Jim Tressel versus Urban Meyer. Old school versus new school. The I-Formation versus the Power Run Spread. Close wins versus blowouts ... right?
It may be a bit early to compare the careers of Ohio State's two (mea culpa, Coach Fickell) most recent head coaches, but I do want to take a more in-depth look at what I believe to be one of the larger misconceptions among Buckeyes fans in general.
Winning with Tressel wasn't always pretty. The play calling left much to be desired for, and after awhile the close calls against seemingly inferior opponents got old. Then Meyer came to town, and the spread offense gave Buckeyes fans more excitement than they could handle.
But was this the case? Did Tressel squeak by inferior competition more often than Meyer? Let's take a look.
Records by conference
Please keep in mind that Urban Meyer has four total losses as Ohio State's head coach. Jim Tressel had 22. Obviously Meyer's win percentages (which are currently third all-time -- ever) are going to be higher than Tressel's across the board, but I am more concerned about margin of victory for the purpose of this study.
The most depressing row in either of these charts is easily Tressel's 1-3 record against the SEC (sorry NCAA, you'll never take that Arkansas win away from Ohio State fans) and the -9.75 average margin of victory that goes along with it. But, the main takeaway is one that shouldn't surprise us at all: these are both two unbelievable coaches.
For Ohio State to be 39-0 against non-Power 5 schools since 2001 is unreal. The manner in which these victories have come is obviously different as Meyer has managed to win by over nine points on average, but a win is a win. The same story holds true for their manner of victory against Power 5 schools: both coaches have won way more often than not, but Meyer holds a slight edge in terms of margin of victory.
This is great and all, but as we depressingly know, the rest of the Big Ten has often more closely resembled non-Power 5 schools more than anyone would like to admit. So how do Meyer and Tressel match up when we consider playing unranked or ranked opponents?
Records versus unranked/ranked opponent
The first takeaway we see here is the relatively small amount of games against ranked opponents that Meyer has had compared to Tressel. This is not Meyer's fault, but unfortunately the out of conference gems that used to include Texas and USC were switched out for Virginia Tech and California, who have both drastically fallen from their early to mid-2000s heights, when the games were originally scheduled.
Overall Meyer has played 26 percent of his games against ranked opponents, whereas Tressel played 38 percent of his games against ranked squads. The margins of victory point in Meyer's favor, but there is one little thing called an outlier that may not be telling us the full story.
Look, Meyer's 59-0 annihilation over Wisconsin is arguably his finest hour as a Buckeyes coach. To rally from loss of J.T Barrett to injury and the tragedy of Kosta Karageorge in a span of 48 hours is something that no coach should ever have to deal with, let alone successfully win the Big Ten title game by 59 points afterwards.
With that said, if you take away this one incredible win over Wisconsin, Meyer's margin of victory over ranked teams becomes ... 13.40. Or, exactly .01 away from Tressel. Coupling this with Meyer and Tressel's near identical margin of victory over unranked opponents leads me to conclude that these two great Ohio State coaches were equally adept in beating their opponents by multiple touchdowns on average. Maybe Meyer has done so with more flare, but the point remains the same: Meyer and Tressel, on average, have beaten ranked and unranked opponents by the same amount. Even if you don't want to remove Wisconsin from the equation, we are still looking at near identical margins of victory over unranked opponents, which I'm guessing most Buckeyes fans wouldn't assume (I know I didn't).
In Tressel's time at Ohio State the Buckeyes averaged 29.9 points per game while allowing 15 on defense. Meyer has since upped the offensive average to 40.8 points per game, but has allowed 21.1 points per game on defense. It sure is fun to watch the Buckeyes roll up 40 points a game, but as we learned last Sunday during the Super Bowl, a great defense can still be the backbone of a championship winning team, which is what Tresselball was all about.