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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Buckeyes Back for a.......... hopefully, not a Hat Trick

The Buckeyes Back for a....... hopefully, not a Hat Trick

By Dennis Dodd
CBSSports.com Senior Writer
It would be different if, say, Maurice Clarett were still punking things up, if the Buckeyes were accessorizing orange prison jump suits with Big Ten championship rings. It would be much easier to dislike these guys if they were the least bit arrogant. Woody Hayes' neo-Fascism could suck the life out of any room. The closest Jim Tressel gets to vanity is his special closet time when he picks out that day's Garanimals.
Let's see, is it going to be the gray sweater vest and the red tie today, or the red sweater with the gray tie?
These Buckeyes know their act is getting stale. They've played in the past two BCS title games and lost by a combined 41 points. That the winners were SEC teams has casual observers howling that Ohio State should be playing in the Sun Belt, that the Big Ten is the Sun Belt.
Eight days from kickoff, these Bucks are aware that their reputation going into 2008 is somewhere between the Washington Generals and Dwight Schrute on The Office.
"Nobody ever remembers the losers," cornerback Malcolm Jenkins said. "I couldn't name the last four national championships losers before (us)."
That doesn't mean they're going to stop playing. If there is a top story arc to this season, it is whether Ohio State can do it again. Even then, it all depends on what your definition of "again" is. Do you want to see the Bucks a) in the title game again, b) lose the title game again or c) become national champions ... again, or at least for the second time in the past seven years. If you picked a) you're a Buffalo Bills fan. If you picked b) you're from Florida or Georgia already figuring your team is going to be there to make it happen. If you picked c), you consider that vial of Woody's sweat you wear around your neck a holy relic. I, for one, am not interested in d) none of the above. This is going to be great theater if nothing else. The Bucks themselves are obsessing over the prospect that the country is just plain tired of The Ohio State from the mighty Big Ten.
"We've got to win that big one to get respect," quarterback Todd Boeckman said.
This season is going to be a referendum on whether getting there is good enough. I don't claim to have the answer. Better to ask those Bills fans who would probably cut off a limb these days just to see their team make the wild card.
Missouri has been No. 1 and on the cover of Sports Illustrated twice since November. That's twice more than the only team to beat it last season. That was Oklahoma, which trounced Mizzou in the Big 12 title game and wrecked its -- I still can't believe I'm writing this -- national championship hopes.
Crack couldn't get Tigers' fans any higher going into this season. Credit the BCS for some of this. Without it there would be no "there" to get to. Remember the old bowl system when you won your game and then hoped to win the fashion show in the polls?
Pre-1998, Ohio State could have won two consecutive major bowl games and be wondering the same thing it is now: What went wrong? In the modern era, we're just swapping misguided pollsters (pre-BCS) for a misguided defense (BCS). What, then, is wrong in 2008 with taking them three games at a time?
"That game against Southern California (on Sept. 13) is going to determine where our season is going to go," Boeckman said.
What's Boeckman risking, bulletin board material for Youngstown State and Ohio? Everyone knows the Bucks' trip to the West Coast is the biggest game of the season right now. Not just for the teams, maybe the entire country.
It's not really an elimination game but a barometer. Either school could lose and still make it to Dolphin Stadium. Anyone with a calculator and a cable dish left over from last season knows that. That only adds to the possibilities. Consider Ohio State getting blown out the second week of September, only to end up in South Florida the second week of January.
Where would you stand then?
"I think there's a lot to prove," All-American linebacker James Laurinaitis said. "If you're going to be a leader of a team but you never get it done, it's the same as saying certain quarterbacks haven't won a Super Bowl yet."
Talking to guys like Jenkins and Laurinaitis, you want to give them a hug. One junior turning down big NFL bucks to pursue a championship is admirable; 12 of them doing it is mind control. Laurinaitis had this conversation with teammate Marcus Freeman right after January's BCS title game.
"You can't make a decision to come back just on trying to get to the national championship," Freeman told Laurinaitis.
"We understand how hard it is to get there," Laurinaitis added. "It's something that deep in your heart (those losses are) going to sit with you always. It's more of a pact that we truly enjoy each other."
Hug it out, Jim.
As we edge closer to what could be a Horrible Hat Trick, don't hate on these distressed Buckeyes. In the same season they could be the first team ever to win three outright Big Ten titles in a row and lose three BCS title games in a row.
That would feel a lot like Malcolm Jenkins does now ...
"We haven't really done anything yet," he said.

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