John McGraw stood at the end of the dock with a lineup card in his hand. Well, it had started as a lineup but now featured enough scratch marks and shorthand that a chicken could mistake it for its tracks. The cleanup spot for today’s game was giving him trouble.
Mantle? Nah, Mantle’s been a slump ever since St. Peter got in his ear. McGraw wished ole’ Pete would mind the gate and stay out of the locker room. Sure it’s a shame that Peter has to get the day games on the radio but up here the broadcast is perfect so he can’t really complain.
McGraw lifted his cap and wiped his brow. Hot one today, but then again summers in Heaven are not for the faint of heart. Where was his delivery? He heard a voice from behind, “Sweating already John?”
McGraw turned to see Connie Mack grinning at him. “I know you’re nervous, but at least wait for the game to start.” Mack turned and spat through a hole in the clouds (tobacco was of course strictly prohibited in Paradise but old habits die hard, even after death).
McGraw mumbled something nondescript to Mack but didn’t want to address him further. McGraw never cared for Mack, even in eternity. Plus he despised getting fraternal with the competition the day of a game. Mack persisted.
“Where are your boys playing next week, John? Ebbetts? Sportsman’s? Riverfront?”
“Ah, the pride of Cleveland’s East Side. I’m sure Ruth will be happy to get back there.”
Mack was infatuated with Ruth, and for good reason. The slugger had 20 home runs over the first fifty games. This made McGraw nervous. Little Napoleon knew the rules; he could only protect him for one more year in the draft and Mack was enough of a sly dog that he would strategically tank to snatch him that season. Begrudgingly he conceded, “Yeah George is eager to get back on the road.”
Of course up here, “the road” is a relative term. The soul cares little for movement and the Good Lord is kind enough to bring the ballparks to the teams. And when the Cherubim sing the National Anthem? Forget about it. Everyone cries whether they want to or not.
If Mack perceived McGraw’s disinterest in his presence he ignored it. “Yeah I got Cy pitching today. I don’t mean to brag, but that curve of his is really a dandy this year. He might be up for his own award!” Mack choked out a laugh that could have doubled for a cat struggling with a hairball. The kind of joke you laugh at when you are just HILARIOUS. “I’m excited to see Mathewson in person today too.”
Even McGraw had to let slip a smile. Ah, Christy Mathewson. In life and now after death that boy still made him proud. 373 wins on the mortal coil, over 1,800 in the clouds. Still the workhorse, McGraw would need Jeremiah’s chariot to get him off the rubber. Mathewson would indeed be pitching today and his fastball was showing some serious life (no pun intended). He hoped Mack’s boys were ready.
A giant ship let loose its bull horn as it snaked through the clouds. The Titanic deftly maneuvered up to the dock with its cargo following closely behind. Hubert H. Humphrey’s Metrodome was once the pride of the Twin Cities. Now it was just another ballpark McGraw had to investigate.
Mack whistled. “What were they thinking? A dome? That cheap felt carpet in the outfield? What a shame.” For once McGraw had to agree. The ‘Dome was not trying to be a pretty ballpark, it was economical. The city had a football team as well as baseball and they both needed a home so the Metrodome came to be. Now it had been torn down and sent up to The Big Bullpen in the Sky. It was McGraw’s turn to inspect it for defects, of which there would be many. Muggsy had to appreciate the system that the Lord put into place. Have the managers take turns inspecting the newly arrived ballparks, they can make some recommendations, and The Eternal Umpire would handle the renovations. Simple, elegant, holistic. Still, McGraw sighed. He had a lineup to finalize and wanted to chat with Speaker about his swing.
McGraw could care less about the ‘Dome. The ballparks he wanted, the ballparks everyone wanted, were on Chicago’s North Side and Boston. Wrigley Field and Fenway Park were the gems that remained out of their celestial reach. It’s hard to complain in Heaven without sounding ungrateful (it is Heaven after all), but most of McGraw’s players acknowledged that they missed the Green Monster and Ivy.
But rules were rules and so long as they existed on Earth they would be unavailable in Heaven. McGraw would have to wait. “You want any help looking it over?” Mack inquired.
