One of the greatest runs in college football history came to an end on Friday.
One year after winning the Sugar Bowl and a College Football Playoff national championship, Ohio State ushered out its senior class with a convincing 44-28 win over the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. That senior class is one of only two in the history of college football to win 50 games, Boise State’s 2011 group being the other. (Alabama’s senior class can become the third if the Crimson Tide beat Clemson on Jan. 11.)
The 2015 season and the graduating class that accompanies it will remain among the greatest in school history. Without a doubt, this team will be considered one of the most talented to ever put on the Scarlet and Gray jersey.
Yet, at the end of an era, it still feels like the script has been left unfinished.
2014 presented us with the greatest plot any college football fan could ask for. It started with a 12-game winning streak after losing to Virginia Tech. A team emerged as a unit without star quarterback Braxton Miller.
J.T. Barrett might have lost to the Hokies, but he won the country over as one of the up and coming quarterbacks in the country, finishing fifth in the Heisman voting.
The film was jam-packed with action as Ezekiel Elliott and Cardale Jones took over the final scenes of the postseason. When nearly everyone doubted them, they put together never-before-seen performances against the likes of Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon.
Unfortunately for those in the entertainment and college football business, it’s nearly impossible to create the successful sequel to a masterpiece.
2015’s story arc started strongly, despite losing Executive Offensive Producer Tom Herman to the H-Town Takeover project.
The Buckeyes avenged their only loss of the previous campaign, in hostile territory. They buried Virginia Tech in convincing fashion, with their hero, Cardale Jones, taking the lead role. His sidekick, the unbeatable Braxton Miller, had a new special weapon — The B Button.
The opening scene painted what looked like another unconventional run to another College Football Playoff appearance — not unexpected on a general level, but in a form most fans weren’t anticipating.
From that point forward, though, the plot twists became distracting. New writers Tim Beck and Ed Warinner left fans, players, and their head coach dazed and confused.
By the end of the 10th game of the season, it became clear that this story which unfolded in front of us was no longer a movie.
It became a reality show when the Buckeyes lost their first regular-season conference game in the Urban Meyer era. Ezekiel Elliott brought the season back to earth in an emotional postgame moment, when he said everything Buckeye fans wanted to get off their chests.
Despite facing the angst created by not playing to their full potential, the Buckeyes rewrote the preconceived ending of the season (a crash-and-burn disaster) with impressive wins against Michigan and Notre Dame.
Still, the agony of defeat stabs at the hearts of Buckeye fans. It leaves them with questions that will never be answered on the football field.
Those same questions will be attached to some of the program’s most legendary players that are moving to the next level.
Cardale Jones is just one of a handful of national championship quarterbacks in Ohio State history. His performance against Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game in 2014 will go down as one of the top postseason performances from a signal-caller in school history.
That level of quarterbacking propelled him as the starter in 2015, over a two-time Big Ten Player of the Year and the previous Griese-Brees Quarterback of the Year.
Jones will start 2016 preparing for professional football, after the inability to live up to the very high expectations put in front of him. Buckeye fans will try to remember him as the happy, go-lucky quarterback that played his way into their hearts, despite the fact that he didn’t play in the final three games of his final season after losing the momentum he had built the year before.
Braxton Miller was the first quarterback of the Urban Meyer era. His play during the 2012 season propelled a bunch of believers to an undefeated record, despite clearly not being the most talented team on the field most Saturdays.
After a year of battling back from a major shoulder injury, he cast aside the notion that he should be labeled one of the greatest quarterbacks in school history. Instead of breaking all-purpose and rushing records at quarterback, he gave his team another weapon at wide receiver, sacrificing glory for team interests.
He leaves Columbus as the most beloved Buckeye football player since Archie Griffin.
The flashy playmaker — who dazzled onlookers every time he took to the field — put his hand on the ball only 13 times in the final four games of this season. In his final game as a Buckeye, he accumulated just 38 yards against the Fighting Irish.
Joey Bosa will go down as one of the top five greatest defensive players in Buckeye history. He is projected to be the top pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. Despite missing the first game of the year due to suspension, the shoulder-shrugging quarterback nightmare continued to enhance his status in Buckeye lore. Bosa established himself as the one of the most versatile defensive linemen to play the game of college football.
His final last moment as an Ohio State Buckeye?
Hoisting up his hands in frustration, as he was ejected in the first quarter of the Fiesta Bowl for targeting, instead of raising them in the air with a second national championship trophy.
In just two years, Ezekiel Elliott became Ohio State’s second-best rusher of all-time. He took the world by storm during last year’s postseason, when he put the team on his back and carried the ball for 696 yards in the final three games of the season.
He left it all on the field during the 2016 Fiesta Bowl, but whether it’s his fault or not, there will always be a “What if?” surrounding his final game at the Horseshoe.
On New Year’s Day, the Buckeyes welcomed 2016 with a major win over Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl.
They also reminded us of the reality of everyday life.
Even a program that has gone 50-4 over the last four seasons has to answer to adversity. Sometimes, the plot doesn’t reveal itself as the preconceived destiny that has been dreamed up by the players, media and coaches.
That shouldn’t take away from all of the accomplishments of one of the most decorated groups in college football history.
There will always be a void in Ohio State’s 2016 Fiesta Bowl victory. Not being able to defend a national championship will always hurt. Still, the Ohio State Buckeyes we able to finish writing the script in the final two games of the season.
That’s what makes them a championship-level program, despite falling short of their title dreams of 2016.
Champions often fall short in the game of college football. Not many get back up and write their own ending, in which they walk off the field as decisive victors over their archrival from Ann Arbor and then college football’s most famous school, the one from South Bend.