COLUMBUS, Ohio — In 2013, Urban Meyer faced a challenge that no Ohio State head coach ever had previously. After an undefeated regular season, Meyer had to coach his team in a Big Ten title game.
How Many B1G Championships Would the Buckeyes Have Won Under Jim Tressel If There Were No Shared Titles?
By Patrick Murphy
Jim Tressel won seven titles over his 10 years as the Buckeyes head man (including the vacated 2010 title), but shared those championships four times.
Photo by Jim Davidson
What if the Big Ten rules were different during Tressel’s reign? What if he couldn’t split titles? Would the Senator have been as successful as history says?
Assuming the conference followed the Legends and Leaders model it used the last three seasons, let’s take a look at how things likely would have played out.
The 2002 Ohio State team is Tressel’s most successful due to the National Title, but many forget the Buckeyes shared their Big Ten crown with the Iowa Hawkeyes.
Iowa finished the regular season with an overall record of 11-1, with their loan loss coming at home by five to their rivals Iowa State, led by Seneca Wallace.
The Hawkeyes and OSU did not meet during the regular season, but would have clashed in the Big Ten title game. Iowa’s offense, which featured Heisman runner up Brad Banks and John Mackey Award winner Dallas Clark, would have been another test for the elite Buckeye defense.
Despite the challenge, Ohio State would have prevailed behind a combination of Craig Krenzel and Michael Jenkins – going against the Big Ten’s worst past defense. In winning the Big Ten title outright, they would have gone on to face the Miami Hurricanes in the BCS National Championship Game.
This season would have been remembered differently if OSU could not have shared the title with Penn State. The Nittany Lions beat the Buckeyes 17-10 in the regular season, giving them control of the hypothetical division.
In a defensive battle, Penn State forced two turnovers by Troy Smith, including a forced fumble and recovery on a sack of Smith by Penn State defensive end Tamba Hali as the Buckeyes drove for the game-tying touchdown. The Scarlet and Gray outgained the Nittany Lions 230-195, but lost the costly turnover battle 0-2.
Had it not been for a last-second Chad Henne touchdown pass the next week, Penn State may have gone undefeated and would have captured the Big Ten title outright.
With only one loss and a win over the Buckeyes, Penn State would punch its ticket to the Big Ten title game while Ohio State stayed home to watch.
One wonders how this would have impacted the 2006 Ohio State team, which was ranked preseason number one after a strong finish in 2005 and a share of the conference crown.
The 2008 season was similar to 2005. OSU came into their annual meeting with the Nittany Lions with one non-conference loss, but undefeated in the Big Ten.
This time the game was at Ohio Stadium, but the result was the same as Penn State prevailed 13-6, their first win in the Horseshoe since 1978.
Once again it was a fourth quarter fumble that turned the tide, as Terrelle Pryor was tackled and lost the ball early in the quarter. The Nittany Lions went on to score the game’s only touchdown on the following drive to take the lead for good.
Like 2005, Penn State lost a last-second game the following week, falling by one to Iowa on a game-winning field goal.
The loss to the Hawkeyes was their only of the regular season, meaning once again the Nittany Lions would compete in the Big Ten title game instead of the Buckeyes.
Note: The 2005 and 2008 seasons would later be vacated by Penn State, but that would not have retroactively put Ohio State in the title game.
The Buckeyes were forced to vacate the 2010 season due to the “tat-gate” scandal and therefore are not listed as co-champions, but it deserves to be addressed nonetheless.
Ohio State entered 2010 ranked number two nationally and had high expectations. Everything was going to plan until the Buckeyes moved to the top spot in the polls in the same week they had to travel to Camp Randall.
Wisconsin stunned OSU out of the gates with a game-opening kick return for a touchdown. The Badgers built a 21-0 lead and never looked back, prevailing 31-18 to knock Ohio State from their perch.
Wisconsin had previously lost to Michigan State, giving the Badgers and the Buckeyes one Big Ten loss each. Due to the head-to-head tiebreaker, Wisconsin would get the championship game bid, setting up a rematch with the Spartans, who fell to Iowa.
Had the rules been different for Tressel, his trophy case would have suffered. Instead of seven Big Ten championship rings, he would have only four, assuming he won each time he earned a berth in the title game.
Not only would Tressel have been affected, but his players’ legacies would have also.
Quarterbacks Troy Smith and Terrelle Pryor, who won a combined five conference championships, would have managed only two. James Laurinaitis, who won the conference all four years, would have had his rings cut in half. Many players would have left Columbus with much less.
As Tressel watches Meyer and the Buckeyes, he certainly has to feel fortunate that he coached in the Big Ten when he did. Otherwise, he may have been remembered in a much different light.