Ohio State demolished Rutgers on Saturday. Over their three meetings since the Scarlet Knights have joined the Big Ten, the Buckeyes have outscored them 163-24. Forget springing an upset, the Scarlet Knights haven’t managed to keep a game interesting until halftime yet.
They’re not the only team that Ohio State has dominated. I was born in 1987. In my lifetime, Ohio State has lost to Minnesota exactly once (29-17 in 2000). They have lost to Northwestern exactly once (33-27, in 2004). Iowa has beaten Ohio State just once since I was four years old. The Buckeyes have a lot of long winning streaks.
Another one will be tested this weekend. The Buckeyes lost to the Indiana Hoosiers in 1987 and 1988. Their last win before that? 1951.
Will the Hoosiers break that streak this year? Probably not. Vegas likes Ohio State as a 29-point favorite, and while the Hoosiers are improved, and are coming fresh off one of their biggest wins in a decade (an upset of Michigan State), the Buckeyes boost the best scoring defense in the country, one of the best coaches in the country, and one of the most talented rosters in the country.
This game might be close (most of the Indiana games during Urban Meyer’s tenure have been close), but the Buckeyes will probably win.
Which leads to a more interesting question. When will Indiana beat Ohio State again? Or for that matter, when will Rutgers?
Cleveland.com’s Doug Lesmerises saw the wreckage after the Ohio State-Rutgers game and argues that actually, Rutgers will never beat Ohio State.
The article is worth a read, but the gist is that Ohio State’s may be the more durable college football program, one that hasn’t suffered an extended down period (outside of maybe 1998-2001), since the 1960s. If a Rutgers upset requires both a Scarlet Knights rebirth, and a down year for Ohio State, it’s possible it might not happen for decades, maybe not ever. If you’re waiting for Rutgers to win 9 games while Ohio State struggles for bowl eligibility, you’ll be waiting a long time.
The fact that Ohio State is able to recruit at a dramatically superior level to Rutgers, or Indiana, or most of the Big Ten, gives them even more wiggle room. It’s not an accident that Ohio State has run up multiple ridiculous conference winning streaks.
But, never? I’m not prepared to go that far. Let us consider the pesky exception to Ohio State’s domination of the Big Ten rule.
Purdue has beaten Ohio State four different times since 2000. They’ve won when Ohio State had an uncharacteristic down year (2011). They won when Purdue sucked and Ohio State won the Rose Bowl (2009). They won when they had their best player in the last 40 years too (2000).
Ohio State was more talented than Purdue, top to bottom, in every single game those teams have played. And, Purdue was able to spring multiple upsets, even when Ohio State was very solid.
They aren’t the only less-talented Big Ten team to have upset Ohio State in conference play. Illinois did it twice in the 2000s. Iowa kicked Ohio State’s ass in 2004. And let’s not forget, the year Ohio State won a dang national title, they lost to an average-at-best Virginia Tech squad, at home. This stuff happens.
Will it happen in the near future? Probably not. Urban Meyer has Ohio State on a roll that may finish as the best era in the Buckeyes’ storied history, which is really saying something. They’ve hired coordinators (mostly) very well. They’re recruited and developed exceptionally. The gap between them and the Indianas, the Rutgers, the fringe bowl teams of the Big Ten is massive.
But how comfortable are you extrapolating that trend to the future? Do you think Urban Meyer stays at Ohio State five more years? Ten? Dramatically less? Are you positive he’ll always turn down NFL opportunities? I’m not. I wouldn’t bet anything dramatic on Ohio State sustaining this coaching staff, and this particular dominance, over the next decade.
But what happens if Meyer leaves, and Ohio State can’t hire Tom Herman? What happens if the next hotshot coach an Indiana, or Rutgers, or Minnesota, ends up being the next P.J. Fleck, and overachieves dramatically for a few years? What if all of that massive Big Ten TV money for the next deal allows the back end of the conference to hire better assistant coaches?
Or, more likely, what if Ohio State experiences bad turnover luck, overlooks an inferior opponent, and just gets upset? I mean, it almost happened last year against Indiana (and Northern Illinois, for that matter). There’s nothing structural in the way any of these teams are set up that would make that an impossibility.
I don’t think Ohio State loses to Rutgers or Indiana while Urban Meyer is the head coach, but I also don’t think he’ll be there forever. And in the future, where we have no idea who a future Ohio State coach (or AD) will be, or if NCAA sanctions could someday come again, or injury luck, or a litany of other factors. After all, Michigan has demonstrated it just takes one bad AD to undo all sorts of historical and structural advantages.
If I had to guess, I think either team upsets Ohio State after Meyer leaves, sometime within the next decade. Northwestern and Minnesota might be later, if only because they don’t play Ohio State as often.
It doesn’t look like that day is anywhere soon, after the last three matchups, but eventually, Rutgers is going to beat Ohio State. Indiana will too.
And when that happens, I should probably hide my laptop and phone. I’ve written a lot of not-so-nice things about Rutgers on the internet, after all.