Their presence in the Big Ten gives many the impression that they can’t play with some of the best teams in the nation because of the weak teams they play throughout the season. The Big Ten championship game against the Michigan State Spartans was their toughest test of the season, and failure to get a win was further validation for their doubters that they cannot hang with the other top teams in the country. Michigan State’s win in the Rose Bowl over the Stanford Cardinal on Wednesday helped to boost the reputation of the Big Ten, something that the conference desperately needs. Ohio State could be a part of it too with a win over Clemson.
Ohio State needs validation for themselves as well. The Buckeyes have been kept out of the national championship the past two seasons. Last year they went undefeated but were facing a bowl ban that kept them away from any postseason play. This year they were making a run for the title game by going undefeated during the regular season but then were stopped short by the loss to the Spartans in the conference title game. None of their 24 wins the past two seasons have come against a top 15 opponent, and they would like to prove that they can in fact beat another highly ranked team. They would also like to get back to their winning ways after their 24-game winning streak was snapped by Michigan State as well as prove that they are a championship-caliber team like that winning streak would suggest. The Buckeyes also need to earn back the respect they lost by getting blown out in the BCS title game by SEC teams like the Urban Meyer-coached Florida Gators in 2006 and then the LSU Tigers in 2007. A win in a BCS bowl over one of the top teams in the country could help them do just that.
Earning this validation will not be an easy task for the Buckeyes. Their biggest weakness is their pass defense, and it could easily be taken advantage of by Tajh Boyd and the pass-heavy offense of Clemson. Ohio State needs to hope that all of their preparations for Clemson’s offense will allow them to play the best that they have all season, despite the loss of two of their best defensive players in Bradley Roby and Noah Spence. The younger players replacing Roby and Spence need to step up and fill the void left by their absence. Also, Clemson is looking for similar validation for themselves after a disappointing season and huge losses to the Florida State Seminoles and South Carolina Gamecocks. They will be just as determined as the Buckeyes to earn respect and prove they are a championship-caliber team.
The versatility of Braxton Miller and the explosiveness of Carlos Hyde greatly help Ohio State’s cause. They could win the game with their high-powered offense and get the validation they need and earn the respect they deserve.