Columbus Crew: Our Ohio State Bureau on Urban Meyer’s Magic, Oregon’s Omen, and the Buckeyes’ Beauty

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Here’s a weird Grantland fact: Three of our writers live in Columbus, Ohio! Mark Titus is a former Ohio State basketball player who’s a current local legend; Michael Baumann is a recent transplant who’s hopping on the bandwagon despite his SEC roots; and Matt Borcas is a current undergrad who’s probably going to be too hung over to file anything for us next week. We put them on an email thread and asked them to talk about the Buckeyes for your entertainment. They said a lot of really mean things about Alabama and Oregon. Enjoy.

Mark Titus: Let me go ahead and get this out of my system before we get started:


Confession: I grew up in Indiana worshiping basketball. I never cared much for Ohio State before I went to school there, and football is probably my fourth favorite sport. So even when I became a Buckeye, I never got super into Ohio State football. I watch all the games and cheer for the team if for no other reason than I love my alma mater and football plays a huge role in its identity. But I don’t follow recruiting, I don’t know all the starters’ names, I’ll never consider naming my children after OSU quarterbacks, and I certainly don’t lay in bed and drink all day after the football team loses a heartbreaker.

But man, this team is doing something to me. On Thursday night, I was screaming at the TV during an Ohio State football game for the first time. I yelled for people to come back into the room and sit where they were sitting before they left because they were jinxing the team. I covered my face for a few plays because I couldn’t bear to watch. Every call against the Buckeyes felt like the worst call in the history of organized sports. This team is so fun to watch and so likable that I can’t help but turn into a stereotypical OSU football fan.

Borcas, what’s campus like? Are the students celebrating the win over Bama or worrying about Oregon? Are classes canceled for next Monday? I live out in the suburbs of Columbus and I gotta say, it’s pretty crazy out here — the number of middle-aged housewives in bejeweled Ohio State shirts has skyrocketed in the past few days from “just about all of them” to “all of them.”

urban-meyer-ezekiel-elliott-sugar-bowl-triSean Gardner/Getty Images

Michael Baumann: Yeah, for being as well-populated as Grantland’s Columbus office is, we’re all late to the Ohio State football bandwagon. I grew up a Virginia Tech fan and went to South Carolina (both of which will become transitive national champions if the Buckeyes beat Oregon next Monday), and I watched Thursday’s game with a bunch of grad students who are fans of SEC teams and wouldn’t have been that bummed if Bama had won anyway.

I will say that Thursday was the first time in about 10 years that I rooted for something other than SEC domination during bowl season. I’ve never seen a city celebrate a championship in person before, and I’m willing to spend more time with Ezekiel Elliott’s belly button in order to see what that’s like.

My one reservation: I do live near campus, and I’m sort of afraid that my car’s going to get flipped over and set on fire if things go a certain way. It’s peaceful now, because all the undergrads are still home for break, but the national championship game is on the first day that classes resume, so they’ll all be back.

Anyway, Borcas, are you going to help with crowd control and go to class on Tuesday, or are we going to see you marching down High Street with a bottle of vodka in one hand and a Molotov cocktail in the other?

Matt Borcas: (Disclaimer: I’m unable to answer the question about what campus is like right now because I’ve been home on break for nearly a month. But I’m sure it’s crazy and I bet Mirror Lake is getting some extra use. As of now, classes aren’t canceled for January 12, although that would certainly be an easy way for the relatively new President Drake to ingratiate himself with the student body.)

I, too, will start with a confession: Despite hailing from Northeast Ohio, I grew up a Notre Dame fan (I know, I know) and didn’t really start to care about the Buckeyes until I matriculated to Ohio State. Even then, the Buckeyes were hard to get behind: My freshman year coincided with Luke Fickell’s stint as interim head coach, otherwise known as the Tatgate Season, and enthusiasm was low for a team that began the season with Joe Bauserman at quarterback, lost to Michigan for the first time in eight years, and finished 6-7.

Of course, Urban Meyer’s arrival changed everything. Roughly a week before he was hired, some of my floormates and I obsessively tracked a private flight from Gainesville to Columbus, and that served as the unequivocal high point of Buckeyes football in 2011. But 2012 was quite different: The team didn’t lose. While a bowl ban prevented the Buckeyes from meeting my Irish in the national title game (which would have tugged my heartstrings in all directions), things were clearly on the upswing.

