Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Crushed Nuts

(Photo: New Orleans Times-Picayune)

In general, I suppose it does speak to the relative strength of a school's football program when it reaches the BCS national championship game two years in a row.

But for Ohio State's sake, they can only hope that's the last time in a long while they'll have to play in the title game. Because for the second year in a row, they got pushed around, run past, and bowled over by a superior opponent from the SEC.

Last night's title game was flat embarassing for Ohio State. In every sense, LSU outmatched, outclassed and outplayed the Buckeyes to win going away, 38-24.

This game was so uncompetitive that at one point, LSU had rattled off 31 straight unanswered points against the Bucks.

That's a lot of points to paste on any team, regardless of who's playing. But considering that Ohio State entered the game with the country's top rated defense, you could reach the conclusion that:

a) Ohio State's defensive statistics are about as authentic as Hawai'i's offensive numbers;

b) LSU has superior athletes and was better prepared by virtue of playing a tougher schedule; or

c) The Big Ten sucks.

Granted, LSU is a very, very good team. The two losses they suffered this year both came in triple overtime. Entering this season, many pundits had them pegged to win the national championship, so their win last night really should not surprise anyone.

But could anyone have suspected they would be this much better than Ohio State?

Looking back, the parallels are obvious between Ohio State's defeat at the hands of Florida last year and their defeat to LSU this year. However, I think many people were willing to cut Ohio State some slack for losing the way they did to Florida, and believe me, there were plenty of excuses. For example:

- Florida's spread-option attack was unlike any that Ohio State had seen to that point;

- The Buckeyes were rusty after waiting through a month's layoff between their final regular season game and the championship;

- Ohio State was consumed with off-the-field distractions, including their QB winning the Heisman and multiple underclassmen trying to evaluate their NFL stock.

This year, you can't make those arguments. If anything, Ohio State should have been better prepared for this game having been in the same situation last year. There are few, if any current Buckeye players who are thinking about making an early jump to the pros.

Most importantly, LSU is not a gimmicky team. They pound the ball on offense to set up passes downfield, and they hit hard, cover, and swarm to the ball on defense.

In a sense, they are a southern-fried version of a prototypical Big Ten team, albeit one that is a whole lot bigger, faster and nastier.

LSU was clearly the cream of a strong crop in the SEC this year, and they are deserving of the national championship.

(On a side note: I would have loved to see how West Virginia, Georgia, Kansas or USC would have stacked up against LSU, but we'll just have to trust in the BCS's judgment that a playoff format is not in our best interest.)

For OSU, this is but another utterly deflating end to an otherwise outstanding season. I really don't know where the Bucks go from here, and I'm sure they don't either.

It's not like they can completely reinvent their brand - Ohio State is about running the football and playing withering, make-you-punt type defense. It would be the height of aposty in Columbus if the Bucks tried to adopt some run-and-gun spread offense or if they veered at all from their traditional 4-3 look on defense.

Ohio State will be in this position again, if nothing than by virtue of the fact that they are and will remain the best team in the Big Ten. They'll plow through the Northwesterns and Indianas year after year and finish with sterling 10, 11 or 12 win records. If there is such a thing as a BCS fixture, I would guess the Buckeyes are as close to meeting that definition as any team in the country.

For their sake, however, you can only just hope that they don't get matched up against a top-rated team out of the SEC in the future. Because if past performance is any indication of future results, we all know how that matchup will end up: ugly.

1 comment:

Pro-Hat Party said...

Good post, but I'm not so sure I agree that Ohio State can't change. WVU ran 3 yards and a cloud of dust for years (and made it to two "national championship games that way) and then re-invented themselves. Michigan is about to do the same thing. People can change, baby! I'll change! just don't leave.

sorry, sorry. flashback to a different part of my life.