Can Ohio State remain undefeated?

Kirk Irwin

History suggests that it's nearly impossible; Urban Meyer's track record tells a different story.

Ohio State looked less than dominant against the Buffalo Bulls than most people would have expected from a team that entered the season ranked #2 in the nation, which means that talking heads everywhere are questioning the Buckeyes' ability to achieve an undefeated season once again in 2013. And, objectively, beating every team on the schedule isn't easy, even though Ohio State is currently favored to beat every team on their not-terribly-strong schedule.

Ohio State was ineligible to play in the Big Ten Championship Game last season, which, according to football folklore, may have helped them remain undefeated. After all, isn't it a real challenge to beat the same team twice in one season? Actual results suggest that it isn't. For example, in the 21-year history of the SEC Championship Game, there have been six rematches between teams who played each other during the regular season, and five out of six times, the team that won the regular season matchup also won the championship. So, even if Ohio State must play a rematch with an opponent defeated in the regular season in the Big Ten Championship Game, it isn't necessarily a stretch to think they win again.

Strength of schedule is a factor in going undefeated, and that is something the Buckeyes have working in their favor in 2013. Phil Steele calculated the Buckeyes to have the 67th-easiest schedule in the NCAA, while Ohio State's position on the current Sagarin rankings, 13th in the nation, is surely impacted by the weakness of their schedule, which earns the rank of 128th according to the computer.

Former Buckeyes quarterback Craig Krenzel, who led Ohio State to an undefeated season, including a National Championship victory, in 2002, is well aware of the challenges involved in attempting to repeat that level of success. In a recent article, Krenzel describes the formula for an undefeated season as being 90% talent, plus 5% coaching, and 5% luck. The 2002 team had luck on their side – key players remained injury-free, big plays unfolded the way they needed them to (hello, Holy Buckeye) – the stars, so to speak, were aligned. The 2003 team returned the majority of their starters, but wasn't quite so lucky, and their two losses that season were the result.

While the Buckeyes did lose a significant number of starters on defense, they do have a bona fide Heisman candidate under center, as well as a ton of talent on both sides of the ball. It's safe to say that the coaching will be adequate to lead the Buckeyes to another undefeated season. How luck with impact the 2013 Buckeyes remains to be seen. Keep your fingers crossed.

History illustrates that consecutive undefeated seasons are just generally difficult to come by in the NCAA. Since the NCAA was separated into divisions in 1973, only one team has managed consecutive undefeated seasons, and that was the Nebraska Cornhuskers in 1994 and 1995. Even Nick Saban, with three National Championship victories for Alabama in the past four seasons, has only managed one undefeated season in his NCAA head coaching career, in 2009.

Urban Meyer was a head coach at Bowling Green State University, Utah, and Florida before joining the staff at Ohio State, and each program he coached prior to the Buckeyes showed improvement in the second year of his tenure. At Bowling Green, the Falcons went 8-3 in Meyer's first season, and finished his second season 9-3 – a slight improvement, but an additional win nonetheless. At Utah, the Utes went 10-2 in Meyer's first season with the team, and finished the second season with a perfect record of 12-0. At Florida, Meyer's Gators finished 9-3 in his first season, and finished his second season 13-1. There's a clear pattern here.

If the Buckeyes maintain their focus, don't look past weaker opponents, and limit mistakes, they do have a legitimate shot at another undefeated season. Urban Meyer's second season at each program where he has served as a head coach has been superior to his first season with that program, and the only way to improve on an undefeated regular season would be to add a win in the Big Ten Championship, and a bowl win this season. The Buckeyes have one win – not the prettiest win, but a win – down, and 13 to go.

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