For many years, this writer and the rest of Buckeye Nation could only sit and stew in silence whenever the likes of ESPN’s Mark May and many others proffered their opinions of the Ohio State Buckeyes prior to last year — which was often a complete dismissal and denunciation of the program in particular, and the Big Ten conference in general. Many Bucks defenders identified May as Ohio State hater No. 1, but he only represented the sentiments of many when dissecting the state of affairs in Columbus, Ohio and the rest of Big Ten Country prior to 2014-15.
Fairly or unfairly, OSU’s was still suffering from the residue of shockingly and gut-wrenchingly lackluster performances in the previous decade’s championship games against Florida and LSU in back-to-back years (heck, the Bucks even took grief for “stealing” the 2003 title game from the Miami Hurricanes). It was akin to decomposing road kill left on the concrete, as it left a horrific stench that hovered over the entire conference that lasted years up until 2014-15. And worse, as the conference’s most visible commodity, the Buckeye’s and B10’s fortunes were inextricably intertwined.
In short, prior to last season, The Big 10 and OSU has about as much credibility and respectability as a Kardashian sister at a science fair contest.
Even OSU alum Robert Smith, called the “oracle” by Steven A. Smith, picked against the Buckeyes almost every week going down the stretch of last year’s season. Joey Galloway, a former Buckeye receiver who loved being conspicuous by taking his helmet off after scoring touchdowns, was conspicuously low key last year. And Kirk Herbstreit, another O-State grad, refused to endorse Ohio State even as many other high-profile pundits and reporters very publicly (and subjectively) sided with their alma maters, particularly if they were in the SEC and PAC 12.
Ohio State, and to a lesser extent the Big Ten, was on an island unto themselves, unloved and unappreciated and, worse, often the object of national ridicule and jokes (particularly in SEC and ACC country where I now reside).
All of that national ill will toward the entire conference was reversed almost overnight by the Ohio State juggernaut that steamrolled through the 2014-15 tournament play behind the play of Ezekiel Elliott and third string QB, Cardale “lightning-in-a-bottle” Jones, blasting through Wisconsin without mercy (59-0) and decidedly defeating Alabama (the game was not as close as the 42-35 score deceivingly indicated), before trouncing Oregon in the first playoff championship game, 42-20.
With the Ohio State title win, coupled with the Big Ten’s great showing in the bowl games, the Buckeyes and the Big Ten had finally accrued considerable respect from the legion of former Big Ten haters across the country.
But then came “His and Hers” co-star Jemele Hill and her Michigan State Spartans. They managed to contaminate that deep well of good will in just under four hours on New Year’s Eve. The fact that they loss was not the issue, per say. Hill’s Spartans resembled a bleeding zebra at a lion convention – the team was totally ripped apart in the second half by the darlings of the college world, Alabama, who only left skeletal remains to help you even identify that Michigan State was even in the stadium. There should have been yellow police tape around the field after the game. The outcome and the aftermath have been that bad.
As a devoted watcher of “His and Hers,” I watched in amusement as Hill literally exploded with volcanic ferocity with a long, loud monologue because her Spartans beat the hated archrivals Michigan Wolverines, despite being the beneficiaries of one of the flukiest plays in college football history — a last second punt block in which the ball fortuitously landed in the arms of a Spartan in such a way that he didn’t even have to break stride as he trotted into the end zone as the game expired and the superior Wolverines suddenly vanquished.
Soon, though, the glass slipper would fall off Cinderella.
Weeks later, with the Buckeyes unaccustomed to defending the read option with backup QBs – the starter was injured – and some very questionable offensive play-calling by three-time national champion Urban Meyer (and his offensive staff), Sparty pulled off another last second victory over a decidedly more talented team.
This had Sparty Nation all puffed up like balloons. And nothing was more puffed than Jemele Hill’s mouth which was full of adjectives to describe the Spartans’ sudden superiority over her two hated rivals which Sparty, with great resentment, had long existed in relative obscurity under the their vast shadows. To most outside the Midwest, the Buckeyes and the Wolverines WERE pretty much the Big 10. Granted, that impossibly long, last drive that the Spartans orchestrated to put away Iowa in the Big Ten title game was quite impressive indeed, but it may have given Hill and the Spartans a false sense that it had ascended to college football aristocracy. But, just like the hero in the blockbuster movie Titanic, after Leonardo DiCaprio was briefly honored by being allowed to sit with the first-class “richies” for dinner because he saved someone’s wife, he was quickly dispatched back to third class — where he belonged. This is what happened to the Spartans after Thursday night’s debacle against the Crimson Tide.
And that hard work that (mostly) Ohio State had built to regain national respect for the Big 10 was undone overnight. MSU and Iowa and Northwestern (who beat Stanford to begin the season) were all beaten like they stole something in the bowls. But the Spartans were the only Big Ten bowl team to not even score a point. Not even a single point. Worst of all, the Big 10’s credibility, in the eyes of national sports pundits, had been torpedoed into a thousand pieces. When all was said and done, the Crimson Tide had scored nearly as many points as the Spartans had accumulated rushing yards (39) in Arlington’s AT&T Stadium, according to the Bleacher Report.
The situation was made worse when Hill used her vast national platform on her show like a pulpit to preach the gospel of Spartan superiority. She put herself out there … and it backfired spectacularly. It was like watching fireworks accidentally being set off indoors. Everything of value went up in a blaze. She should have known it could have happened. It happened before. Michigan State got plastered 49-7 in the Capital One Bowl by Alabama on Jan. 1, 2011, MLive.com reminded us.
To her credit, when Hill returned to her first “His and Hers” show since the epic Spartans beatdown, she did channel her inner Denzel Washington from the movie Glory and took her lashings like an adult. But because of the weeks, if not months, of unabashed, unadulterated, unending trash talking, a multitude of Big Ten fans are delighting in her current plight and also of seeing a rare sight: a humbled Hill.
Now it is left up to Ohio State and, to a lesser extent, Michigan State’s “big brother” Michigan to try to restore the Big Ten’s national reputation once again. And even that may not be enough. O-State and U-M took down their opponents in decided fashion on New Year’s Day (The Bucks actually should have beaten Notre Dame by at least four TDs), yet the Big 10 as a whole, after the autopsy was performed by the bevy of sports pundits, is looked upon like an abandoned port-a-potty in in the middle of August — because the rest of the conference disintegrated under the glare of the national spotlight, most particularly Michigan State.