McGraw looked over at Mack. Love thy neighbor, do unto others, all that mantra came to McGraw and he decided that a little fraternizing with the enemy could be acceptable. “Sure,” McGraw conceded. “If you want to, but I make the final decisions.”
“Of course, of course.” Mack proceeded into the ‘Dome. “We are going to dispose of the baggy in right though, aren’t we?”
John smiled, “No argument here.” The two managers, adversaries in the afterlife, walked into the ballpark together, united by the love of baseball.
“So whom are you having hit fourth today?” Mack asked.
Ubaldo Jimenez: Act Three
As the curtain rises on the Cleveland Indians’ 2013 season, a lone figure walks to center stage. At 6’5” and 29 years old, he is long, lean and in the prime of his career. The right-hander stands at the mark and simulates throws for the audience while his 2012 numbers show behind him: 5.40 ERA, 17 losses, 1.51 SO/BB. Most in the crowd want to throw tomatoes, a few reserve judgment with roses at the ready. As the assembled descend into argument, Ubaldo Jimenez keeps throwing.
This year is the third and perhaps final act of The Ubaldo Jimenez Show in Cleveland, and the first two-thirds of the performance have not impressed. Jimenez joined the Tribe from the Colorado Rockies on July 30, 2011. On the day of the trade Cleveland was 1.5 games out of first in the AL Central, and Ubaldo’s acquisition was met with great fanfare. “Finally the Indians were buyers at the deadline,” fans raved. “Here is the missing piece, that key mid-season pickup that so many great postseason teams make,” critics lauded. So what if we had to surrender two top-tier prospects and shell the farm system to make the deal? There was champagne to buy and playoff tickets to print. Those bottles sadly remained corked as Jimenez went a pedestrian 4-4 with a 5.10 ERA in Cleveland and the Wahoos missed the postseason yet again. The following year was hardly better: 9-17, 5.40 ERA, etc. Indians GM Chris Antonetti pulled the trigger on the deal partially because of how affordable (and lengthy) Jimenez’s contract was. Cleveland didn’t want a three month rental; they wanted a workhorse on whom they could depend. So far Ubaldo has been less workhorse and more jackass on the North Shore. But could 2013 be another 2010 for the righty?
Few pitchers had a better year in 2010 than Ubaldo Jimenez. Playing in hitter-friendly Coors Field he compiled a prolific 19-8 record, a 2.88 ERA, and a 2.33 SO/BB ratio. In 221.2 innings of work he surrendered only ten home runs. Ten home runs a mile above sea level. The national media took notice too: Jimenez played in his first All-Star Game, finished third in the NL Cy Young vote, and received votes for NL MVP (finishing 23rd). The Dominican had it all. So when his 2011 campaign began with five straight losses there were some concerns. As Colorado’s fears grew, Antonetti smelled a sale coming and put together a package for the pitcher. He felt the Indians were in a window of contention and the move would pay off. Perhaps it still will. The deal was made and we know what happened next in Cleveland. What galls some Tribe fans is what the club had to give up to have Ubaldo’s show in town.
Cleveland selected Alex White with the 15th overall pick in 2009. The following year the Tribe grabbed Drew Pomeranz with the 5th overall pick. Both had pitched in college and the team considered them a future staple of the starting rotation. So when they were dealt to Colorado in 2011 at the tender age of 22 the club had decided that they would mortgage the future for the sake of a pennant race. Present value of money and all that. As Ubaldo struggled that year many fans paid rapt attention to White and Pomeranz, eager to see what had been given up. Both players made it to the Rockies rotation last year but neither made a positive impact. White: 2-9, 5.51 ERA; Pomeranz: 2-9, 4.93 ERA. Pomeranz has reportedly looked better in Rockies camp this year and will get his chance with a team that has relatively low expectations. This past December, White was sent to Houston for Wilton Lopez and a player to be named later. He too will have spot in the rotation as Houston is as inept at baseball as it gets. So as of this writing neither has exploded onto the scene enough to drive Tribe fans to the bottle. Their five year difference to Jimenez does give them a slightly longer leash though. No doubt many in Cleveland wish them well.
