- Nick Savko
It's Time. The Script Begins Saturday!
(Columbus) Autumn. The air cools. The color of the leaves begins to change. Of the four seasons in a year, autumn is the symbol of retirement. It’s the time to slow down, to relax. It’s the season to take in the warm beauty that nature offers us.
In Columbus, Ohio, the autumn season is when the heart beats strongest. In Columbus, Ohio, the autumn season is when the passion of the people does not slow down, but prepares. In Columbus, Ohio, the autumn season is when The Ohio State Buckeyes take the football field. This year the folks in Columbus are not just excited for football to return, they are excited for the aspirations that this 2022 Ohio State team has in front of them.
To know the expectations this fanbase has for this team, we must take a step back to remember where they came from. The regular season ended with an upset defeat to rival Michigan. In that game the Michigan defense controlled the Ohio State offensive line. The Ohio State defense had no answers for anything the Michigan offense did. On November 27, 2021, the Greatest Rivalry in Sports was a sight for sore eyes for fans of the Buckeyes.
The Buckeyes had made (and won) the four previous Big Ten Conference championship games. 2021 saw that streak come to a close. While the Buckeyes watched their rival hoist the Championship trophy, Ohio State was reunited with an old passion of theirs, The Rose Bowl game vs. Utah.
Not making the College Football Playoff, there were players who opted to not play in the Rose Bowl as to not risk injury for potential draft status. That offered Buckeye fans a small sample size of what the future had in store for them. Jaxon Smith-Njigba and Marvin Harrison Jr. were two key players who stepped up on the big stage. In Smith-Njigba’s first two seasons on campus, there were moments that shined light on his pass catching ability; but nobody was prepared for the performance he displayed during the Rose Bowl. 15 receptions for 347 yards and 3 touchdowns.
This was not an early season game against a less formidable opponent. This was against a very well-respected Utah team whose defense was ranked as the fifteenth-best defense in the country. Smith-Njigba’s 347 receiving yards were 29 more yards than the Utah defense gave up on average per game. Smith-Njigba’s 15 receptions and 347 receiving yards were both Rose Bowl records, and it doesn’t end there. His 347 receiving yards were also the 5th most ever by an FBS receiver.
The record-breaking night was also shared by Marvin Harrison Jr., the son of Pro Football Hall of Famer Marvin Harrison. A 5-star recruit from the Philadelphia area, Harrison Jr. was ready for his moment as he hauled in 6 receptions for 71 yards and his own 3 touchdowns. The three touchdowns each by Smith-Njigba and Harrison Jr. tie a Rose Bowl record held by Michigan's Braylon Edwards (2005), USC's Deontay Burnett (2017), and Alabama's DeVonta Smith (2021). A competitive game that challenged the Buckeyes throughout its entirety, reminded the fanbase that this team doesn’t rebuild they reload.
And now ladies and gentlemen, like a high school boy on Homecoming night, this team is ready to unload. Let’s look at the storylines. For the first time ever Ohio State is starting the season with a Top 5 opponent which happens to be Notre Dame (No. 5). Notre Dame is welcoming a first-time head coach who happens to be a former linebacker for the Buckeyes in Marcus Freeman. On the day that Notre Dame made the announcement that Freeman would be their new head coach (December 3), it happened to also be his best friend’s birthday. That friend happens to be former Buckeye great James Laurinaitis, who as a media member in Columbus and for the B1G Network, decided to be his brother’s keeper and accepted a position to join the Notre Dame coaching staff.
This 2022 team welcomes a new edge to the defense. Taking over the defensive coordinator position from Oklahoma State is the highly reputable Jim Knowles. Knowles spent the previous four seasons at Oklahoma State turning their defense into one of the top units in the country. Last year the Cowboy’s finished as the 3rd ranked defense in college football with three key statistics: only giving up 278.4 yards per game (No. 3), an average of 16.8 points per game (No. 7), and a 25.8% opponent third down conversion rate (No. 2). Knowles did not coach in the bowl game for the Cowboy’s where his former team played Notre Dame. How ironic his first game for OSU (Ohio State) picks up where his prior OSU (Oklahoma State) career ended; against Notre Dame.
When the Buckeyes schedule out-of-conference teams like Notre Dame, they are scheduled so far in advance that it is hard to tell how the rest of the schedule will balance out. This season’s conference schedule is not one to take lightly. The cross-division opponents for the Buckeyes include the likes of: Wisconsin (September 24), Iowa (October 22), and Northwestern (November 5). Those three teams have represented the West Division in the Big Ten Championship game for the last 8 years. If you want to go further back to when the conference was campaigning to be the Valedictorian of the Society of Skid Mark Sniffers (the three years of the divisions titled Leaders and Legends), Ohio State will be playing a team that has been in the conference championship game every year since the game was established. That is a conference schedule that will surely test our young men.
The 2022 season also marks two hallmark anniversaries for The Ohio State program. The most recent is the 20-year anniversary of the 2002 National Championship season. The other is the 100th anniversary of one of the most iconic venues in all of sports, Ohio Stadium or most popularly known as, THE Horseshoe. For a school located on “the banks of the Olentangy”, one of the most heralded traditions in the history of this school takes place during half times at home games in The Shoe. The band known as The Best Damn Band In The Land (TBDBITL) comes out to form script Ohio, and each week the band honors someone to “dot” the “i”.
Autumn is here folks, football has arrived. The two seasons bring us a blank script that will play out before us. The schedule has the pillars that stand in our team’s way, and the play on the field will be the arcs that write the script for us. In essence that is what story writing is. There are moments that are pillars, and those pillars and connected by the way they arch together. Or as this author likes to say, “dot connecting”: the story of a constellation by looking at the stars and connecting the dots. So, before this campaign begins take a look back at the stars that are aligning.
A former Buckeye (Marcus Freeman) is named the head coach at Notre Dame on his best friends (James Laurinaitis) birthday (December 3) and that friend joins his staff. The Rose Bowl featured Ohio State vs. Utah. Two schools where the current head coaches (Kyle Whittingham & Ryan Day) are replacements for the legendary Urban Meyer.
New Ohio State Defensive Coordinator Jim Knowles beings where his prior job finished, against the Fightin’ Irish of Notre Dame.
THE 20th anniversary of the 2002 National Championship.
THE 100th anniversary of the Horseshoe.
It could only be written by the stars that this season kick’s off under stars in Columbus. The script begins tomorrow.