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Nebraska Football

Hot Reads: A New Day at Ohio State and in the Big Ten

January 2, 2019
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Urban Meyer got to ride off into the sunset yesterday with a Rose Bowl championship riding shotgun. Well, technically the sun had already set in Pasadena by the time the Buckeyes held off a late Washington rally for the 28-23 win, but you get the picture. The Meyer era at Ohio State is over and thus begins a new (Ryan) Day.

The final tally for Meyer's seven seasons in Columbus: Ohio State never finished worse than tied for first in its division, three Big Ten titles, one national championship, five top-five finishes in the Associated Press poll (I'm assuming the fifth will happen this year) and wins in the Sugar, Cotton, Fiesta and Rose Bowls. But there was a number mentioned on the telecast that hit me harder than any of those do –– Meyer won more than 90 percent of his games with the Buckeyes from 2012-18. It was .902 to be exact. Meyer's Buckeyes went 83-9 over the past seven seasons.

That got me thinking about Ohio State's head football coach as of today, Ryan Day. By all accounts he is a very promising young coach, but a first-time head coach nonetheless. He'll face intense scrutiny, but also have every advantage Ohio State can offer. It's hard to foresee the Buckeyes falling too far. They really haven't fallen off in the past 50 years. Since 1968, the Buckeyes have appeared in 87.3 percent of all AP polls, the top mark in the country. Minus a few low years, Ohio State has been relevant on the national stage for five straight decades.

That's the good news for Day. If he's merely good, it's unlikely the Buckeyes will fall very far.

The bad news? It's probably more unlikely that Day and Ohio State can dominate the Big Ten the way Meyer's team did. A coach winning 90 percent of his games over a stretch of at least seven seasons doesn't happen very often in major college football. Based on the quick research I did last night –– and I don't claim this is complete, but I think it's pretty close –– I was able to find one other instance of it in the Big Ten. From 1901 to 1907, Fielding Yost led Michigan to a 64-3-1 record (.949). While impressive, that hardly feels the same as what Meyer just did.

A list of Big Ten coaches that never won 90 percent over seven seasons includes Woody Hayes, Bo Schembechler, Jim Tressel, Fritz Crisler, Lloyd Carr, Barry Alvarez and, unless I'm missing a guy or two in the early part of the 20th Century, everyone else.

A (perhaps partial) list of coaches that have done it in addition to Meyer:

COACH YEARS RECORD (WIN%)
Fielding Yost, Michigan 1901-07 64-3-1 (.949)
Knute Rockne, Notre Dame 1919-25 62-5-2 (.913)
Chris Petersen, Boise State 2006-12 84-8 (.913)
Bud Wilkinson, Oklahoma 1948-58 114-10-3 (.909)
Nick Saban, Alabama 2008-18 139-14 (.908)
Bear Bryant, Alabama 1960-66 68-6-3 (.903)
Urban Meyer, Ohio State 2012-18 83-9 (.902)
Tom Osborne, Nebraska 1991-97 78-8-1 (.902)
Barry Switzer, Oklahoma 1973-79 73-7-2 (.902)
Bobby Bowden, Florida State 1993-99 77-8-1 (.901)
Pete Carroll, USC 2002-08 82-9 (.901)
Joe Paterno, Penn State 1968-74 72-8 (.900)

While Meyer’s Ohio State tenure didn’t result in as many national titles as some of the stretches above, those are the comparisons in terms of games won –– Wishbone-era Switzer, 1990s Osborne and Bowden, 2000s Carroll, Saban right now (Dabo Swinney’s last seven seasons fall just short). That's the shadow Day steps into, and it might be a literal shadow given that Meyer will still be around as an associate athletic director and lecturer on leadership at Ohio State. (It's here that I feel compelled to note that there was a reason Tom Osborne removed himself almost entirely when he handed over a program in pristine condition to a first-time head coach already on his staff.) Day doesn't have to match Meyer exactly for his tenure with the Buckeyes to be a success, of course. He'll just have to be pretty darn close. He'll only have to win at a level similar to those at the top of the first list of coaches, not necessarily the second. Do that, and he'll get a long time to try to work his way into the second group.

But just based on history a downturn for Ohio State, even if its very, very slight, feels likely. The Buckeyes have had a stranglehold on the conference in a way that has probably never happened before in the modern Big Ten. That might be over.

Actually, based on the above, it's probably over. At least to the degree that Meyer did it. Alabama and Oklahoma were on the only schools to land on that list above twice, and neither of those tenures were consecutive.

Michigan and Penn State could never fully usurp the Buckeyes while Meyer was there, but the opening might be there now. That goes for any team in the Big Ten. Here on the second day of 2019, the conference feels as open as it has since Nebraska joined the league. It's a strange feeling.

And that's not Ryan Day's fault. Meyer gets the credit for that (and, whatever you think of him, it is a credit to what he achieved in the games). But it is now Day's burden and history tells us it's never light.

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