Morale remained sky-high on campus for the next calendar year, until the Buckeyes suffered their first loss of the Meyer era to Michigan State in the 2013 Big Ten championship game. Then came a disappointing 40-35 loss to Clemson in the Orange Bowl, which reinforced prevailing notions about the Big Ten’s inferiority and somewhat tempered expectations for the 2014 campaign. When Braxton Miller sustained a season-ending shoulder injury in summer practice, all hope seemed lost, and all hope was lost after Virginia Tech came into Ohio Stadium and trounced the Buckeyes in Week 2.

All of which is to say that the way Ohio State has rebounded from that loss to the Hokies has been nothing short of spectacular. In fact, the Buckeyes have bounced back so well that, by the time the Sugar Bowl came around, most of the OSU fans I know were fully expecting a victory. (It should be noted that most of the OSU fans I know are at least a little bit delusional, but that’s part of the fun of living in Columbus.)

Now? I’m right there with them, already making postgame celebration plans for Monday night/Tuesday morning. Baumann, your last bit there was pretty spot-on.

urban-meyer-sugar-bowl-triChris Graythen/Getty Images

Titus: This is why Meyer is the best. Even with the fallout from the tattoo thing, there are still plenty of Buckeyes fans who think it’s sacrilege to say anything bad about Jim Tressel. But let’s be honest here: If Tressel is coaching against Bama, none of us are optimistic heading into that game. Not after what Florida and LSU did against OSU in 2006 and 2007. Shoot, even when OSU won the title after the 2002 season, it felt like it was stolen (and not just because of the pass interference call). How many times under Tressel did Ohio State play in a marquee game with something on the line and leave America stunned and thinking, WHOA! Ohio State is soooo much better than I thought!? I can remember exactly zero times that happened, because Tresselball wouldn’t allow it to happen. It’s happened twice in the last two games under Meyer.

Tressel kills you by throwing punches at your torso until your internal organs start bleeding and you die a slow, painful death. Meyer sneaks up behind you, slits your throat, stands over you as you bleed out, and tells you that there is no Santa Claus as he walks away with your wife on his hip. Both get the job done. But only one leaves me speechless and thinking, Thank god that guy is on my side.

Baumann: That’s a great point: Tressel’s OSU teams played like they were very aware that their coach’s signature accoutrements were a sweater vest and tie. It’s like how Joe Paterno looked like a raisin with bifocals and his latter-day Penn State teams played like a bunch of raisins in bifocals.

But Meyer turned Chris Leak into a national champion and Alex Smith into a no. 1 overall draft pick — we shouldn’t be surprised that Cardale Jones, who is the size of the moon and can throw a football across a city, has played as well as he has.

Oh my god, I’m talking myself into Ohio State being able to beat Oregon. Someone needs to find the mind control device and destroy it.

ohio-state-helmet-sugar-bowl-triKevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Borcas: If Tressel were coaching against Bama, you’d also have to assume that Ohio State’s roster would be a shell of its current self. Key contributors like Vonn Bell, Joey Bosa, J.T. Barrett, and Elliott — many of whom are from the South — would likely be elsewhere (probably the SEC) if not for Meyer’s recruiting prowess, which in turn would have led to a Bama blowout akin to the 2013 national championship. Tressel could recruit the hell out of Ohio, but that alone can’t win you a national championship today. Meyer can enter homes in SEC country, show off his pair of recently acquired national championship rings, and wax rhapsodic about coaching Tim Tebow, Percy Harvin, Joe Haden, et al. Meanwhile, the only reason current high schoolers are familiar with the 2003 Fiesta Bowl is because of the new 30 for 30 documentary.

THAT SUGAR HOWL THO. A couple more thoughts:

First, I firmly support Meyer’s much-maligned decision to go deep on first down of the Buckeyes’ final possession. Sure, the result wasn’t great, and it gave Bama an extra 40 seconds to work with on its final drive, but the prospect of a kill shot against Nick Saban is too enticing to pass up.

Second, who else was screaming “GO DOWN” after Tyvis Powell’s interception with no time left on the clock? I was genuinely worried that Amari Cooper would chase him down, steal the ball, and run it in for a game-tying score. I guess that’s a testament to how big of a bully Alabama has been over the past half-decade, and how impossibly daunting an opponent the Tide are — nay, were. (For his part, Powell claims he was trying to impress Deion Sanders.)

