of me that takes pleasure in knowing that Buckeye Nation, as they like to call themselves, will feel the pain of that loss for months on end.

It’s no secret that there are a lot of OSU haters around the country. Part of that is because Ohio State has been very successful over the past few seasons and that’s what Buckeye Nation tells itself. The animosity is steeped in jealousy. To a degree that’s true, but the ill will towards all things Buckeye has legitimate roots. Soft scheduling, abundant home games and dominance of a sluggish conference that has yet to embrace the concept of a championship game are major issues people take with Ohio State. Suspicious recruiting tactics, academic issues and boorish behavior by the players is also part of the problem.

I tend to cut players slack. I went to college. I drank and acted a fool. That’s what college kids do. That’s also what 40 and 50 year-old men tailgating outside of the stadium do. People sometimes get their ass on. No biggie. So when Antonio Henton got nabbed for trying to pay an undercover vice cop $20 for a quickie, I kept it in perspective. How was he supposed to know the cardinal rule? Hot hookers are always cops…well, at least to whatever degree a vice officer can be a cop. If you want a $20 BJ you need to settle for the flabby old hag with skuzzy teeth and body odor.

I didn’t cut the players slack on two occasions last year: their losses. There’s no shame in losing but beating yourself is unacceptable. That’s what Ohio State did when they lost to Illinois. But that’s not what irked me. Ohio State went out and laid an egg. They played with no energy and got worked over like a sparring partner but somehow after the game all those tired Buckeye players managed to muster up enough energy to engage in a midfield brawl because Illinois was celebrating a little too vigorously. Hey guys, if you wanted to defend your honor you should have won the game. Losers hit the showers, winners dance for joy. Deal with it.

Those same players showed poor character during the BCS Championship game against LSU when the vaunted Buckeye line invested more energy into running their mouths than they did in trying to block LSU’s defensive front. I’m not naïve, I played a little football and I know that there’s some jawing that goes on in the trenches but generally you keep your mouth shut when you’re getting your butt handed to you on every play. Not if you’re a Buckeye, apparently.

Now I’m an Ohio native and I’ve always consider the Buckeyes to be my favorite team so if I’m watching these guys play and thinking what a bunch of jerks they are, what are non-Buckeye fans thinking? There’s another solid cornerstone to Buckeye loathing. This program has shown a hell of a lot more ass than it has class. Is it as bad as Miami? No. Nobody can limbo quite that low but it is a departure from the standards I thought the program aspired to.

The perception that Ohio State, and by extension the Big 10 conference, is soft really doesn’t hold as much water as people like to believe. Ohio State sends as many players to the NFL as the next team and the conference holds its own in bowl games against any conference, even the ballyhooed SEC. The problem is that the Big 10 closes its season early and doesn’t feature a conference championship game even though the conference title has been shared on numerous occasions. It’s unfair to judge the entire conference by Ohio State’s disappointing performances in the past two BCS title games but the conference isn’t doing much to alter that perception. Instead conference honchos get defensive and whiny. That makes matters worse and that gives people more reason to hate on Ohio State.

Buckeye Nation won’t hear any of this. They bitterly complain about Ohio State gets no respect and how underrated the team is. Ohio State enters the coming season ranked anywhere from #2 to #5 in the countless number of preseason polls with the consensus locking them in the top 3. Still the scuttlebutt around the water cooler in any Columbus office is how the Buckeyes aren’t being given enough credit. That happens when you lay eggs when the national title is on the line, folks. Frankly, I’m surprised the Buckeyes are ranked inside the top 5.

That being said, the bar is set high this year. The Buckeyes are loaded with a slew or starters returning from last year’s runner up. Only one significant player left for the NFL and the Buckeyes has enough depth on the defensive line to fill Gholsten’s shoes. Aside from a road trip to USC the Buckeyes should win every game on their schedule with great ease. The USC game is even favorable because USC has big question marks on the offensive line and at quarterback. With the Buckeyes returning a veteran cast on defense they should have a tremendous advantage over the Trojans in spite of playing on the road. So it’s pretty safe to say that Ohio State should be unbeaten this year. Can they deliver?

I’m doubt it. They should have been unbeaten last year and the year before. I don’t think this team can stop admiring itself in the mirror for an entire season. That seems to be their downfall and that’s why people hate them. I cant say I blame them.

I hope the Buckeyes do well, I really do but if they stumble I can take solace in the fact that the idiots who call themselves Buckeye Nation will have to swallow that bitter pill.

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