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Ohio State Must Beat Clemson in Fiesta to Prove It's Elite

Buckeyes can join Alabama, Clemson with second title in Playoff era

Ohio State's tradition and status as a college football power takes a back seat to very few other programs.

The ego that comes with those historical accomplishments, and the hunger married to the Buckeyes' current aspirations, therefore won't allow head coach Ryan Day to admit what his predecessor will:

OSU needs to win the Fiesta Bowl Saturday night against defending national champion Clemson to truly become what it believes and advertises it already is.

While the Buckeyes started the Playoff era with a title run at the conclusion of the 2014 season, they have been back on this stage only once since and fell flat on their faces in that appearance.

Alabama appeared in the first five Playoffs, won two titles and lost twice more in the championship game.

Clemson is making its fifth straight appearance, having won twice and lost in the title game another time.

Ohio State need not bow before anyone else, but in comparison to Alabama and Clemson, the Buckeyes must bend the knee to the Tide's and Tigers' accomplishments unless OSU runs the table and joins their company with a second Playoff trophy in the half-dozen years of the format's existance.

Urban Meyer said as much this week while reflecting on the Buckeyes' 31-0 loss to Clemson in the 2016 Playoff semifinal in the same stadium where the teams will stage another elimination game.

That defeat represented the only shutout and worst margin of defeat in Meyer's eventual 17-year coaching career, and perpetuated a scoreless streak by Big Ten teams in the Playoff that dates to Ezekiel Elliott's clinching touchdown run against Alabama in the 2015 Sugar Bowl.

Michigan State also got shut out, 38-0, by Alabama in a Playoff semifinal the next year.

For all of OSU's accomplishments under Meyer -- never winning fewer than 11 games and never losing more than two games in any of his seven seasons -- the Big Ten endures the stench those two losses and a four-year-plus streak without a title has inflicted on the conference.

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And since Ohio State is the league's standard bearer, some of that stink lands -- fairly or unfairly -- on the Buckeyes. 

How much it played into OSU getting left on the doorstep of a Playoff berth in 2017 and 2018 will never be disclosed, but it certainly didn't give the program any wiggle room akin to what it received in 2014 when the College Football Playoff Committee valued the Buckeyes' brand enough to vault them over No. 4 TCU and No. 5 Baylor in the final voting.

That's why Meyer doesn't hesitate to label the Fiesta semifinal against the defending national champions, winners of 28 straight games, a must-win for OSU.

"The last time we were here, we didn't play well," he said. "I think (winning) this is big. The whole perception (of the program). Sometimes, perception is reality.

"That's our job. Not our job, it's Ohio State's job to make (the reputation) different. We had our chance in 2016 and didn't do it.

"We had a lot of those years, three years in a row (2015-17), where we were right there. Some people, including myself, thought we should have been in there, but we weren't."

The Committee couldn't keep the Buckeyes out this year, given their dominance in winning every game by 11 points or more.

But if Clemson wins in dominant fashion, what will happen the next time OSU's case is not as compelling.

Will it get the nod, say, like it did in 2016 when a regular season loss at Penn State kept the Buckeyes out of the Big Ten title game?

"I know that we're always in the conversation year in and year out, and have been since it started," OSU coach Ryan Day said. "What everyone's opinion is right now doesn't matter. What matters is Saturday night when the game is over.

"There's a lot of things that lead up to a game like this. There is a lot of hype that comes into it. What matters is how we play. We've had one heck of a year. This team has done a great job. 

"And some of the things that have happened in the past really have nothing to do with this team, with this coaching staff. So we just focus on doing everything we can to play a great game, and we go from there. We're going against great teams, and it's an honor to be a part of the Final Four."

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