This article is not meant to disparage Jimenez or call him names (except for the one “jackass” comment). The numbers don’t lie. Since being traded, Ubaldo has gone a combined 13-21 with a 5.32 ERA. He has given up 258 hits in 242 innings, struck out 205 batters, and walked 122 opponents. Those numbers simply aren’t good enough. Considering his high profile in 2010 and what was lost to acquire him, Jimenez needs to win a minimum of 15 games and keep his ERA under 4.00 to not be considered a failure as an Indian. Maybe Francona can tell him just the right things to keep his pitches down. Maybe the run support will be up this year. Maybe, maybe, maybe. For now though, Jimenez stands center stage, still throwing, hoping this third act with Cleveland will bring the house down. F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, “There are no second acts in American lives.” Then again, Fitzgerald had a terrible curveball so what does he know.
Bill Selby Saved the Day
I still remember where I was when Bill Selby hit that home run. It was Sunday, July 14, 2002 a bright day in a lost season. My whole family was gathered at my grandparents’ house for a Sunday lunch that quickly evolved into a Cleveland Indians watch party. My whole family loved the Tribe and having the Yankees as an opponent only raised the stakes. The Wahoos were attempting to come back from a 7-0 deficit, and were making it a game. They trailed 7-6 with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth as New York closer Mariano Rivera shed delicious, anxious sweat. Third baseman Bill Selby stepped into the batter’s box…
In 2002, I was 12 years old. For a child raised on Cleveland’s nineties success, it was a strange season. For most of my life and all of my active memory up to that point the Cleveland Indians were winners. Period. They won divisions, they won pennants, they always contended, and they almost always made the playoffs. By 2001 someone telling me we had won the division was met with the same level of excitement as if he had said, “Oh look, the mail is here.” The two were not far apart in my mind – both consistent, both relentless, and both inevitable. We could hit, run, field, and pitch. The pitching was my favorite part and no player captivated my imagination like Bartolo Colon.
Between 1997 and 2001 Colon was a terrific pitcher for Cleveland. He amassed a 65-41 record with an ERA of 4.09. I cared little for advanced metrics back then; the only thing that mattered was that he threw hard and struck people out. Colon averaged 7.9 K’s per nine innings those years, and his strikeout-to-walk ratio was 2.06. My brothers and I would marvel at his strength as the big right-hander ratcheted up 100 mph fastballs in the ninth inning of a complete game. Add in his generous proportions and Colon appeared to us on the same plane as Zeus or Superman, more legend than flesh and bone. So when I picked up The Plain Dealer on June 28, 2002 the world made a little less sense.
“INDIANS RAISE THE WHITE FLAG Colon trade likely first of many for rebuilding Tribe” Trade? Rebuilding? What was this about? As I read Paul Hoynes’ article I couldn’t quite understand what was going on. General Manager Mark Shapiro had traded Colon to Montreal for a slew of young players. To my 12-year-old brain it made no sense. Colon had a 10-4 record. He was pitching his heart out. You don’t trade good players; you trade players you don’t want anymore. I read the names of the bounty Shapiro had hauled in. Phillips. Sizemore. Lee. Stevens. Who were these guys? Over the next few days a litany of new words penetrated my consciousness. “Prospect,” “Three year plan,” “REBUILDING.” That last one galled me more than any other. Why rebuild? It’s not so bad. These are the Indians, they’ll win the division. They always do.
On the day of the trade the Indians were 36-41. The club was in third place, 7.5 games out of first. While they weren’t quite in striking distance the team still had a puncher’s chance to catch Minnesota. Until Colon got dealt. Cleveland went 3-7 in their next ten games. Then 4-6 in the ten after that. By mid July the team had slipped down the standings and checked in at 10.5 games out of first. They were finishing a three game set with the Yankees, desperate for some good news.
