Words every Buckeye should read

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By BCSBuck on 13:52:01 09/15/08

A Letter To Ohio State Fans

(Copy sent to all other college football fans.)

Dear Buckeye Fans,

I've lived in the West my whole life--Phoenix and Seattle are the only two places I've inhabited for any appreciable amount of time. Therefore, I don't know what it's like to live in the Midwest and love Big Ten football. I've never embraced "three yards and a cloud of dust." Give me a creative, daring passing attack any day of the week. But while the Big Ten has never been the most fun football conference for me to watch over the years, I have to stand up for principles, and right now, that means reaching out to you and defending both your program and your coach, Jim Tressel.

It's absolutely disgusting--though sadly predictable--to see the national media coming down hard on the Buckeyes after the USC loss. Whether the argument is, "No longer ready for prime time" or "No longer deserving of prime time," you get the picture. The Buckeyes have been kicked to the curb by pundits and scribes, who are wishing for no more BCS title game appearances from the Scarlet and Gray. I'm sure you expected nothing less... vultures, those high-profile columnists are. The grass-roots folks here at CFN like to hold ourselves to a higher standard of both debate and personal conduct.

Let's talk about the aftermath of the USC game, given the trauma it has brought to so many of you. In my perspective piece on this game, I remarked that it was a crime that OSU and USC had not played in the Rose Bowl since Tressel and Pete Carroll took over at the two schools. What was and is responsible for such a travesty? The BCS system. Let me tell you something else the BCS has done to hurt college football, then: It has made it almost impossible for a team to lose the BCS title game and maintain a healthy reputation in this sport. There's so much debate about the championship game--and who should play in it--that the overly-political yet insufficiently democratic nature of college football makes the fans of teams left outside the candy store (think of USC, Georgia, Oklahoma and Virginia Tech last season; think of Michigan in 2006; Auburn in 2004; USC in 2003; Oregon and Colorado in 2001; Miami in 2000; Ohio State and UCLA in 1998) unable to accept the final decision of a system that is manifestly disorganized, imbalanced, and bereft of common-sense principles. This means that when a controversial participant stinks it up in the title game, that team and school get crucified by everyone else in the country.

Buckeye fans, if you need to seek some therapy this week, talk to the good, decent people of Norman, Okla. Fans of the Oklahoma Sooners experienced a few years ago what you're enduring right now. Oklahoma made two straight BCS title games, but didn't play its best in either instance. After getting smoked by USC in the 2005 Orange Bowl, OU got laughed off the stage. And while it's true that Oklahoma quit in the second half of that bloodbath against the Trojans, I did maintain that it was unfair for a second-place team to receive so much criticism because it lost on such a big and visible stage. If you want a definition of an unsuccessful program, think of (on different levels and to varying degrees) Michigan State, Clemson, UCLA, Ole Miss, South Carolina, Arizona, Georgia Tech, Pitt, and dozens of other schools. Oklahoma is not an unsuccessful program. Ohio State is not an unsuccessful program. For your school--and the university in Norman--to receive such withering criticism is absolutely ridiculous.

Jim Tressel is the second-best coach in the sport since 2002, and Bob Stoops would rank third. Yet, those two men--because of back-to-back BCS title game losses--have had to put up with more wildly irrational criticism than anyone else in the coaching profession over the past few years. It's disgraceful.

At this point in time, I want to reference the short-form portion of this column above, and make one more (final) reference to Chris Fowler and the sport of tennis. While Rafael Nadal surpassed Roger Federer this year, it's worth noting--and Mr. Fowler would back me up on this, given his exposure to big-time men's tennis--that Federer made the finals of the French Open, played on Nadal's best surface and Fed's worst surface: clay. Yes, Nadal kicked Federer's butt (6-1, 6-3, 6-0), but at least Federer got to the final instead of bowing out early in the event (as Pete Sampras did throughout his career). But when the two men went to New York for the U.S. Open, on hardcourts--Federer's best surface and Rafa's worst surface--Nadal didn't lose to Federer. But then ask yourself: Why did Nadal not lose to Federer in New York just a few weeks ago? It's because Nadal wasn't able to even reach the final. See where I'm going with this? Federer was good enough to get his butt kicked under conditions that favored Nadal; Nadal, though, was not good enough to reach the championship match played in conditions that particularly suited Federer. This is all an extended way of saying the following: "You have to be really, really good to look really, really bad." Great teams and players, in any sport, don't suffer crushing disappointments before attaining a very lofty place. It's only when you establish a reputation that a decisive loss really stings.

This makes sense, right? Let's put it this way, just to make sure you understand: In 2001, when OSU and USC were both struggling, few people were ripping Tressel and Carroll as they started to change the culture in Columbus and Los Angeles. OSU and USC were both starting from scratch, and trying to do something new. So when USC lost two games in 2002 but won the Orange Bowl over Iowa, it was a huge accomplishment, and the media praised Carroll. When Ohio State beat Michigan at the end of the 2001 regular season, Tressel was hailed as a hero, even though the Buckeyes didn't even win the Big Ten that year. In those early years for Tressel and Carroll, the Buckeyes and Trojans had nothing to lose, so nobody wrote anything bad about the two coaches, even after an occasional loss. But now that both men (and Bob Stoops is similar in this regard) have established such powerful programs, the expectations are unreasonable and the media attention is all-consuming. Just one loss, one misstep, and the piranhas are out in force. It's not right, but it's reality.

