After watching Ohio State dismantle Illinois with one of their strongest showings of the season, I briefly went back to the Gator Bowl debacle against Florida that brought the 2011 season to a merciful end.
I chuckled, just a little. What a difference a year makes, and the almost two years since it was first discovered that several prominent OSU players accepted illegal benefits seems like a lifetime.
I was scouring the typical OSU blogs, reading up on Saturday's game, and I came across this contemplative piece by Kyle Rowland at Eleven Warriors, and it got me thinking.
Kyle talks, in part, about the two main 'what ifs'--the going undefeated and not having a bowl ban--and we've all discussed them over beers and drinks, probably more than once. And at the end of this, we'll discuss them again. But those aren't the only 'what ifs', because if one of several things played out differently, this 2012 season doesn't happen. So, let's play a game of ‘what if' regarding Ohio State football over the last couple of seasons.
C'mon, it'll be fun and aggravating, all at the same time!!
What if...no one ever found out about the email sent to Jim Tressel? As fans, we've played the ‘what if' game about a lot of other things, yet this is something that we rarely talk about. Let's face it, if these allegations didn't see the light of day, then there's no shameless politicking by AD Gene Smith and Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany to let the Tat 5 play in the Sugar Bowl. There's no ‘I hope Jim doesn't fire me' moment. Terrelle Pryor, Devier Posey, Boom Herron, and Mike Adams aren't suspended for the first five games of 2011, Pryor doesn't bolt for the NFL, Jim Tressel stays on, and there's a good chance that OSU wins the inaugural Big Ten championship game and goes to the Rose Bowl, if not the National Championship game last year. Jim Tressel is still the coach, Jim Bollman is still the offensive coordinator and offensive line coach, and OSU is in contention to go to Indianapolis again.
What if...the OSU administration falls on their sword and dismisses Tressel as soon as they found out about the email? There is no ‘I hope Jim doesn't fire me' moment and there's a decent shot the Dohrmann SI story never runs. Let's face it--that story was a 90% bullshit hit job with one sole purpose, and it was to get Tress removed as OSU coach. Mission accomplished. Fickell is still named interim coach, they probably still go 6-7, but there might not be a one year bowl ban. And this team could be staring at a date with either Oregon or Oregon State in the Rose Bowl. But...
What if...OSU goes 10-2 and wins a bowl game last year? Let's say everything else remained the same, but Luke Fickell turned four close losses against MSU, Nebraska, Purdue...and Michigan into wins? Does he get named the permanent head coach? Well, he would've beaten Michigan, and won the Leaders division. It would have been a crime if he hadn't, if you ask me, whether or not they had won the B1G championship game or not. If he was named permanent coach, Urban Meyer isn't the coach here, and this team probably isn't 10-0. And they probably don't have a 1 or 2 recruiting class last year or a top 5 or 10 recruiting class this year. Just sayin'...
What if...everything else remaining the same, Gene Smith and Jim Tressel were shown the door, and the University self-imposed a one year bowl ban? Would that have been a tipping point in whether or not OSU had received an additional one year ban for 2012? I would like to think that it would have been. But give Smith credit, he went out and got Meyer. Would an interim AD or new AD have been as aggressive? Maybe, maybe not.
What if...Meyer said no?
Let's not even contemplate that. No, let's play this exercise out. Assuming Meyer wasn't ready to come back to coaching, and OSU had the season they did, Ohio State starts looking for a coach right after the Michigan game. Do they have one in place before the bowl ban announcement? If not, an average recruiting class craters. The OSU job is still a good one, but maybe not a holy grail one for a year or two. Smith has to hire a guy that isn't the home run that Meyer was, and if the bowl ban news is received as bad as I think it would have been, the hire...no matter who...is a disappointment. And Columbus quite possibly begins their own RichRod era.
What if...Ohio State wasn't under a one year bowl ban? That's the crux of this exercise. What if...what if. 2012 is turning into a great season--heck, it already is a great season. But the deeper into this run Meyer takes this flawed yet exciting team, I wonder in the back of my head what they could do in Indianapolis and then in the BCS. Let's face it, the only thing keeping the Big Ten from complete and total oblivion right now is the fact that Ohio State keeps winning. The Buckeyes are better than any other team in the conference, so I don't think I'm going out on a limb saying they'd beat anyone in the Legends division and go to the Rose Bowl.
Assuming Oregon wins out and goes to the title game, they would have beaten either USC or UCLA in the PAC-12 title game. That gives USC 4 losses or UCLA 3. The BCS would probably then choose a one loss Oregon State to replace Oregon in the Rose Bowl.
Who would face a possibly undefeated Ohio State team that probably couldn't get to 1 or 2 in the BCS assuming Alabama, Kansas State, Oregon, and Notre Dame all stay undefeated. So, had one or two things fallen differently, we could be staring at an eminently winnable Rose Bowl match up for Ohio State.
If. Only if.
But all things being the same, I can live with 10-2, or 11-1...or yes, 12-0 and no bowl game. Because let's face it, the Buckeyes, in many respects, got lucky.