Defending national champion Ohio State flirted with disaster much of the season. In Saturday’s 17-14 loss to Michigan State, the Buckeyes’ flaws finally cost them.
The loss likely ends Ohio State’s chances for returning to the College Football Playoff. Michigan State is now in control of the Big Ten East and matches up favorably with Week 13 opponent Penn State, and the Buckeyes’ pedestrian nonconference schedule leaves them with one of the weaker resumes among one-loss teams.
Saturday’s loss signifies so much more than the likely end of Ohio State’s reign atop college football, however. Remarkably, it was Urban Meyer’s first regular-season defeat to a Big Ten opponent and just his second loss against a conference foe in four years (Mark Dantonio and Michigan State was on the winning end of both).
Quarterback Cardale Jones, hero of the Buckeyes’ national championship run, suggested via Twitter that it was his last time playing in Columbus (screenshot for posterity).
Last time walking down them steps and into The Shoe, wish the results were different tho pic.twitter.com/BalXhHTOS7
— Cardale Jones (@CJ12_) November 22, 2015
Jones has walked back reactionary tweets before, so Saturday’s might be another example of opening the app prior to checking his emotions.
With J.T. Barrett returning for another season, however, Jones coming back for another year of quarterback tug-of-war likely isn’t the cards. He has a year of eligibility remaining and could transfer, though he was a coveted prospect among amateur NFL scouts after the Playoff run.
The Jones-Barrett back-and-forth was the physical manifestation of Ohio State lacking an offensive identity beyond stalwart running back Ezekiel Elliott — though even the steady Elliott could no longer shoulder the load against a stout Michigan State front seven.
Ohio State’s past year shows just how difficult repeating as national champions is in college football. Whereas other team sports have had dynasties since the 1990s — the Patriots and Cowboys in the NFL, Yankees in MLB, Bulls, Lakers and Heat in the NBA, Duke in college basketball — college football has three repeat champions in the last 30 years.
It’s worth noting that two of those are USC in 2003 and 2004, which split one and had the other asterisked out of existence; and Alabama in 2011 and 2012, which failed to win its own division for the first of those championships.
Arguably the most dominant team of the last three decades, the early 2000s Miami Hurricanes, lost in its repeat effort — coincidentally, to Ohio State.
Dynasties and repeats are rare in this sport because of the constant attrition. Ohio State returned a more experienced roster than most defending champions, but the Buckeyes’ success in 2014 meant suitors would come calling for Meyer’s excellent staff.
Tom Herman’s absence loomed all year, but Saturday might be the most glaring example of Ohio State missing him as offensive coordinator. Last year, against a Michigan State defense that was statistically superior to this year’s version, the Herman-coordinator Ohio State offense hit up Sparty for 49 points.
At Saturday’s pace, the Buckeyes would have to play Michigan State four times to hit that number.
Getting to the top in college football is hard. Staying on top might be harder, and Ohio State’s the latest example.