COLUMBUS, Ohio – Fans at the Horseshoe turned the field into a sea of scarlet Saturday, and why not? It was Michigan. And it was so much more.
What Ohio State’s football team has done over the last three months is nothing short of amazing. A 26-21 win over the Wolverines was icing swirled all over a perfect cake.
It ends here, of course, which makes this 12-0 ride all the more remarkable.
Nebraska and Wisconsin, two teams the Buckeyes sent packing, will play for the Big Ten championship. Michigan will play in a bowl game.
But the Buckeyes are done, and it was awfully well done.
So the partisans swarmed the field. Why not?
After the rules were broken, after a coach’s cover-up (far, far worse than the original sins), after the allegations, after the self-reporting, after a coaching change, after an investigation, after the losing season, after another coaching change, after the gut-wrenching sanctions (including a 2012 postseason ban), after all that bad, why not celebrate something this good?
“Our senior class ... that’s all I can think about,” coach Urban Meyer said later. “Most selfless group I’ve ever been around. I want to make sure they’re properly recognized as one of the great groups of seniors in the history of this program. Maybe we’ll get 19 bronze statues somewhere, raise some money.
“I’m going to see to it when you walk into that Woody Hayes (football) facility (that) this team will never be forgotten, because they deserve that.”
There was a delicious irony dished up during the break between the first and second quarters.
This is the 10th anniversary of OSU’s last national championship team, and the school saluted the 2002 players and coaches, including Jim Tressel, on the field.
He was front and center when the honorees came out en masse, and when the former Buckeyes’ head coach was spotlighted on the video board the 105,889 in attendance gave him a warm welcome. Seconds later, when a few of Tressel’s former players lifted him up onto their shoulders, the throng roared.
Sure, they were cheering the memory of a great OSU accomplishment. They also were cheering the man whose deeds landed them in the pickle that ended this season at the here and now.
As we said, ironic.
Needless to say, the wrong coach got carried off the field on players’ shoulders.
That Meyer steered this team home with 12 wins, no losses, especially with the hand they were dealt, solidifies his standing as one of the best in the business. Forget his ability to keep this team focused amidst adversity. (On second thought, don’t forget it.) But start with the reality that pretty much this same personnel, the same team, was 6-7 a year ago. The only significant changes were the head coach and much of his staff.
Was the nonconference schedule soft? No question. Was the Big Ten less than stellar? Most would say yes. Does any of that matter? Not to the Buckeyes.
They did it with defense on the road at Michigan State, overwhelmed Nebraska with 63 points, survived a shootout at Indiana, needed overtime against Purdue and Wisconsin.
Saturday’s game was a microcosm of the season. It was a can-you-top-this first half – lots of big plays, lots of scoring, UM leading 21-20 – and then Ohio State pitched a second-half shutout, held the Wolverines to 60 net yards of offense, never let ’em cross the 50-yard line.
The Buckeyes produced whatever they needed, delivered week after week. They are the Big Ten champions, regardless of what happens in the league title game, regardless of whose name is etched on a trophy.
“I think the team will be remembered as a very unselfish team that had to come together through tough circumstances,” punter Ben Buchanan said. “To be a senior on this team is an honor. This team was one that would not accept anything less than 12-0.”
But it will be forced to settle for 12-0.
So, of course, Meyer was asked about that.
What if Ohio State, when all is said and done, ends up as major college football’s only unbeaten? Does it merit being No. 1 in the AP poll, riding the only wave that recognizes its current existence, to a share of a national title for which it can’t otherwise compete?
Meyer wrestled with that one.
“I’m just trying to picture the headline,” he said to laughter.
He hemmed and he hawed, started and stopped. And, finally: “I think this team could play and compete with any team in the United States of America as of now.”
As of now, the 2012 season is over. Perfect, but over.