Joel Skinner was still getting used to the manager’s office. Three days previous Mark Shapiro continued his demolition of the club by relieving skipper Charlie Manuel of his duties. Skinner moved from the third base box to the top step of the dugout and some said if he did well enough the position could be his next year. On July 14 Skinner called on Chuck Finley to start the game. Finley struggled early. The Yankees plated four in the first without getting more than a single at a time. Jason Giambi lined a double deep into left in the second to score another run for the Yanks. Finley struggled all afternoon and couldn’t escape the fourth inning. By the end of the frame New York led 7-0. Meanwhile Mike Mussina was masterful for the Pinstripes keeping the Indians off the scoreboard most of the day. According to baseball-reference.com, after Chris Magruder flew out to start the Cleveland sixth, the Yankees’ 7-0 lead plus the situation gave them a win expectancy of 99%. Omar Vizquel and Ellis Burks both singled to set the stage for Jim Thome. Thome was beloved by all, especially in 2002. There was a lot of fear and speculation that since he was in a contract year the slugger might leave for greener pastures when the season ended. Colon’s trade and the talk of rebuilding only fueled these rumors. Today, however, Thome did what he did best: knock the leather off the ball. His homer off the Moose brought the score to 7-3 and left the door open for the Indians. Cleveland plated another run in the 7th thanks to an RBI double from Vizquel. New York’s bats turned cold and they mustered a mere single in the last three innings. The score remained 7-4 until the ninth inning.
Mariano Rivera jogged out from the right field bullpen. I knew who he was, but it made no difference to me. I had faith that this could be a game worth remembering. It was immediately clear that Rivera was off his game when John McDonald and Eddie Perez led off with singles to put men on the corners. The tying run came to the plate in the form of Chris Magruder. He grounded out, but McDonald managed to score, cutting the lead to 7-5. Omar came through singling to right. The whole family was in the room now, hoping for something special. Burks doubled to score Magruder; it was a one run game. Naturally, Jim Thome was intentionally walked to load the bases. Travis Fryman followed with a strikeout. Two outs, bases loaded, down one to the greatest closer in baseball, and would all come down to Bill Selby.
Selby was 32 and a career minor leaguer. He was in the midst of yet another middling season and would play his final professional game the following year. In such a high pressure situation I couldn’t understand why Skinner didn’t bring in a pinch hitter. Maybe he froze in the moment. Or maybe he just had a good feeling about Selby that day (at the time he was one for four with a strikeout) Who knows?
The count ran to 2-2 on Selby. Rivera’s next pitch came in on Bill and he was all over it. Listening to Tom Hamilton’s broadcast of the game he thinks it’s a routine flyout at first. But as the wind catches it and it starts to carry his excitement level rises. By the time it reaches the Yankees’ ‘pen you can scarcely hear him above the din. The crowd of 42,573 roared like no other. Selby rounded the bases and was met by a joyous mob at home plate celebrating the club’s 10-7 victory. Meanwhile my family hooted, hollered, and celebrated along with the rest of the city. I remember being so overtaken by emotion that a few tears escaped. I believed and was rewarded and it was a pure, innocent baseball moment.
I wish I could say that win sparked a winning streak that culminated in a return to October but you and I know that’s not what happened. The team lost more than it won though Skinner did a decent job. By season’s end the Indians were in third place, 20.5 games out of first. New players and managers were coming in. Change, turnover, and rebuilding ruled the day. Cleveland wouldn’t reach the postseason again until 2007.
So what’s the point of this article? This isn’t about losing the innocence of youth or letting go of favorite players. This article is a confession. As far as I’m concerned that game and that day was when I truly became a Cleveland Indians fan. I was born into it but that day I earned it through faith. All the adults there didn’t see the comeback coming; they had seen too many losses. But I knew it could be done. That day I learned that anyone can surprise you and play the hero. It did not matter who was traded, signed, cut, or retired - Chief Wahoo would still be there smiling. I learned the team isn’t defined by players, wins, or losses. It is defined by fans and the belief that against the best pitcher of the past quarter century even a utility infielder can hit a game winning grand slam. I learned no matter how bad a season gets, every summer has a few bright days.
Updating the Browns Playoff Hopes
It’s December and the Browns are in the postseason hunt. No it’s not the 1980s. No it’s not an alternate reality. Yes, they have as much chance as Elmer Fudd against Bugs Bunny. But still, the math is there.
