Ohio State has been on an unprecedented run of success for just over a decade, with a string of conference championships, a gaudy record against Michigan, and a national title. Even under John Cooper, Ohio State had a very successful era, as the NFL was flooded with OSU recruits, but a couple of huge 'what if' moments from both the Cooper and Tressel eras make me wonder.
What if...What if?
What if we could alter some moments in time? Would that have changed the perception of Ohio State nationally?
Let's take a look.
Shawn Springs doesn't slip
The New Reality: In 1996, Coop had one of his best teams, and they came into The Game ranked #2 in the country. Ohio State had become snakebitten against Michigan, going 1-6-1 against them up until that point. OSU had the better team, and had a national championship within reach. It was a typical Michigan-OSU game, with the Buckeyes holding a tight 9-0 lead in the third quarter. On 2nd and 9 from their own 32, Brian Griese tossed a short slant pattern towards Tai Streets...and Shawn Springs had perfect man coverage, breaking the pass up and nearly intercepting it. The rattled, inexperienced Griese throws an incomplete pass on third down, and OSU holds on to win 9-6.
The Alternate History: A little over four weeks later, the #1 ranked Buckeyes beat the #2 ranked Arizona State Sun Devils in an all time classic Rose Bowl, winning their first national championship since 1968. The clutch, close win over Michigan helps to break Coop's curse against That Team Up North, and come 2000, he has a 6-6-1 record against them. Because of his .500 record against them and a national title, he is not fired after the dysfunctional 2000 season, and Jim Tressel isn't hired.
Ohio State beats Michigan State in 1998
The New Reality: Of all the great teams fielded under the John Cooper era, 1998 is considered by many to be his best. They were ranked #1 in the pre-season and rolled through their schedule. As they built a 24-9 lead over Sparty, OSU fans were stunned to watch MSU come storming back to take a 28-24 lead. But Joe Germaine lead the Buckeyes down the field, and with time running out he threw a TD pass to David Boston on 4th and goal, giving OSU a 31-28 win.
The Alternate History: The Buckeyes roll through the rest of their schedule, and finish #1 in the inagural BCS standings. As Big Ten champions, they would normally go to Pasadena and play in the Rose Bowl. But instead, they are matched up with Florida State in the Fiesta Bowl, and go on to beat the Seminoles and capture the very first BCS championship ever awarded.
More Alternate History: With Cooper's second national title in three seasons, he is given a 5 year extension that carries him trough the 2003 season. When Cooper retires, Jim Tressel is unavailable, as he was named head coach of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish after the 2000 season.
Ohio State beats Florida in the National Championship
The New Reality: Troy Smith is his usual dazzling self, escaping from the fierce Florida pass rush, time and time again. The Heisman trophy winner throws for almost 300 yards and two TD's, and leads OSU to a 31-17 win, further cementing his status as an OSU legend.
The Alternate History: Ohio State enters 2007 as the prohibitive favorite, and Troy Smith, based on his 2006 season and national championship game, becomes a mid to late first round pick. National pundits are angry that Michigan failed to get a rematch with Ohio State, and the SEC isn't given the benefit of the doubt as the craziness of 2007 unfolds.
Even More Alternate History: If that turned out to be the case, Ohio State could have very well met Virginia Tech in the 2007 national title game, who, for the sake of argument, let's say edged out a .002 point advantage over LSU to finish second in the BCS standings. Continuing down that road, Ohio State probably beats Virginia Tech, and with back to back national titles and three in a decade, the Buckeyes are the unquestioned team of the decade.
But let's say 2006 remained unchanged. What happens if...
Ohio State beats LSU in the 2007 National Championship
The New Reality: Beanie Wells batters LSU for three hours (and really, why did OSU go away from a running game that had been dominant early...but I digress), and slugs out a 27-23 victory in LSU's backyard. It's redemption for Ohio State, as they exorcise the demons of 2006 and get back on the pedestal they had been body slammed off in 2006.
The Alternate History: Even though the Big Ten had taken a beating in 2007, the narrative begins to be re-written, at least for Ohio State. A win over an SEC team in their backyard by a Buckeye team that was perceived to be rebuilding in 2007 neutralizes the negative perception that has gripped the Big Ten since those two games.
Jim Tressel immediately reports tattoos for memorabilia information
The New Reality: On an average day in April, 2010, Jim Tressel receives an email reportedly telling him that several of his players are receiving improper benefits by exchanging tattoos for memorabilia. Tressel immediately takes that information to the Ohio State compliance department and athletic director Gene Smith. The information is handed over to the NCAA, and the five players, including QB Terrelle Pryor, are suspended for three games to start the 2010 season.
The Alternate History: Ohio State's season is unchanged, as the early season suspensions don't affect the team's W-L record, thanks to Miami QB Jacory Harris's carelessness with the football. After their thrilling win over Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl, the Buckeyes springboard into 2011 and roll through their season undefeated, including Jim Tressel's 10th win against Michigan in 11 games. An undefeated Buckeye team, with Heisman trophy winner Terrelle Pryor at quarterback, defeats LSU in the BCS Championship Game in a rematch of the 2007 title game. Urban Meyer, itching to get back into the coaching game, and with a new life plan that helps him balance his job, his family, and his health, accepts the Penn State job and begins rebuilding that once proud program.
Which piece of Ohio State history do you wish had gone ever so differently?