Ohio State’s football team is still going strong, but still one of the best in the sport

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I admit — either because I’m a big Ohio State homer or because I know very little about college football (or maybe a combination of the two) — I expected the 2022 Buckeyes to look like more like a finished product to start the season than they did in their first two games. I obviously understood that there would be adjustments and growth throughout the season, particularly on the defensive side of the ball as these players adapted and adjusted to the new pattern put in place by the defensive coordinator freshman Jim Knowles.

However, I foolishly expected Heisman Trophy finalist CJ Stroud to immediately fall into a rhythm with an almost entirely new roster of starting wide receivers without skipping a beat. I expected Buckeye’s offense to pick up right where it left off as the No. 1 unit in the nation last season. While OSU’s defense and offense have been solid in wins against our Lady and Arkansas State in their first two games, they certainly haven’t been perfect; perhaps in part due to Jaxon Smith-Njigba’s injury, the offense at times felt more scrappy than the well-oiled “Greatest Show on Turf” I had anticipated.

But you know what? It’s on me. Ohio State is 2-0 and has played very well in its first two games of the season; it was unreasonable to expect them to be perfect from the start. I didn’t understand how difficult it would be to replace two top-11s NFL Draft picks at wide receiver. I didn’t give credit to how important in-game reps were to getting Knowles’ reconfigured secondary in gel. I didn’t give much credit to the need to get in shape mid-season.

Being a Buckeye fan is always an exercise in managing unreasonable expectations and uncontrolled rage when even the smallest thing doesn’t go perfectly. However, watching Saturday’s full slate reminded me of something I’ve always known intellectually, but often emotionally forget in the moment: college football is built on chaos, and even if your team isn’t isn’t perfect, surviving any ordeal should be celebrated, not taken for granted.

As someone who covers the team, I clearly have to be a bit more analytical about OSU’s performance on the field than I would if I was watching games strictly as a fan, but it’s important not to become too myopic when I focus on one team. If I go too far into the weeds on the Buckeyes, it becomes incredibly easy to miss the forest through the trees, to mix up my flora metaphors.

Yesterday alone was a perfect example of how special every win is in college football:

No. 1 Alabama nearly (re: should have) lost to unranked Texas
Number 6 Texas A&M lost to unranked Appalachia State
Notre Dame No. 8 lost to unranked Marshall
No. 9 Baylor lost to No. 21 BYU
Florida’s No. 12 lost to Kentucky’s No. 20
Pittsburgh’s No. 17 lost to Tennessee’s No. 24 in overtime
Wisconsin’s No. 19 lost to an unranked washington state
No. 25 Houston lost to an unranked Texas technology

But No. 3 Ohio State beat unranked Arkansas State 45-12. Was it the 60-6 result I predicted? No. Are there things the Buckeyes need to clean up before they start playing better competition? Yeah. Do I always have to be satisfied with the performance and the continuous growth and development of the team? Absolutely.

Because we as fans build our entire weeks around the 3+ hours that the Buckeyes are on the field every Saturday, and team accomplishments play such a huge role in our daily moods, we can forget that football is an incredibly complicated sport and that the players on whom we cling to our happiness are young people aged 17 to 23; it is foolish of us to expect perfection from the start and we have to recognize that things take time.

It’s already a very good football team in a sport where there is very little for everyone. And what’s exciting is that they will undoubtedly improve as they progress through the season.

More than I have in a very long time, I have a ton of faith in this coaching staff to put guys in the right places and put them in the best positions to succeed. Yes, there are still things that need to be fixed, but I truly believe that Ryan Day, Knowles and the rest of the coaching staff can fix these issues in time to achieve all of the team’s goals (and – more importantly again – meeting my incredibly high expectations).

The passing game still needs to be tightened, especially when Smith-Njigba and (presumably) Julian Fleming return, position coach Tim Walton needs to find something at the cornerback position, and Parker Fleming needs to provide kick return operations clearance. But, to steal a phrase from a franchise that ultimately didn’t succeed, we Buckeye fans have to “trust the process.”

This team is more than talented enough to beat their rival, win the Big Ten and win the national title for the first time in eight years. So while we shouldn’t ignore poor play and practice decisions if/when they happen, context is always important, and – even with plenty of room for improvement – the Buckeyes are better than almost any other teams in the country and have plenty of time to get even better.

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