Cleveland is currently 5-8 with three games remaining. To make the postseason they first and foremost need to win out. The team hosts the Redskins on Sunday, goes the Denver in Week 16, and closes out the year against the Steelers in Pittsburgh. The Jets, Steelers, and Bengals are currently ahead of the Browns in the postseason pecking order. Here’s what they need to happen:
The Jets need to lose one of their last three games. (@ Titans, vs. Chargers, @ Bills). The road seems easy for New York, but when your “missing piece” is Braylon Edwards you’re pretty much waving the white flag.
The Steelers need to lose this week in Dallas and in the finale vs. the Browns. HOWEVER, they need to beat Cincinnati in Week 16. Playoff pushes make for strange bedfellows – we’ll disinfect those sheets in January.
The Bengals need to lose out (@ Steelers, vs. Ravens). Two critical divisional matchups to close out the year will challenge Cincinnati and both games could honestly go either way.
So if all of the above happens then all four teams will be 8-8. The Browns own the tiebreaker over the Steelers by having beaten them twice. Cleveland would have a better divisional record than Cincy and a better conference record than New York. This would send the Browns into the postseason for the first time since 2002. This in all likelihood will not happen.
Assuming each team has exactly a 50-50 chance of winning, and the Browns need seven things to happen to make the postseason, the odds are 0.5 ^ 7 = 0.007813 or a 0.78% chance of happening.
In all honesty, the Browns have a decent chance against the Redskins on Sunday, especially if RGIII doesn’t play. However, Denver is never a fun place to play for opponents and Pittsburgh may have a legitimate playoff spot on the line the last week of the year. So even if the Browns can’t make the playoffs they can still keep the Steelers out, which is music to the ears of all Clevelanders.
If the Eagles had beaten the Bengals on Thursday this could have been much easier. As it is, the most critical non-Browns game is the matinee between Pittsburgh and Dallas. If the Steelers win that contest it would effectively keep the Browns out of the postseason once again. The road is steep, but it can be done.
Corey Barnes (with apologies to Margaret Wise Brown)
One Indians fan reflects on his favorite player being traded.
Goodnight throws coming in from Choo
Goodnight “Choooo” cheers serenading you
Goodnight sliding dives
Goodnight fave Korean
Goodnight speed, and
Goodnight contention window, closing by the hour
Goodnight Tribe fans everywhere.”
Hoping for a Browns(!) Playoff Miracle
The Browns can make the playoffs, and I think I’m losing my mind.
I do mean the playoffs this season and I do mean the Browns. I’ve determined that if 16 things happen over the next four weeks, the Cleveland Browns would enter the postseason as the sixth seed in the AFC. It won’t happen, but it technically could.
I’m confident that it won’t occur, but my brain can’t convince itself of that simple fact. I’m perilously clinging to reality as if I’ve fallen over a cliff and am hanging on by a branch and pinkie nail. Yet I’m not wrong. The math is enabling my psychosis.
The Browns are currently 4-8, a full three games behind the 7-5 Steelers for the final playoff seed with four games to go. The Dolphins, Bills, and Jets are all 5-7. The Cincinnati Bengals are 7-5, the same record as Pittsburgh, but thanks to tiebreakers Cincy currently sits on the outside looking in.
So here is how it goes down:
The Browns obviously would need to win-out (vs. Chiefs, vs. Redskins, @ Broncos, @ Steelers).
The Dolphins lose two of their last four games (@ 49ers, vs. Jaguars, vs. Bills, @ Patriots). I predict those road games will do the trick.
The Bills lose two of their last four games (vs. Rams, vs. Seahawks, @ Dolphins, vs. Jets). The NFC could easily polish off Buffalo in two weeks.
The Jets lose two of their last four games (@ Jaguars, @ Titans, vs. Chargers, @ Bills). With Mark Sanchez at the helm I am confident New York will find a way to lose at least two of those games.
The Bengals losing all four of their games would be most convenient, but losing only three would work so long as two of their losses are to the Bengals and Ravens. (vs. Cowboys, @ Eagles, @ Steelers, vs. Ravens). The Browns and Bengals split the season series one game apiece so divisional becomes the first tiebreaker. A Cincinnati collapse would leave them at 1-5 in the AFC North which the Browns could easily trump with a 3-3 mark.
