Rob Oller: Ohio State on verge of becoming school's best ever, with an asterisk

Rob Oller
Buckeye Xtra
Coach Jim Tressel holds the national championship trophy after Ohio State beat Miami in Tempe, Ariz., on Jan. 3, 2003. Ben Hartsock, who played tight end on that team, said this season's Buckeyes have been "a good example of how adversity galvanized a team.”

The feat is not yet complete for Ohio State. The College Football Playoff national championship game stands in the way, but defeat Alabama and the Buckeyes will have former OSU national champs bowing before them.

Being curious how players from the 1968, 2002 and 2014 title teams view the 2020 Buckeyes, I contacted former running back John Brockington (1968), tight end Ben Hartsock (2002) and defensive back Tyvis Powell (2014) for their opinions. 

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Fans and media bestow legend status on teams. But those who played for the Buckeyes have a more intimate connection with the program, because they understand what goes into becoming a championship team. How they gauge greatness matters.

I’ll get out of the way and let them talk.

Hartsock: “If this team wins a national championship, if there is an asterisk it should be because they had to overcome challenges more than any other team. I would say this would be a national championship-plus.”

Powell: “When I look at this team I see a bunch of similarities to what we had (in 2014). They are a close group. It’s truly a family thing with them. We’ve been hearing about all the sacrifices they’ve made. Justin Fields becoming a vegan. Master Teague not going home but staying to receive (medical) treatment. Shaun Wade came back because he knew how special this team was.”

Brockington: “They are so well coached. Ryan Day puts the offense in positions to make the defense have to think, and when that happens, when as a defensive player you miss one beat because you have to think what to do instead of react, that’s when guys like Chris Olave and No. 5 (Garrett Wilson) go right by you.” 

Hartsock: “It’s hard enough to play a season of college football, but then you add in the stress and uncertainty and anxiety coming with daily COVID testing. I can’t wrap my head around it. On my (Sirius radio) talk show I’ve talked to coaches all fall, and these guys are absolutely haggard. This has been a good example of how adversity galvanized a team.”

Ohio State safety Tyvis Powell (23), shown with quarterback Cardale Jones after a win over Michigan in 2014, said he sees similarities between that national title team and this year's Buckeyes.

Powell: “The whole world is hyping up Alabama. It’s a “Facing the Giants” thing. It was the same when we played big, bad Alabama. But what happens as a player is you quiet the noise, and when you turn on the game tape that’s what truly is going on. It’s not like Alabama has rolled everybody and shut them out. You focus on their flaws and when the time comes you try to exploit those flaws.”

Brockington: “When we played in the Rose Bowl we had pressure, but everything is amped up now because of social media, which tells me the Buckeyes must have done some real mental focusing for Clemson. We didn’t have all that (media), but I do remember reading the Los Angeles paper, Jim Murray’s column, and Woody snatched it out of my hand and said, ‘We don’t read that (bleep) at Ohio State.’ ”

Hartsock: “That game against Clemson is one of the most inspiring chapters in Buckeye history that I’ve ever seen. I’m so excited that story gets to be told for generations. I remember my dad talking about the 1968 team, and later hearing about Chris Spielman and later Eddie George against Notre Dame. Shoot, our own Holy Buckeye. Gosh, it was so fun to sit back and watch that game with Justin Fields.”

Ohio State running back John Brockington, shown against Michigan in 1970, played on OSU's title team in 1968. He said being sequestered because of COVID-19 could help this season's team given the number of distractions in Miami.

Powell: “The No. 1 thing that confirmed these guys are especially close is when they asked Justin Fields after the game how he was able to finish with that hip. ‘What made you do that?’ And he says, ‘These are my brothers and I’ll fight for them.’ ”

Brockington: A similarity between this team and ours is we didn’t get to do much on the bowl trip. All Woody wanted to do was kick USC’s ass and go home. It’s crazy, because with COVID these young guys don’t get to do much in Miami, either. A friend told me that place has more beautiful women per square block than any city in the country. You can lose your mind. But not this year’s team.”

All three agree the 2020 Buckeyes are special. But to become legendary they need to beat the Crimson Tide on Monday. If it happens, where do you rank them? Best asterisk ever?

roller@dispatch.com

@rollerCD

Ohio State vs. Alabama

What: College Football Playoff championship game

When: 8 tonight  

TV: ESPN  

Radio: WBNS-FM/AM (97.1/1460)