Assembling talent at Ohio State has not been an issue for Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes. Neither has winning games. Despite all this, it is remarkable to think Ohio State has won just one Big Ten title in five seasons under Meyer.
This is in no way a rip on the job Urban Meyer has done since arriving at Ohio State prior to the 2012 season. The Buckeyes have gone an incredible 61-6 and have won a College Football Playoff national championship under Meyer, and the Buckeyes continue to be an absolute beast on the recruiting trail. Ohio State has made four consecutive trips to a BCS /New Years Six bowl game since Meyer has been hired, and if not for a 12-0 season of postseason ineligibility, the Buckeyes would have had another BCS game on their list of accomplishments and perhaps another national title. There is nothing negative to say about the Urban Meyer era at Ohio State even if you try really hard to nitpick away at what he hasn’t accomplished.
Ohio State was embarrassed in the Fiesta Bowl College Football Playoff semifinal by Clemson this past bowl season (Clemson turned out to be pretty darn good, if you recall). The Buckeyes have gone 22-2 in the regular season the past two years, losing once on a last second field goal by Michigan State in 2015 and on a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown by Penn State in 2016. Because of those losses, Ohio State was locked out of playing for the Big Ten title. It is incredible to me to see a team with so much talent over the last half-decade play so well yet have just one Big Ten championship to show for it.
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Of course, Ohio State went 12-0 in Meyer’s first season in 2012 but was prevented from playing in the postseason due to a postseason ban stemming from the tattoo scandal that took down Jim Tressel. In Meyer’s second season at the helm (2013), Ohio State played in the Big Ten championship game but lost to Michigan State, dropping the Buckeyes out of the BCS Championship Game and allowing Auburn to sneak in to play Florida State. Everything fell into place in 2014 with a Big Ten championship and a memorable showing against SEC champion Alabama and Pac-12 champion Oregon in the first year of the College Football Playoff, but the Buckeyes were upended once more by the Spartans the following season to knock the Buckeyes out of the running for a repeat bid and the 2016 season saw Penn State wiggle past Ohio State to represent the Big Ten East in the Big Ten championship game.
The lesson for Ohio State is having the distinct talent advantage does not guarantee a conference championship. Big Ten titles are nice, but the Buckeyes are also on a national championship contender stage, as was the case last season. Despite not even playing for its conference championship, Ohio State became the first team in the College Football Playoff era to be selected to the four-team playoff field without owning a conference championship. Not having a conference championship, in this particular season, did not come back to haunt Ohio State, as the Buckeyes were slated with the three-seed. The vibe put off by selection committee chairman Kirby Hocutt suggested Ohio State was sitting comfortably in the top four with significant distance between them and Penn State, a team on the rise in the playoff discussion that won the head-to-head matchup with Ohio State (but also lost to Pitt and got blown out by Michigan). Why was Ohio State given that benefit of the doubt? Beating Oklahoma on the road helped, and so did winning a game against Michigan in the final week of the regular season. The perceived talent advantage helped make Ohio State a contender before the benefit of hindsight from the Fiesta Bowl could be realized.
Ohio State continues to bring in the most talented class in the Big Ten, although Jim Harbaugh and Michigan have started to make an effort to close the gap in the past two recruiting cycles. Penn State is also on the move under James Franklin (after a third straight top 20 class, Penn State currently has the No. 1 ranked class for 2018 coming together). This week for Athlon Sports, I looked at the overall class rankings of all Big Ten teams over the past five years, and the numbers are slanted heavily in favor of Ohio State. But as I always say, it’s not always about getting the talent, but what you do with it once it arrives. Ohio State having just one Big Ten title is a bit misleading when you look at what Meyer has done, because almost anybody should be able to agree Ohio State is getting their money’s worth with Meyer in charge.
Do you think Ohio State will continue to lead the way, or will others start to swing the recruiting and talent in their favor?