Rob Oller commentary: Hope, doubt in air as Ohio State football camp kicks off

By The Columbus Dispatch  • 
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As unofficial holidays go, the opening of Ohio State fall camp ranks somewhere between Comfortable Clothing Day and Festivus.

On one hand, the first day of camp — which arrived yesterday — is like slipping into elastic waistband sweat pants. (You might not be there yet, but trust me, it is coming.) Fans finally can let it all hang out — only figuratively speaking, please — as the Buckeyes report for the first of nearly 140 days of practice.

Some fans don’t loosen their belts until now, when the regular season is right around the corner. For them, it has been seven months of holding it in; those back-to-back losses to Michigan State and Clemson tortured the gut like size 32 jeans on a size-36 guy. Today, one can relax, exhale and breathe easy.

On the other hand, the first day of camp also is like Festivus, the Seinfeld-inspired parody holiday. The day includes the “airing of grievances,” where each Dec. 23, participants berate anyone who has disappointed them over the past year.

Ohio State camp is like Festivus in August. Fans review the past football season and complain how the Buckeyes let them down — no national championship ...again — and also what needs to change so similar disappointment does not carry into 2014.

Few fans limit themselves to one holiday or the other. They can be positive one minute — Coach Urban Meyer won his first 24 games at Ohio State — and negative the next: The Buckeyes lost to the only top-15 teams they have played (Michigan State and Clemson) since Meyer arrived two seasons ago. It is time to prove you can defeat the big boys.

Positive: Meyer’s first 26 games at Ohio State were more successful (24-2) than Woody Hayes’ (16-8-2).

Negative: Meyer needs to pick it up because former coach Jim Tressel won the national championship in his 26th game at Ohio State.

Positive: Quarterback Braxton Miller returns for his senior season.

Negative: When, not if, Miller misses time because of injury, the Buckeyes no longer will have backup Kenny Guiton to bail them out.

And on it goes. Hope and opportunity vs. doubt and improbability. As Oscar Wilde wittingly described it: “Between the optimist and the pessimist, the difference is droll. The optimist sees the doughnut; the pessimist the hole.”

Generally speaking, however, the opening of fall practice leans toward the positive, if nothing else because potential remains undefeated. Those talented freshmen Meyer recruited? None has yet to become a disappointment.

Miller might not be the pure passer Buckeye Nation wants — the view here is that he has reached his ceiling as a thrower — but it should be comforting to fans that their quarterback still is talented enough to carry Ohio State into the four-team College Football Playoff. Miller is one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation, which makes the Buckeyes a title contender.

Replacing the four starting offensive linemen who graduated is problematic, but it’s not like Ohio State must play Alabama, Oregon and Florida State in September. By the time the Buckeyes play at Michigan State on Nov. 8, the new linemen should be sufficiently up to speed.

As for the defense, which last season resembled previously popped bubble wrap, there always is the fallback notion of “nowhere to go but up.”

Even the schedule is not as intimidating on Aug. 5 as it might appear on Sept. 5, the day before Virginia Tech visits the Horseshoe. Today, they merely are teams and sites listed on paper. Cincinnati … at Penn State … at Michigan State. All winnable. At least that is the expectation, and expectations energize early fall practice.

This is the year Miller wins the Heisman Trophy. Not enough for you? This is the season Ohio State defeats a Southeastern Conference team in a bowl game. Still not enough? This is the year the Buckeyes play for the national championship.

It is early August, when anything is possible. So kick back and enjoy the holiday. Because Festivus will be here soon enough.

Rob Oller is a sports reporter for The Dispatch.

roller@dispatch.com

@rollerCD

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