They exited EverBank Field quickly and quietly, before the Florida Gators lifted yet another bowl trophy at their expense, even before the first verse of “Carmen Ohio” was played. For Ohio State, the end of the 2011 football season simply couldn’t come fast enough.
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And at this point, after the final Ohio State debacle in a year that practically redefined the word, it would be easy to laugh at the Buckeyes.
Yes, they got beaten again by an SEC team in a bowl game, officially making it 0-for-10 (not counting, of course, the win in last year’s Sugar Bowl that the NCAA took away). Yes, Ohio State probably would have been better served self-imposing a bowl ban during this tainted year instead of making its fans suffer through Monday’s wretched, inept 24-17 loss. And yes, the fact that their last postseason game until at least 2013 wasn’t the massive stage of the BCS — but rather the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl in front of at least 20,000 empty seats — was a jarring reminder of how far Ohio State has fallen in just 12 months.
“Tough end to a tough season,” cornerback Tyler Moeller said. “Everything that happened outside of football and then following that up with the games we lost, the mistakes we made. It’s a disappointing year.”
On Monday, there’s no doubt it was more fun to be a Florida Gators fan than an Ohio State Buckeyes fan. But today? Today, that’s going to change.
Because first thing this morning — at 7 a.m., precisely — the Urban Meyer era officially begins in Columbus with a team meeting to introduce a new coaching staff. And at that moment, regardless of what you might think of Meyer or his disingenuous departure from Florida a little more than a year ago, everything at Ohio State is about to look a whole lot brighter than it has for the past 10 months.
“I’m anxious to turn the page,” defensive lineman Johnathan Hankins said. “This year was kind of up and down. I guess you have seasons like that when you go through coaching changes, but I’m going to be ready for next year.”
Ohio State will not be in a bowl game next season, the most significant penalty from the memorabilia-for-tattoos scandal that took down Jim Tressel after seven Big Ten titles and a national championship in 2002. That’s never an easy penalty to swallow, especially for a program like Ohio State that has missed only one postseason since 1988. Without any tangible reward, the Buckeyes will have to figure out how to play for pride.
“I don’t think that’s something we can control,” linebacker Etienne Sabino said. “I just think we have to take it game by game and try to win as many as possible.”
But regardless of what happens next year, the Buckeyes are going to win with Meyer — as much, or more, as they won with Tressel. Just look at the track record. He brought Utah to national prominence. He rescued Florida from a Ron Zook-inspired funk and won national championships in his second and fourth year. He’s going to slide into Columbus, dominate recruiting in the Midwest and have Ohio State back in contention for national titles by his second or third year.
I’m quite sure of that. If anything, it’s Florida’s future I’d be more concerned about.
Though Meyer wasn’t physically here Monday, he was omnipresent. Florida fans brought signs that read “Urban Liar.” Ohio State fans wore T-shirts that read “Urban Legend.” If nothing else, the man’s first name lends itself to paraphernalia.
But he was also largely responsible for the personnel Florida put on the field Monday, and that’s not a good thing. Florida finished the season 7-6 and, from a talent perspective, is a long way removed from the program that seemed to dominate the SEC just a few years ago. Many suspect that Meyer’s sudden “retirement” last season had more to do with Florida’s downward trend than his health; either way, it’s Will Muschamp’s mess to clean up now.
Whether he’s capable is still very much an open question.
“The last two years, we’re 15-11 and that’s unacceptable,” Muschamp said. “I think sometimes you’ve got to put your realistic glasses on where you are as a program. It’s not where we’re going to be very long, I can assure you of that.”
The truth is, two mediocre teams played here Monday, both programs a shell of what they were in 2007 when Florida beat Ohio State for the BCS national title. It was an inartful game; Ohio State allowing two special teams touchdowns, Florida able to muster only a measly 263 yards of offense. Neither fan base will accept that quality of football for very long.
And now it’s up to two men — Meyer at Ohio State and Muschamp at Florida — to fix it. Who are you betting on? When it comes to new coaches, there aren’t many sure things. But starting today, even from the depths of probation and mediocrity, Ohio State is as close as it gets.