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November 12, 2013

Column: Give him a break

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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Perhaps the only thing faster than the speed of light is the speed of which an apparently controversial quote can travel through the Twitterverse.

And now, for a certain choice of words concerning Ohio State and its place on the national stage, Evan Spencer might have whiplash from how rapidly such off-the-cuff comments made their way to national headlines.

In what felt like a routine day of media availability previewing the No. 3-ranked Buckeyes' game against unranked Illinois Saturday, the junior wide receiver was inevitably asked how he thought his crew matched up against the nation's elite teams like "Alabama and whoever" after watch such squads play during a bye weekend.

"Well, I guess I'm a little biased, but i think we'd wipe the field with both of them but that's just my bias speaking," he said while chuckling and wearing an ear-to-ear grin across his face.

Spencer, who comes across as seemingly one of the better-spoken members of Urban Meyer's squad, was clearly having fun with the idea of pitting Ohio State -- winners of 21-straight games -- against the defending national champions in the Crimson Tide and other viable contenders like the Florida State, Baylor and even one-loss teams like Stanford and Oregon.

His almost certainly playful stance on such a matter, though, spread like wildfire on an arid day in southern California and got to the point where Spencer issued an apology from his Twitter account, @LiLSpencee:

"I did not mean to disrespect any FB team today. I am confident in my team, and as is evident in the video, I was having fun ," read the first tweet, "...with the media answering their questions. I should have chosen my words more wisely. There was no intent to disrespect any other team."

Which, to his credit, seems true. Spencer wasn't trying to be a jerk. He didn't seem to be using his brief appearance with reporters to belittle teams with the media as the messenger and he didn't appear to be trying to pump up his own squad before playing the lowly Fighting Illini.

Simply, Spencer's comments were lighthearted -- a change in inflection or word or two from being the kind of quote you pass over because it's so clearly a gag.

The thing about jokes, though, is that they often contain varied elements of honesty and it might be fair to say that Monday was no exception.

While Meyer and members of the Buckeyes continue to preach talking point staples of "just winning" or "taking each game at a time," you've got to think that behind closed doors, the conversation -- at least a little -- is different for a team that's closing in on back-to-back undefeated regular seasons.

In terms of polls, Ohio State's best win in its historically-lengthy winning streak came as a 40-30 squeaker against then-No. 16 Northwestern on Oct. 5. The Wildcats haven't won since.

Don't you think the likes of Meyer and Spencer have migraines reading that factoid over and over? Don't you think they're noxious from hearing about their woefully below average schedule?

While both notions are almost certainly fair (and perhaps necessary) things to bring up when talking about the Buckeyes' place in the BCS rankings, what else would you expect Spencer -- and anyone else for that matter -- to say when asked to evaluate their team against others like it.

Spencer won't -- and shouldn't -- sit there, scratch his head and say: "Yeah, you know what? Alabama would blow our doors off. Florida State would too."

As a member -- and a key one at that -- of Ohio State, he has a right to stand up for his squad and not follow the provided script that proceeds to talk about how great the teams ahead of it are and how if the Buckeyes just clumsily plod their way to an unbeaten record at the end of early December they can let everything in the universe seemingly magically fall into place.

His job isn't to be rational and to point out how the teams its jockeying against, like Alabama and Florida State, have resumes significantly more impressive than Ohio State's. It's not to point out that, yeah, the Crimson Tide or Seminoles might slaughter a Buckeyes squad that struggled on defense until just a few weeks ago.

That's what reporters get paid to do. They -- hopefully -- look at Ohio State through an objective lens free of scarlet and gray tint and report on Meyer's crew as such.

Spencer's job is to catch footballs and score touchdowns.

His candor should be appreciated, not crucified.

God forbid a player veer away from the talking points and closer to what might be the more-accurate demeanor of a team that's been rightfully cast as an afterthought compared to other teams in the fluid top five.

The Buckeyes might not be at the level of an Alabama or even a Florida State.

A lack of confidence won't draw them any nearer.



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