So instead I'm going to use this space to talk about the experience of being the number one team. Basically, I'm still not used to it. Since Jim Tressel took over as coach, the Buckeyes have been sort of a juggernaut underdog, if you will. The talent's never been a question, the defense has always been solid, but for years, this hasn't been a program that the entire country believed in. You'd have Trev Alberts arguing that Iowa was better, or people saying they couldn't handle Miami's speed, or people wondering if they had enough offensive firepower to beat any of several teams. And when you consider the tightrope they walked pretty regularly against teams they should have beaten easily, the national doubt is somewhat understandable.
Not that we, as Buckeye fans, generally looked at it that way. "So what if it's close or boring," we'd say, "we're still winning. That's all that matters." The Buckeyes were low on style points, but generally had more of the regular points than the other guys. However, it seemed like the style points were what mattered, and all the talk about the teams racking them up out on the west coast, in Florida, and in other places around the country has made us a little defensive. If you looked at message boards over the past couple years, pretty regularly you'd see a post along the lines of "ESPiN/SI/Whoever Disrespecting the Bucks AGAIN!!!"
Now, things have changed. The defense is still good, but they're good in a fancier way, creating turnovers left and right. More importantly, the offense has become more telegenic. Ted Ginn and Anthony Gonzalez are threats to score whenever they touch the ball. Troy Smith is making plays with his feet and his arm. Antonio Pittman isn't exactly Barry Sanders or Walter Payton, but even he is breaking tackles and taking runs outside in a way that's more fun to watch than the ol' three yards and a cloud of dust. The team is getting a lot of attention, they're number one, and they are the favorite to win the national championship. It's a new role for the team, and a new role for the fans to get used to.
Some of us are having trouble with the new role. I'd say Buckeye fans this season have reacted to being the favorites in three main ways (yay, another list!):
- Denial - These are the people that act as if nothing's changed from previous years. To them, the mainstream media is still giving the Buckeyes no respect. These are the people that read "Troy Smith doesn't have to be great for the Buckeyes to win. He just has to distribute the ball" and say "The media says Troy Smith isn't any good!" Occasionally they do actually find someone that doesn't like Ohio State, but just as often, they're reading a bit too much into things.
- Suspicion - I fall into this category sometimes. We're the sort of people that have conditioned themselves to doubt everything the pundits say, because the "experts" have been wrong so regularly, especially about the Buckeyes. However, now that the same experts like the Bucks, we're thrown into confusion. Does that mean they're wrong about Ohio State too? These people start to look at the team too critically, seeing shortcomings where there aren't any, or at least overemphasizing the flaws. If you see someone criticizing Troy Smith, you shouldn't necessarily assume he/she is an idiot; they may just fall into this category, and have conditioned themselves to disbelieve everything Lee Corso and Lou Holtz say to the point that they're applying it to their own beloved Buckeyes.
- Happiness - These are probably the most well-adjusted Buckeyes. Their team is number one, everything is great. The offense is great, the defense is one of the best in terms of points allowed, the coach wears snazzy sweatervests. What more can you ask for?
Be like Happy Cat.
Don't be like Angry Cat.