Ohio State football: Buckeyes are trying to not dwell on bowl ban
With Ohio State going 12-0 and standing No. 3 in the Associated Press poll, of course the Buckeyes would have preferred to be gearing up today for a bowl game, perhaps even the national title game on Jan. 7.
“We had the best team in the country,” sophomore cornerback Bradley Roby said.
Many might dispute that claim for several reasons, chief among them a down year for the Big Ten, but it’s a moot point. Because of NCAA violations committed under former coach Jim Tressel, the Buckeyes were banned from the postseason.
“Whenever I’ve run into somebody these last few weeks, the first thing they say to me is, ‘The way this season went, you guys going undefeated, I wish we were playing in a bowl game.’ ” senior linebacker Zach Boren said. “And to tell you the truth, I think about it every day. The whole team would be practicing right now (at the bowl site), we’d all still be together for one last game.”
That’s the part Boren and his teammates miss the most. Yes, they would have been in line for some great bowl gifts, a trip to a locale likely much warmer than today’s snowy Columbus, and about to play in a highly featured game, but, senior right tackle Reid Fragel said, “it’s being together as a group getting ready to play one last game; that’s what you really miss.”
Fragel, along with several seniors, will get to play in bowls of sort, the all-star games of the post-postseason. Fragel will be going to the Senior Bowl along with defensive lineman John Simon. Cornerback Travis Howard will go to the East-West Shrine game and Boren to the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl.
But those games are all about showing your talent to pro coaches and scouts before the NFL draft in April. A real bowl would have been the last chance for the Buckeyes to play as a team, one that carved its niche into the OSU annals anyway as the sixth to go undefeated and untied in school history.
“Not getting that final chance is hard, but looking back, we did everything we could do,” Boren said. “Stuff happened that was beyond our control that put us in the position of not getting to play in the postseason. In life there’s ups and downs, and it’s a down definitely about not getting to go to a bowl game. But it’s absolutely an up, what happened in the season.”
And as soon as the victory over Michigan ended on Nov. 24, the season was over.
“That took a while to sink in, that our season was done, and obviously watching some of these bowl games it hits home a little more,” Fragel said. “But we did all we could do, and I think we went out on the best note possible for my senior year. It is what it is, we knew going into the year we weren’t going to get to play in a bowl. So there is no point in dwelling.”
Of course, many will dwell on where such a season could have taken the Buckeyes for the holidays.
“We might not have been the prettiest team when you watched us play, but we had a fight, we had a heart that I don’t think any other college football team this year has,” Boren said. “And that goes a long way. I would give anything to be in Miami (on Jan. 7) playing for the national championship against either one of those teams (No.1 Notre Dame or No.2 Alabama).”
What about pointing the finger at those who brought the wrath of the NCAA down upon Ohio State, or at school officials for not taking a bowl ban at the end of a 6-6 regular season last year, though that still might not have kept the NCAA from also imposing one this year?
“I don’t have a grudge against the players who were involved, or against Coach Tressel and people like that,” Fragel said. “It is what it is.”
But as Roby said, there was a sense among the players at season’s end they were part of something special in the first year under coach Urban Meyer. That the season ended up being a declarative sentence sans a rightful exclamation point.
“I’m sure I will think about it a lot for the rest of my life,” Boren said. “The reason is because I almost feel like a shot at a national championship was taken away from us as a team. I know how confident we were playing at the end of the year, especially on defense, that we could have played with anyone in the country. I am a firm believer in that. I would take us against anyone.”