The Steelers lose three of their last four – including the finale against the Browns (vs. Chargers, @ Cowboys, vs. Bengals, vs. Browns). This would leave the Steelers and Browns at 8-8 and Cleveland would own the head to head tie breaker. Assuming the Bengals have completely melted down in this little world I’ve created, Cleveland would make the playoffs. See? Simple.
Assuming that each team in each game has a true 50-50 chance, and I need 16 independent games to work in my favor, the odds are 0.5^16 = 0.00001526 or a 0.001526% chance of happening.
Take a look at what I just wrote. Those are clearly the incoherent, desperate ramblings of a deranged sports fan who is so hurt up for faith that he is digging through the margins of the newspaper begging for even a thousandth of a percent of a chance. That is what being a Browns fan will do to you. Some turn to alcohol, others simply lose their minds. My drug of choice is Hope, and it is the single most insidious demon a sports fan can face. Hope can help you through a long playoff drought, but it can also leave you a blubbering wreck after the fourth quarter. I am Charlie Brown (ha. wordplay.) running at the football and Hope is Lucy pulling it away. I know she will, too. But I let her do it anyway because those few steps leading up to the kick are almost as good as connecting toe to leather. Almost.
In my heart of hearts I know I am setting myself up for disappointment. This is at best a 6-10 Browns team. Considering the team’s youth that would still be an achievement. Six wins would be the most since 2007 (oh God that is a depressing stat). The offseason will be riddled with questions but a few writers next year will try to be chic and will pick Cleveland to contend for a Wild Card spot. Technically, they are in contention now, even if it’s only a shadow of a chance. My better judgment is begging me to jump off this train of thought, but I just can’t. Until they are mathematically eliminated, Hope will live on. Who knows, maybe I’ll be right. Maybe Lucy will keep the football down this time. By golly, Dawson will kick that ball clear to the moon!
Keep the faith, Believeland.
For the Browns to Make the Playoffs…
For the Browns to make the playoffs, the following must happen.
Cleveland wins its last five games (@ Oakland, vs. Kansas City, vs. Washington, @ Denver, @ Pittsburgh).
This would leave their record at 8-8. Currently, there are six teams ahead of the Browns before reaching the Steelers and Colts who are the current wild card holders. All teams in parentheticals would be the ideal teams to lose against – mostly NFC opponents or division winners.
The Bills (4-7) need to lose two of their last five games (vs. Rams and vs. Seahawks).
The Jets (4-7) need to lose two of their last five games (vs. Cardinals and @ Jaguars)
The Titans (4-7) need to lose two more games (vs. Texans and @ Packers).
The Chargers (4-7) need to lose two more games (vs. Panthers and vs. Raiders)
Then it gets tricky.
The Dolphins (5-6) need to lose three of their last five games (vs. Patriots, @ 49ers, and @ Patriots)
The Bengals (6-5) need to lose four of their last five games (vs. Cowboys, @ Eagles, @ Steelers, vs. Ravens)
The Steelers (6-5) need to lose three of their last five games (vs. Browns, @ Cowboys, @ Ravens)
Pittsburgh only needs to lose three because then they and the Browns would both have 8-8 records with Cleveland owning the tiebreaker two games to none. This situation can also work with the Bengals losing only three of their last five so long as two of those losses are divisional. If Cincinnati and Cleveland both end up with 8-8 records, the tie break would come from divisional records since they split their head-to-head matchup one and one. If all the previous happen then Cleveland’s divisional record of 3-3 would edge out the Bengals’ 2-4 record.
So is it impossible? No. But let’s assume for every game that “needs” to go down, there is a straight 50% chance it will.
So ½^23 = 0.0000001192 or a 0.00001192% chance.
To quote Lloyd Christmas: “So you’re saying there’s a chance.”
