With all the hype over Ohio State's quest for a National Championship in 2006, I spent some time today thinking about how it all relates to the 2002 season. And I've gotta tell you, there is very little comparison.
Sure, there's the obvious similarities. But most of the time, we've gotta actually LOOK for the similarities. But you've really got to take a serious look back, and then you'll understand that this year is NOTHING like '02.
For example, we are actually EXPECTED to play for the title this year. Sure, there's the naysayers and the pundits on ESPN who don't give us much credit and desperately want to find moments of weakness. But in 2002, we were not at all expected to contend. As a matter of fact, we weren't even ranked in the Top 10 at the start of the season. With each win, we did manage to creep up the charts, but it was more due to other teams losing and us climbing the rankings by default. By the time we knocked off Purdue, many voters had no choice but to put us in teh Top 2, especially because that was the same day Oklahoma finally lost, leaving only 2 unbeatens.
This year, there was a target on our backs from the first minute of the first game. In '02, nobody outside of Ohio thought we'd keep winning, and everybody just assumed that some team would trip us up and they wouldn't have to worry about it anymore.
Craig Krenzel wasn't a Heisman front-runner. Maurice Clarett was just a freshman with no quality wins under his belt. Michael Jenkins' luck would run out on the long TDs. Jim Tressel was in over his head, having gone 7-5 in his first season at Division 1.
They didn't give us the credit. They paid the price for that.
But this year, it's different. we EXPECT to be highlighted on ESPN at the top of the hour. Defenses are geared towards stopping Ginn, and they know the penalty if they let Gonzo go unnoticed. How many guys named Smith can get recognized WITHOUT using their first name? Ours can. Tressel's got legendary status in the Big Ten now. They point towards Ohio State when they want to prove that "reload, not rebuild" is not just an empty slogan.
To summarize, we ain't sneakin' up on nobody this year.
So expect a season FULL of games like the Penn State contest. Hard-fought early on, and it'll take a big play or two to pull away. Fortunately, we have a lineup FULL of guys who can make the big play. But outside of a home contest against BGSU and a visit to Illinois later on, there isn't going to be an easy one the rest of the way.
I'm sure Tressel knows this. I'm sure Smith and Company know this. But it's time we start realizing it as well.