‘Get to Indy’ still in the sights of the Buck­eyes

Con­fer­ence cham­pi­onships worth cel­e­brat­ing — even in play­off era.

Dayton Daily News - - FRONT PAGE - By Austin Ward

The goal set out at the be­gin­ning of ev­ery off-sea­son work­out is still on the ta­ble, and Ohio State hopes to grab it this week­end.

COLUM­BUS — No mat­ter what hap­pens af­ter­ward, don’t down­play the im­por­tance of po­ten­tially win­ning a con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship for Ohio State.

Even a di­vi­sion crown, which the Buck­eyes can clinch this week, is still wor­thy of a party.

The Buck­eyes have sky-high ex­pec­ta­tions ev­ery year, make no mis­take about that. But fo­cus­ing solely on just win­ning a na­tional ti­tle year in and year out not only isn’t re­al­is­tic when there’s just one of those tro­phies, I think in some ways it has elim­i­nated some of the joy from the game.

What’s bet­ter than beat­ing your ri­vals and claim­ing a con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship? There’s ob­vi­ously one thing that tops it, of course, but there’s also a rea­son it’s not the pri­mary ob­jec­tive for the Buck­eyes when they show up for off­sea­son work­outs with a “Get to Indy” — and to the Big Ten Cham­pi­onship Game — mes­sage hang- ing in the weight room.

It doesn’t say “Win it all.” And prob­a­bly a big part of the rea­son the Buck­eyes were able to bounce back and pick apart Michi­gan State on Satur­day was be­cause they knew they could still achieve the goals they set out to reach this year.

The play­ers and coaches are well aware of how hard it is just to win a di­vi­sion in the Big Ten, and that’s worth cel­e­brat­ing if the East is of­fi­cially locked up this week­end against Illi­nois. The Buck­eyes will em­brace it, but I won­der

how many in the Horse­shoe or watch­ing around the coun­try in­stead will be try­ing to fig­ure out if there were enough style points on dis­play or chaos else­where to help them get back into the Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off.

A big part of the fun of this mag­i­cal sport is how im­per­fect it is when it comes to crown­ing a cham­pion, open­ing up the door for spir­ited de­bate right along­side main­tain­ing the most en­ter­tain­ing start-to-fin­ish sea­son in all of sports. And while I’m a huge fan of what the four-team play­off has pro­vided — and also a bit wor­ried that the suc­cess of it will lead to a wa­tered­down, eight-team ver­sion — I think it’s come at a cost when it comes to ap­pre­ci­at­ing a con­fer­ence ti­tle.

I’m not just say­ing that be­cause I think win­ning the league that the selec­tion com­mit­tee eval­u­ates as the best in the coun­try should en­sure that the Big Ten cham­pion should be in the field. I do be­lieve that, and this won’t be the last time that state­ment is made.

But think about how the na­tional con­ver­sa­tion tends to ob­scure mean­ing­ful, dif­fi­cult-to-win cham­pi­onships.

Last week­end seemed like it was prob­a­bly the end of the road for the Pac-12 in terms of com­pet­ing for the na­tional ti­tle, but that doesn’t mean its cham­pion isn’t a damn good foot­ball team that shouldn’t be proud of win­ning the league. But now with no “chaos” or na­tional im­pli­ca­tions, there’s un­doubt­edly less in­cen­tive for some­body in Big Ten coun­try to tune into those games. I think that’s a prob­lem for col­lege foot­ball as a whole.

There is prob­a­bly no turn­ing back at this point, and I un­der­stand that. The course was charted back when the Bowl Cham­pi­onship Se­ries helped tie all the con­fer­ences to­gether and shifted the at­ten­tion away from earn­ing a bid to the Rose Bowl to al­most ex­clu­sively on a crys­tal foot­ball. The Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off has con­tin­ued to nar­row that fo­cus, even though con­fer­ence cham­pi­onships have been given a spe­cific des­ig­na­tion for the com­mit­tee to con­sider when it’s hand­ing out those four cov­eted spots at the end of the sea­son.

There’s noth­ing wrong with great ex­pec­ta­tions, and Ohio State has built a pro­gram that is de­servedly in the mix to try to clear the high­est of hur­dles ev­ery year. Only one team gets to do that each sea­son, and a cam­paign shouldn’t be la­beled a fail­ure if it doesn’t hap­pen.

Now, that might be a dif­fer­ent story for a team that sets its sights on In­di­anapo­lis and comes up short.

But that’s also ex­actly why get­ting there and win­ning a Big Ten tro­phy de­serves to be cel­e­brated in the first place.

ADAM CAIRNS / COLUM­BUS DIS­PATCH

Ohio State of­fen­sive line­man Billy Price lifts run­ning back J.K. Dob­bins after a touch­down during the sec­ond quar­ter against Michi­gan State on Satur­day at Ohio Sta­dium.

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