A Reflection on Perfection
With Saturday’s 26-21 victory over That School Up North, The Ohio State University Buckeyes did what few believed they could: capped off a perfect season. The Buckeyes won four non-conference games followed by a clean sweep of the conference to finish a sparkling 12-0. Unfortunately, because the Oakland Raiders’ third string quarterback wanted some free tattoos two years ago the Buckeyes will play in neither the Big Ten Title Game nor any postseason bowl game. While it is tempting to wonder how much further OSU might have gone, it is much more productive to appreciate the year that was.
It all started in Gainesville. January 1st of this year Ohio State lost 24-17 to the Florida Gators which buried a 6-7 season, their worst since 1988. The 2011 campaign was a shambles at the best of times and a trainwreck at the worst. Even with the addition of Ohio native Urban Meyer and a “Meyer’s Seven” of assistant coaches few pundits had Ohio State pegged for more than seven or eight wins. The incoming recruiting class was unremarkable and many key skill players were perceived to be too young to make a difference. Some ventured to say that the bowl ban was coming at an opportune time. They reasoned that few would lament a chance to play an ACC school in the Meineke Car Care Bowl. Still, the Buckeyes started the year ranked #18 in the AP poll.
Miami (OH) and UCF did their job as college football appetizers to set up a home game versus the Pac-12’s California Golden Bears. Despite some tense times during the second half Ohio State walked away with the 35-28 win. They were 4-0 before their game against Michigan State in East Lansing. OSU willed themselves to a 17-16 victory giving Meyer his first Big Ten win. It was about this time that whispers about perfection began. The players had little to say on the matter, they had Nebraska to prepare for.
The Buckeyes blew the doors off the Cornhuskers in Columbus. Then a preposterously close win over Indiana and a “did we seriously go to overtime against Purdue at home?” win against the Boilermakers put the Bucks at 8-0. Earlier in the year, the Big Ten ruled that even though the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions were ineligible for any kind of postseason play, their games and records would in fact count. Therefore, both teams would be eligible to win the Leaders Division. While it has almost none of the glamour of a conference championship, a division title meant a trophy and t-shirt were still on the table.
The only team angrier than the Buckeyes this year was Penn State. Burdened with a four-year bowl ban the Nittanies were playing amazingly well considering their situation and felt a win over the Scarlet and Gray at home could balm the season a bit. Braxton Miller had other plans and led OSU to a 35-23 victory. The following week Ohio State retained the Illibuck trophy handily to hit the bye at 10-0.
The last time Ohio State went to Madison, Wisconsin they lost their number one ranking, undefeated season, and pride. This time, the Badgers took their guests to overtime before Carlos Hyde scored the finishing touchdown and the defense shut down Wisconsin. All that was left was the Wolverines at home. The first half went back-and-forth before the Silver Bullets embargoed UM’s offense in the second half. The final whistle blew and OSU stood tall with a 26-21 win and 12-0 record.
While the Buckeyes are technically eligible to win the AP National Title the odds are slim at best. A soft non-conference schedule and a historically weak Big Ten will likely work against the Bucks, though they will likely finish in the top 5. So, the season is over. What’s next?
Looking ahead to the 2013 season, there are not many scary games on the schedule. Next year’s non-conference opponents went a combined 20-27 in 2012, and three of those matchups are at home. Home games include contests with Wisconsin, Iowa, Penn State, and Indiana. The Buckeyes will be challenged on the road versus Northwestern, Purdue, Illinois, and Michigan. Those games (minus the Illini) are the most dangerous to Ohio State’s title hopes. Also, in a strange scheduling fluke, three of the final four games will be on the road. The biggest opponent facing OSU next season is likely in the press box. The team is a lock to start next year in the top five, if not the top three. Complacency kills good football teams. As soon as the team starts to believe they will win simply because they are highly ranked or because they have won 14 (or 15 or 16) straight games is when they will stumble. Coach Meyer is used to dealing with high ranked teams in Florida so he knows how to keep his team angry and motivated.
So with all this in mind, don’t stress during this upcoming bowl season. Remember: Urban Meyer has never lost a game as OSU’s head coach. Braxton Miller will be in the Heisman conversation next year. The team has a division title to defend, and dreams of Roses. These Buckeyes were something special this year and can reach even greater heights a year from now. Though they might want to practice tackling; they’ll need to get ready for that SEC speed.