Welcome to your eight-week Empire season preview for the 2012 football Buckeyes. At 9 a.m. on Tuesdays between now and kickoff, we’ll break down a different component of the fall season (see topics below). Some will be written by me. Some will be presented in roundtable format (if the topic calls for it).
Week One: Welcome to the Urban Era
Week Two: The Roster
Week Three: The Schedule
Week Four: No Bowling Allowed
Week Five: Big Ten
Week Six: The Shoe
Week Seven: Beyond 2012
Week Eight: Predictions
Okay, it’s welcome week. Let’s get this party started. And, as always, GO BUCKS!
I’m not talking about optimism or hope. We’ve had plenty of that. I’m not talking about talent and potential. We’ve had that, too.
I’m talking about renewal. About a new era.
Jim Tressel took over in 2001. Ohio State had endured lean years, at least by its own lofty standard. Urban Meyer does the same in 2012, though the valley he’s asked to climb out of was both shorter and deeper than Tressel’s. That’s where the similarities end. Tressel took over as a relative unknown; Urban Meyer takes over while established as one of the best coaches in the game.
Still, it’s nice to have a fresh start. Last year didn’t count. Luke Fickell did a superb job with the insurmountable task he was given. The team lost seven games for the first time in decades but, to put it in economic terms, Luke kept the recession from becoming a depression. He showed that there was life after Tressel in Columbus. He and Braxton Miller led the Buckeyes to a night win over ranked Wisconsin that retrospectively feels like a turning point in the program’s fortunes. But it wasn’t a new era. The year was alternately enthralling and desperate, but Luke never escaped the feeling of transience that loomed over Ohio Stadium.
That feeling is gone. Poetically, it was eradicated as soon as the season drew to a close. Thanksgiving week of 2011 will be remembered as the time when Urban Meyer decided to come to Columbus, not the week before Michigan handed the Buckeyes their first loss in The Game in almost a decade.
It’s been replaced by a feeling that may be unique in the program’s history. We know that we’re on the cusp of another dynasty, but we don’t know what it will look like. We expect to win championships but, having never seen a college football playoff, it’s hard to picture. We know that the wins over Michigan are coming, but we don’t know just how badly we’ll smack them around.
It’s a feeling that evokes optimism, hope, and excitement. It evokes the feeling we have when we wake up on crisp September Saturdays. It feels really, really good.
This conclusion leads to two lessons that we would benefit from remembering in the coming months.
The first is that Ohio State exemplifies excellence in college football.
For any other program, Tressel’s shadow would be impossible to escape. The events of 2011 would be catastrophic. In short, what many “experts” predicted for Ohio State in the aftermath of the tattoo scandal (a decade or more of mediocrity) would, in fact, come to pass.
Obviously, that didn’t happen. Tressel was replaced with one of the few upgrades in the country. The consequences of a supposedly program-breaking mistake don’t seem so bad. That means that we are profoundly lucky to be fans of this team. For comparison, consider That Team Up North, who replaced Lloyd Carr with Rich Rodriguez. Consider Alabama, a legendary program that suffered years of mediocrity before stealing Nick Saban from the Miami Dolphins. Consider Notre Dame, who haven’t been truly relevant in decades.
Ohio State replaced Jim Tressel with Urban Meyer (with an assist from Fickell). The coming years of dominance will mark a historic accomplishment in college football: back-to-back hall of fame coaches at the peak of their game coaching for the same program.
There are few programs that could accomplish that. We’re one of them.
It’s certain that the coming season will bring change to the program. The team’s recruiting has, well, expanded. Highlights will be played on a $7,000,000 scoreboard. The ball will travel through the air … a lot.
In short, when we look ahead to the coming season, we shouldn’t focus on what was. We should focus on the basic truth that, at the beginning of Tressel’s tenure, we had no reason to expect what he gave us. That made the ride exhilarating and surprising. This time around, success is expected.
That gives us as fans a unique opportunity: if you know wins are coming, there’s no reason you shouldn’t enjoy every damn minute. Starting in September.