What you need to understand, though, is that being ripped by the media (or by fans of other teams) is actually a sign of how much you're respected and feared. Nobody cares about a 7-5 team; those kinds of ballclubs are just ignored while they play in the Weed-Whacker Bowl on Dec. 27 at 1 in the afternoon on NFL Network. But when you're playing a BCS bowl in January in prime time on FOX, everybody wants a piece of your hide. All your enemies and opponents want blood, and they will delight in your downfall.

Remember what Steve Spurrier said during his tenure at Florida? Spurrier always told anyone who would listen that ignorance was the only true sign of disrespect. Being laughed at and taunted in the wake of a rare loss proved how much Spurrier's rivals resented his success in Gainesville. Teams with 6-6 records don't get heckled or shouted down when they lose; it's only the big shots--the Gators of the 1990s, and Ohio State today--who receive venom and vitriol from opposing fans. This points the way, however, to the secret wisdom of the true spiritual warrior: Calmness is--contrary to the views of much of society--the supreme indicator of real strength, while increased bellicosity and shrillness are signs of dramatically heightened fear and insecurity. Believe me, Buckeye fans, when I tell you that this heap of heckling you're receiving--from pundits, unkind neighbors from rival schools, and elsewhere in America--is actually a sign of profound respect. Every program in America not named USC would want to have the problems you're dealing with right now. Being second-best out of 120 schools, two years in a row, is a pretty special accomplishment (even though the BCS process leaves a lot to be desired). The ever-calm Jim Tressel knows these things better than anyone.

I'm saying all these nice words to you, so I wouldn't be surprised if you're wondering, "Why is this writer being kind to us when everyone else is dumping hatred on our backs?" Well, here's the biggest reason of all: I don't want Ohio State football to be likened to the Buffalo Bills or the Atlanta Braves.

America has a big problem when it comes to viewing and appreciating second-place teams in any competition whatsoever. "Second place is the first loser," people say. Few statements could be more idiotic. Just think: Being second-best in any field of human endeavor means that only one person, team or organization is better than you are. Only one. In all the world. The Buffalo Bills should be celebrated for being the only team (not the 1970s Steelers, not the 1980s Forty Niners, not the 1990s Cowboys, not the Patriots of this decade) to make four straight Super Bowls. Hell, no one else even made three Supes in a row! And yet the Bills are a cultural punching bag? Doesn't make sense. Neither does it make sense that the Braves--who won 14 straight division championships (if you omit the strike-destroyed 1994 season) and claimed five pennants during that run of excellence--should be viewed as losers. Know who the real losers in baseball are? The Washington Nationals. The Kansas City Royals. The Pittsburgh Pirates. Those are losers. The Braves, for a solid decade and a half, knew nothing but winning.

Ohio State football has been blessed in the Jim Tressel era. BCS bowls are a regular occurrence; Big Ten titles are the norm, not the exception. Michigan is now an inferior, not an equal. Life isn't perfect, but it sure is good, if you're a Buckeye fan. So be content with your program. Perfection is not a natural part of life in college football (as said above in the short-form section of this column), as this decade has shown. Miami had a 34-game winning streak until your team, superbly coached by Tressel himself, knocked off the Canes in Tempe on that unforgettable night in 2003. For all their wins, the Canes could only put together one perfect season in the Ken Dorsey era. The same fate befell Pete Carroll's Trojans, who matched Miami's 34-game joyride, but only captured one official BCS national title, courtesy of Vince Young's heroics in the 2006 Rose Bowl. What's really ironic about this particular decade is that the team with the most national championships since the year 2000--LSU--has not been the most consistent team in the sport... far from it. The Tigers trail the Buckeyes, USC and Oklahoma in terms of conference championships won this decade, and had the Louisiana Superdome not been the site of LSU's two national title games, the Bayou Bengals might very well have won only one championship, and possibly even none. People fail to remember that little inconvenient truth: LSU basically got to play a home game against Ohio State, but observers acted as though that was no disadvantage to the Buckeyes. That kind of ignorance emerges when a successful program is held to a double standard.

There's a lot more I could say, but it's best to leave well enough alone--you should get the point of this extended bit of commentary. Being the second-best team in the United States of America for two straight years is an amazing accomplishment. When you then consider the level of talent possessed by the 2007 Buckeyes--in comparison with the 2006 juggernaut--Tressel's body of work only becomes that much more impressive. To think that this USC loss reflects poorly on the Ohio State program or the legacy of Tressel himself is pure lunacy. Get a hold of yourselves, Bucks fans, and appreciate what this program has achieved since Mister Sweater Vest walked into that basketball arena in 2001 and said that you'd be proud of his young men in Ann Arbor. If there's even one Buckeye fan who thinks Tressel is doing a poor job as the OSU coach--at least to the extent that a substantial shakeup of methodology or personnel is viewed to be an absolute requirement at this point--that's one lunatic too many.

Don't succumb to the hatred. In their twisted and dysfunctional way, the bad-mouthing and the haughty pronouncements of Ohio State's unworthiness are actually signs of tremendous respect. Don't allow your superb football program to become another cultural punching bag in a time where losing the BCS championship game is--unfortunately--viewed as the worst sin a college football team can possibly commit on the field.

Hang in there, and remember this for now: You might actually get to go to the Rose Bowl on January 1. It's about time the best program in the Big Ten traveled to Pasadena, isn't it?

Respectfully submitted for your careful and extended consideration,

Matt Zemek - Staff Columnist, College Football News

Story URL: http://cfn.scout.com/2/557922.html

Link: http://cfn.scout.com/2/557922.html

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