‘Get to Indy’ still in the sights of the Buckeyes
Conference championships worth celebrating — even in playoff era.
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.
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.