If you’ve ever been on a roller coaster, you know exactly the type of season the Ohio State Buckeyes had this fall. Filled with plenty of ups and downs, excitement, sadness, and even embarrassment, it was quite an interesting football season for the Buckeyes.
Ohio State is used to greatness and perfection throughout each fall. Anything but that is considered an unsuccessful season in Columbus. If a Fall Saturday doesn’t include a win on the gridiron, it’s a disappointing day in the state’s capital. Beating Michigan is always fun. Winning the Big Ten is fun. (Potentially) winning the bowl game is fun. But if the Buckeyes don’t raise the national championship trophy at season’s end, both the team and Buckeye Nation know that more could have been done. That’s especially the case in the Urban Meyer Era.
Add in all the ugliness that took place prior to the season and there’s so much more that could have been done for the 2018 Buckeyes both on and off the football field. We won’t get into all of that simply because this isn’t the time and place and we all know what it can lead to, instead, we will focus on what happened on the football field rather than off of it.
To begin the season, offensive coordinator Ryan Day — who was promoted from just being the quarterbacks coach to both that and the OC job during the offseason — was named the acting head coach during Meyer’s three-game suspension. No one really knew what exactly to expect. Would the head coach not being on the sidelines be detrimental to the team? Would the Buckeyes be able to start the season 3-0 even without Meyer? Considered one of the best young minds in college football, would Day be able to take advantage of the opportunity? So many more questions were being asked with so few answers. Day proved to be the right guy for the job.
Looking back, that was not only giving Buckeye Nation a glimpse of the future but due to Day’s performance during that three-game stretch, it put him in the driver’s seat to be Meyer’s successor. If he would have struggled during that time, it’s likely that Day would not have been named the next head coach for Ohio State.
With the talent on the scarlet and gray, they would (and did) easily beat Oregon State and Rutgers to open the season. Day’s biggest challenge would come against TCU. While the Horned Frogs were quite a disappointment this season, the then-ranked No. 15 team in the country was Ohio State’s biggest non-conference matchup of the season and they were going to have to beat TCU even without Meyer. They did, and it meant that the scarlet and gray were a perfect 3-0 during Meyer’s suspension. With their head coach now back in the fold, things were only looking up from there.
Then came October 20.
A night game at Purdue. No problem, right? Yet, for the second straight season, Ohio State looked past an unranked opponent on the road. In 2017, it was Iowa. This season, it was the Boilermakers. Both losses inevitably kept the Buckeyes out of the Playoff. It was the Buckeyes’ lone loss of the regular season.
Beating Michigan is simply glorious, no matter how bad (or good) they may be. To say that the Buckeyes have dominated The Game in the new millennium would be quite an understatement. They’ve won 16 of the last 18 matchups, including each of the last seven games. Yet, even with that, somehow, many pegged Ohio State to lose against the Wolverines this season. The game was in Columbus? Who cares, I guess. The Buckeyes have dominated Michigan as of late? Who cares, I guess.
With (supposedly) the top-ranked defense in the country, the Wolverines not only had the defense but the offense to actually win The Game this year. Over the last few years, many thought that if Michigan actually had a better-than-average or even mediocre quarterback, they could have at least beat Ohio State once. With graduate transfer Shea Patterson in the fold this season, the Wolverines finally had a legitimate quarterback. Pair that with their dominant defense and well, they had the recipe to actually win The Game this season. Even Vegas believed so.
Or so they thought. The Buckeyes embarrassed Michigan in what was an unprecedented feat in the rivalry. The No. 1-ranked defense allowed Ohio State’s offense to score 62 points, the most points ever scored by the Buckeyes in the long, storied history of the rivalry. It was also the second-most points Michigan has ever allowed.1 Whether it be in the NFL or at the collegiate level, it was the most points a Jim Harbaugh-coached team had ever allowed.
Meyer proved once again that you should never doubt him, especially against his biggest rival…and especially with The Game being in Columbus. Harbaugh was now a perfect (imperfect?) 0-4 against Ohio State. Looking back, it was the perfect way for Meyer to leave the biggest rivalry in sports.
That dominant performance not only gave the Buckeyes a legitimate shot at making the Playoff but due to Dwayne Haskins’ dominant performance against Michigan, he was back in the Heisman Trophy hunt as well. Neither of those things happened, but it still gave both the team and the quarterback a chance, one that they wouldn’t have even happened prior to that dominant performance against their biggest rival to conclude the regular season.
With that said, let’s talk about the Playoff and the College Football Playoff selection committee. While I completely understand that the four teams who made the Playoff — Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame, and Oklahoma — deserved it more than the Buckeyes even after their dominant win over Michigan and winning the Big Ten title, Ohio State being ranked behind two-loss Georgia was quite embarrassing. A one-loss Big Ten champion should have been ranked fifth, no matter who their lone loss of the season was against. The fact that Georgia’s biggest resume-booster was a loss to Alabama says a lot, yet that was being used by many to argue why they should be ranked No. 5.
In Meyer’s last season at Ohio State, his one-loss team was left out of the Final Four. While on that topic, let’s talk about the head coach retiring. There’s no doubt that the stress of the entire Smith situation during the offseason played a role in not only his health but his decision to retire. While ESPN and others seemed to make way too big of a deal out of every little thing that Meyer did on the sidelines, it seemed obvious that he just wasn’t the same this season. Whether he was angry with administration for suspending him even though in his mind he did nothing wrong, or Meyer just wanting (and needing) to take a step back to focus on his family rather than having all of the stresses of being a college football head coach at the highest level, it seemed to be a multiple things that led to this moment.
If you would have told me in the spring of 2017 that both Meyer and Thad Matta would no longer be coaching at Ohio State a year and a half later, I would have thought you were crazy. Yet here we are.
But don’t let Meyer’s final season distract you from the type of players Ohio State had this year:
There are so many more players I could include, but the list would go on much longer than we’d all like.
Playing in the “Granddaddy of Them All” against a top-10 team like Washington is a nice consolation prize, but in the end, Ohio State did not live up to their greatest standards — both on and off the field — this season. With all that said, beating the Huskies in the Rose Bowl would be a nice way to send Meyer off, even if it’s not the ultimate goal that he and the Buckeyes wanted prior to the season. Now, it’s Day’s team. We will just have to wait and see just how good of a head coach the 39-year-old will be. Continuing the greatness that Meyer will leave behind both on the field and in recruiting will be tough, but Day seems up for the challenge.