Ohio State's 2012 season, which included a new head coach, a Heisman candidate quarterback, a win over Michigan and a perfect regular season, finished just as bittersweet as it had been for 12 games: under the umbrella of NCAA sanctions.
The Buckeyes were perfect, but they will not go to a bowl this season. They will not go to the Big Ten Championship Game. They will not go anywhere. Their season is done. But is a season without a bowl a failure, even if the schedule did not yield a single loss? Luke Zimmermann of SB Nation's Ohio State blog, Land-Grant Holy Land, argues that while there is no final determinant in the form of bowl game, the Buckeyes didn't lose a game. They were perfect.
For all the close calls this season, for all the playing up and playing down to opponents based on their relative strengths, and for all the frustrations of knowing that no matter what happened, there wouldn't be the same end game satisfaction of going to a bowl because of the failures of the past, the Buckeyes were perfect. Not just for a day, but a season.
Matt Hinton of SB Nation's Sunday Morning Quarterback makes a similar argument, saying that the idea that the season is a failure based on their lack of postseason is absurd. Perfection is a goal in itself.
But even though the 2012 season will go down as an opportunity missed where championships are concerned, I strongly disagree with the sentiment that it "leads nowhere," as if championships are the only possible end. For this team, as in 2002, the triumph of surviving the gauntlet without a loss instantly replaces three months of doubt with a lifetime of goodwill as one of a very, very small handful of the greatest teams in Ohio State history.
A perfect season is certainly something to marvel at, but going to a bowl game is always better than not going to a bowl game, and Ohio State will look to accomplish precisely that next season. Head coach Urban Meyer returns most of his team, including Heisman Trophy candidate Braxton Miller, as the Buckeyes aim for perfection again in 2013.