One of the great privileges of being an Ohio State fan the last decade and some change is the unprecedented and sustained success the football and men's programs have had. And I'm not talking about okay or pretty good teams. We're talking borderline championship-caliber programs that are on the short list for conference titles and national championships, seemingly every other season at worst.
For football, the success goes over 20 years, back to the John Cooper days. Cooper, who took over for Earle Bruce, went 111-43-4 as the Buckeye coach, winning three Big Ten titles, a Rose Bowl, and a Sugar Bowl. Yes, Cooper will forever be known by his overall poor record against Michigan (2-10-1) and his bowl record (3-8), but under Coop, OSU was a legitimate player for the conference title and national championship more often than not.
Of course, Jim Tressel built on that success and had arguably the greatest decade in OSU history, winning at a level that even Wayne Woodrow Hayes would be hard pressed to match. Tressel's resume includes 8 conference titles, 9-1 against Michigan, 6-4 in bowl games, a national championship with three appearances total in the title game, with a final ranking inside the top 10 every year except 2004.
And now we are mad with anticipation over what Urban Meyer brings to the table. He took an underperforming 2011 team and turned them into an undefeated squad last year, and has had two fantastic recruiting classes in a row.
For basketball, the sustained success isn't as consistently sustained, but it is very impressive. Randy Ayers, the Buckeye coach from 1990-1997, got the Buckeyes to the #1 regional seed in both 1991 and 1992, coaching guys like Jim Jackson and Chris Jent. But by the mid and late 90's, the basketball program had started to lag, and Avers was replaced by Jim O'Brien.
O'Brien's first two seasons were underwhelming, to say the least, as OSU finished last in the conference. But by the 98-99 season, O'Brien had turned things around and the Buckeyes were becoming a power team again. He took OSU all the way to the Final Four that year, and it started a run of four straight NCAA tournament appearances. But O'Brien was fired after a pay for play scandal in 2004, and OSU brought in Thad Matta.
Matta has been the basketball Tressel, taking the program to heights never seen over a lengthy period of time. He has taken the Buckeyes to the NCAA tournament in seven of nine seasons. His first season the Buckeyes were ineligible due to NCAA sanctions, and the year they missed the NCAA tournament in 07-08, they won the NIT.
Matta's teams have won or tied for five regular season conference titles, they've won three of the last four Big Ten tournaments and four overall, went to the NCAA finals in 06-07, the final four two seasons ago, the elite eight this past season, and back to back sweet 16 appearances in 09-10 and 10-11.
Ohio State, under Matta and now Meyer, are one of the few schools that can consistently claim they are on the short list for both a football and men's basketball championship, and it's not unreasonable to expect that based on the quality of the coaching staffs and the recruiting classes that both programs are bringing in, one, if not both of these programs will be in the mix for a national championship in the not too distant future.
But if you could choose only one...just one...for the athletic program to win, which would it be? There's a case to be made for both.
In football, OSU has a rich tradition, history, and seven national titles, but has been kicked in the teeth nationally after back to back national championship game losses in 2006 and 2007 and the tattoo for memorabilia scandal that toppled Jim Tressel. Granted, most of us are old enough to remember the '02 national title team, and that's helped salve a lot of these recent wounds, but that season is over a decade in the rear view mirror now. The Buckeyes bottomed out in 2011 with a 6-7 campaign, a loss to Michigan, and a loss to Florida in their bowl game. A BCS title game win would do wonders for Ohio State's image and the Big Ten conference as a whole, and might finally break the spell that the SEC has cast over the rest of college football.
In basketball, the next NCAA Championship would be the first since 1960, and that title is the only one in team history. Matta has taken the Buckeyes to heights many didn't think possible, but now that they're close to the summit, there is a feeling that NOT winning a title at some point might be considered a failure. That couldn't be farther from the truth, but winning a national title would take the basketball program from exceptional to elite, and Matta has an opportunity to make OSU a basketball school just as much as it is a football school. And c'mon, football has seven national titles. How about a little love for hoops?
Obviously, there's no guarantee that either will happen anytime soon. Both squads could come up short. But as we are all too painfully aware, it is possible for a school to have the highest level of success in both.
So if you had your choice, and you could only choose one, which squad would be your choice to win a title next? Football or men's hoops?
Aw heck, I'll just take both.