What left is there to after you slay the dragon? Slay the duck, apparently. Maybe Meyer should consult Phil Robertson when putting together the game plan.

Titus: I support the idea of Meyer’s decision to try to step on Saban’s throat, and it goes without saying that I’d have made the same call without hesitation if I were in that situation while playing Madden. But it was objectively an absolutely terrible call. And I say Powell should’ve just punted the ball into the stands after he caught it and ran it out to the 20 or so. I have no idea what the rules say would happen next, but that would’ve been an awesome way to celebrate a win like that.

And Baumann, of course you think Ohio State has a chance. We all know how this is going to play out. I mean, Meyer is an underdog — what more needs to be said? Phil Knight is going to be on the sideline throwing money onto the field and crying when it doesn’t do anything. Who even plays for Oregon anyway? Do the Ducks have a single good player on their team? Seriously, name one player. Has Oregon even been relevant since Joey Harrington, Maurice Morris, Onterrio Smith, and Keenan Howry wiped their tears with Mike Bellotti’s mustache after the 2001 team was deprived a shot at the title game? Here’s a fun fact: Oregon has never won a national championship. Here’s another: If you disregard the last two national championship appearances, Ohio State is 1-0 in national championship games. YOU DO THE MATH.

brutus-buckeye-sugar-bowl-triKevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Baumann: Well I’d just like to say that the … umm … creativity it takes to pass off Ohio State as an economic underdog whose fans haven’t spent the past decade weeping over a perceived lack of national attention is as impressive and unexpected as dropping 42 on Alabama.

If anyone needs me over the next week, I’ll be standing on North High Street, naked to the waist, menacing passing motorists with a duck carcass. Go Buckeyes.

Titus: As long as the sport is still around, there will always be the self-fulfilling prophecy of Ohio State fans thinking they’re underdogs who are unfairly ganged up on by the rest of the college football world … which is exactly why the rest of the college football world gangs up on us. It was nice for everyone to hate the other team when we played Bama, but it’s time for order to be restored. SEND YOUR HATRED TO OHIO, AMERICA. WE’LL USE IT TO FUEL OUR BUDDING DYNASTY.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m just going to start drinking now as I unsuccessfully try to convince myself that the Buckeye basketball team will definitely make the NCAA tournament this year. GO BUCKEYES. BEAT OREGON.

Borcas: Titus, I see it the other way: The Buckeyes aren’t only a team of destiny, they’re the people’s champs. Or at least they should be. I mean, is there one aspect of this team that isn’t supremely likable? Between Elliott’s rolled-up jersey (an unintentional homage to Eddie George), Jones’s “Truck Stick” nickname, and Joey Bosa’s signature shrug, this may be the greatest and most diverse collection of football personalities since the cinematic classic Little Giants was released in 1994. Plus, Meyer is a family man now. Who wouldn’t root for a family man? A PSYCHOPATH, that’s who.

On the other hand, Oregon takes the unseemly concept of “rooting for laundry” to the next level. After all, the Ducks’ primary calling card is their uniforms, and their Heisman-winning quarterback doesn’t even speak. (Say what you will about Jameis Winston, but at least the sound of his voice is recognizable.) Furthermore, Mark Helfrich is one of the most anonymous coaches in big-time college football, and De’Anthony Thomas and his entertaining Twitter account are now in the NFL.

It’s clear that the Buckeyes are the good guys are in this fight, as evidenced by the fact that SEC alums like Baumann and long-standing antagonists like Mark May can’t help but to support them. And who can blame the converts? For the next week, we are all Columbusites.

Filed Under: College Football Playoff, College Football, 2014 College Football Playoff, College Football Playoff Semifinals, College Football Playoff National Championship, Ohio State Buckeyes, Alabama Crimson Tide, Oregon Ducks, Urban Meyer, Jim Tressel, Nick Saban, Mark Helfrich, Cardale Jones, Ezekiel Elliott, Joey Bosa, Braxton Miller, J.T. Barrett, Big Ten, SEC, Pac-12, Marcus Mariota, Heisman Trophy, 2014 Heisman Trophy, Football, NCAA, NCAAF, Mark Titus, Michael Baumann, Matt Borcas