Beartooth bassist Oshie Bichar paints a picture of Ohio State football season that would draw the praise of Claude Monet. “When I was in school, I lived like two blocks from the stadium,” Bichar says. “It’s that feeling that’s in the air on a Saturday. Late fall, it starts to get a little chilly outside. You’re grilling out on the grill with a sweatshirt on, drinking a beer.”
College football’s backbone is its traditions. It is the sousaphone dotting the ‘i’ in THE Ohio State marching band. It is The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, the Iron Bowl, the Sunflower Showdown, the Red River Shootout and any number of wars–the Ten Year Wars, the Holy Wars and the Civil Wars (no, not the defunct folk duo, we mean Oregon versus Oregon State). It is one man dressed as a Trojan warrior on a stunning steed for USC, and another man looking like a Game Of Thrones wildling-that-had-too-much-ale-but-if-you-squint-right-kinda-sorta-resembles-a-leprechaun for Notre Dame.
Winning helps, too, and right now, Ohio State fans are pros. The Buckeyes are the defending national champions, and have won the hearts of voters as they sit No. 1 in the preseason polls. “It seems like, as far as the fans go, there is a lot of confidence in the air. We’re just overloaded with talent, pretty much,” Bichar says. “I think we’re pretty much far and ahead away from the competition this season.”
Credit goes to Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, who cited health and family as reasons for resigning from Florida late in 2010 to only to take the Buckeyes’ head role a year later. On a scale of 1 to 10, the level of disdain for Meyer and Ohio State’s championship this past season is high in the Swamp. “I’ll put it up there at an eight, at least,” says Florida fan and We The Kings guitarist Hunter Thomsen. “They had three quarterbacks, two of them dropped and the other just came in and took over. How is that even possible?”
After he was born, Cartel lead singer Will Pugh was brought home from the hospital in a Georgia Bulldogs onesie. His alliance with the Bulldogs is ironclad, and so too is his hatred for Ohio State, cemented by his frustration over … golf course management. Pugh admits Ohio State has a beautiful campus. So great, in fact, that the avid golfer was eager to play its golf course. But Pugh was turned away because of the course’s exclusively private clientele. The restricted admittance drew Pugh’s ire. “I don’t give a shit,” Pugh says. “We were playing on tour across from the university, and pretty much every university course I’ve been to has been open to the public.”
Decades of success have bred an unflappable fan base for the Buckeyes. “Growing up, it was football and basketball. We didn’t root for the Reds. Even with football, you didn’t root for a pro team,” says the Word Alive vocalist Telle Smith. “You rooted for Ohio State because you knew they would do well.”
Conversely, this season marks hard times for Thomsen’s beloved Gators. The Gators are not ranked as they enter year one of the Jim McElwain era. Shed no tears for Thomsen–Florida won national championships in 2006 and 2008 under Meyer’s guidance.
Thomsen likes the Gators’ secondary behind Vernon Hargreaves and Jalen Tabor, but it is difficult to tell if Florida is stout enough elsewhere to hang with the SEC’s elite, where wins are tricky to come by in the dog-eat-dog environment. “I know ‘bama is going to be coming on strong,” Thomsen says. “LSU has always put up a good program. We’ll have a good program. Georgia will always put up a fight.”
That last line should pique Pugh’s interest. Georgia has dynamic back Nick Chubb, who ran for more than 1500 yards and 14 touchdowns a year ago. Pugh can envision the Bulldogs knocking off Alabama and Auburn.
There is a stigma of arrogance rained down upon the SEC by outsiders, but it would be ambitious to argue against the conference’s pedigree. In short, haters gonna hate.
“I don’t think the fans necessarily put themselves above other conferences or teams, I think it just has to do with the SEC being so cannibalistic,” Pugh says. “Whoever comes out of the SEC is going to be playing for the title, is kind of how people feel now. “It is what it is. I think we try to have a little Southern humility, but it’s kind of hard at times.”
In the NCAA’s four-team College Football Playoff structure, it is almost certain that one, if not two bids will be granted to SEC schools. Others loom around the country. Thomsen has seen clips of USC and UCLA clicking in the Pac 12. The Big 12 boasts TCU and Baylor, and both are ranked in the top four in the preseason.
But on paper, Ohio State is the superior team. Defensive end Joey Bosa has been called J.J. Watt reincarnate. Quarterbacks Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett offer two top-flight options. Running back Ezekiel Elliott rushed for 1878 yards this past year, and has every right to stand in front of a mirror and work on perfecting his Heisman pose.
But this year, the national title’s destination appears to be Columbus.
“It’s always pretty much them, Alabama and a couple others,” Smith says. “I think Ohio State is still the team to beat, for sure.” alt
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