Ohio State’s brief reprieve from being the villain won’t last long
Ohio State has never worn a slipper, a la Cinderella, and it probably never will — no matter the opponent. Sure, the Buckeyes are underdogs from time to time, like the College Football Playoff semifinal last week against Clemson, but that’s a once- or twice-per-year occurrence.
That means the Buckeyes don’t exactly inspire neutral fans to pile on the bandwagon. In general, people enjoy the novelty of a new story, and Ohio State, with its storied history, is definitely not that.
With that in mind, wasn’t it a little strange that Ohio State was on the other end of the spectrum against Clemson? Maybe neutral fans weren’t outright cheering for Ohio State, but they certainly weren’t cheering for Clemson. And they probably won’t be cheering for Alabama in Monday’s national championship game, either.
That’s because a lot of fans have Alabama and Clemson fatigue. They have met in the national title game in 3 of the last 6 years, and this is the sixth straight year that at least 1 of them will play for the national title. Ohio State, by contrast, is making its first national title game appearance since 2014. Plus, many have rolled their eyes at the antics of Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, who most recently had the audacity to rank the Buckeyes No. 11 on his Coaches Poll ballot heading into their game.
In fact, you could make the argument that Ohio State was the least-hateable team in the CFP this season. Fans are undoubtedly sick of watching Notre Dame in the CFP.
It’s a weird spot for Ohio State fans, who love the “Ohio against the world” mantra that was popularized in the 2014 season on the way to the national title. This year, fans and players rallied around the perceived slights about the Buckeyes not being worthy of the CFP due to their reduced schedule and uninspiring performances against their only 2 quality opponents (Indiana and Northwestern).
If it feels odd to have some fans rooting for the extremely likeable Justin Fields and Ohio State — simply to avoid having Clemson or Alabama win another title — well, don’t worry: It won’t last. These things go in cycles, and while Clemson and Alabama have ruled the sport for the last 5 years, the Buckeyes have a chance to take the mantle and be the team everyone loves to hate over the next 5 years. Here’s why:
1) It’s already almost there
Ohio State obviously isn’t starting from a blank canvas. Obviously one of the premier programs in the sport with 4 CFP appearances in 7 years, it is already a team a lot of folks like to see fall — especially in the Big Ten. But nationally, the Buckeyes aren’t quite at that level, simply because they haven’t won like Alabama and Clemson in recent years.
In the 2000s, Ohio State struggled in big games, much like Notre Dame does now. That inspired some hate, as the Buckeyes lost in the national championship in back-to-back seasons. Mark Schlabach, in an ESPN piece from 2008, ranked Ohio State as the No. 1 team that fans love to hate.
Plus, referring to yourselves as THE Ohio State University can come off as a little arrogant. And when noted Buckeyes fan LeBron James — who is one of the athletes whom fans love to hate — tweets his Ohio State support to his 48 million followers, you know fans will pile on just to oppose him.
2) Perception that the B1G favors Ohio State (or teams like it)
Make no mistake, Ohio State was not served well by the Big Ten in 2020. The conference put the Buckeyes in terrible positions time and time again, and it created the perception that the Big Ten continually bent its rules for Ohio State.
The B1G changed its minimum-games requirement for the conference title game from 6 to 5 so Ohio State would qualify, and the B1G also changed its COVID protocols so some Ohio State players would be eligible for the CFP. That obviously creates resentment, but they were just dumb rules to begin with. The B1G was needlessly much more strict than every other conference (and the CDC) with COVID, and it needlessly set the minimum requirement for the title game at the beginning of the season.
The Big Ten’s bungles aren’t Ohio State’s fault, but fans’ ire will certainly be directed toward the Buckeyes. Juxtapose that with how Indiana was slighted in the bowl pecking order (and also kept out of the conference title game), and well, you can see why fans get sick of a powerful team like Ohio State.
3) Ohio State is going to win like crazy over the next 5 years
Fans aren’t sick of Ohio State right now, at least compared to Alabama and Clemson. But get ready, because this won’t be the last time the Buckeyes are in the national title game this decade. Far from it, in all likelihood.
Ohio State is recruiting at an absurdly high level the last few years, all but guaranteeing it at least appears in the CFP the next few years. The Buckeyes have the No. 2 class in the country for 2021, with 12 top-100 recruits. Of the 6 5-star commits in the 2022 class, Ohio State has 3 of them, including the No. 1 overall prospect, QB Quinn Ewers.
We’ll have to see how the Buckeyes fare without Justin Fields next season, but once Ohio State figures out its QB situation — it will be a battle between 4-star QBs C.J. Stroud and Jack Miller, and perhaps incoming 5-star freshman Kyle McCord — it has an extremely talented roster that will once again be the favorite in the Big Ten.
Ohio State has separated itself from the rest of the Big Ten, similar to what Clemson has done in the ACC. The Buckeyes will be in the mix for the national title every year for at least the next 5, and with it, the hate will inevitably return.