This week, team blogs across SB Nation have each been writing about their respective “best teams to never win a championship.” In SB Nation’s FanPulse survey for NCAA football, we the people had to choose between 2019 Ohio State, 2011 Oklahoma State, 2010 Boise State, 2005 USC, and 2002 Miami. Ultimately, 2005 USC received most of the votes.
However, because I am completely biased and also because I don’t know much about 2005 USC (other than they had Reggie Bush), you cannot convince me that 2019 Ohio State was not the best college football team to never win a national title, with 2015’s team not far behind (which our Gene Ross already wrote about).
Last year’s squad had everything: the strength of schedule, blowing out opponents, the rankings, the coaches, the play calling, the offense, the defense and the best flipping player in the country, only to lose in their first playoff game because of two horrible calls by the officials.
Here are just a few reasons why the 2019 Ohio State team was the best team to never win a national championship:
Strength of schedule— ranked No. 1 in the nation
Ohio State began the year ranked fifth in the preseason AP Poll. By the end of the regular season, they were ranked No. 1 in the College Football Playoff rankings. The kick here is they didn’t get to No. 1 by playing teams like NC State and South Carolina. They got there by dominating wins over C-USA champion Florida Atlantic, AAC runner-up Cincinnati, MAC champion Miami (OH) in their non-conference schedule and comfortable wins over ranked teams like Wisconsin, Penn State and Michigan in conference play.
In fact, they had to play a ranked Wisconsin twice, when they met again in the Big Ten Championship game. Ohio State defeated the Badgers 34-21.
Sure, Clemson gave us a run for our money in the Fiesta Bowl last year, but with their strength of schedule and the amount of bad calls in that game, you can’t sit here and tell me that the better team won.
The defense and the best player in the country
The defense was one of my all-time favorite parts about the 2019 team. After the previous year’s defensive problems, we finally had the perfect flow of coaching and talent. Speaking of talent, let’s reminisce on those who made up said defense.
First, there was Chuck Bednarik Award, Ten Hendricks Award, Bronko Nagurski Trophy-winning, first team all American, and Maxwell Award and Heisman Trophy finalist (I’m out of breath) defensive end Chase Young, who led the country with 16.5 sacks. He was/is the best player in the country and is projected to be the No. 2 overall pick in the 2020 NFL draft. He is as good, if not better, than the Bosa brothers and was instrumental to Ohio State’s success last year.
If, someway somehow, a quarterback was able to get past Young or linebacker Malik Harrison—who led the team with 75 total tackles— first-team All-American cornerback Jeff Okudah was downfield waiting. Okudah racked up a total of 29 solo tackles, two forced fumbles, three interceptions, and nine pass deflections. I promise you these numbers would have been so much higher if quarterbacks hadn’t stopped throwing his way. He’s projected to be the No. 3 overall pick next Thursday, nonetheless.
And you can’t forget about linebacker Pete Werner (second on the team with 64 total tackles, safety Jordan Fuller (four pass deflections, two interceptions), cornerback Damon Arnette (eight pass deflects, one interception, one touchdown), cornerback Shaun Wade... listen, there was a lot of them. The point is, this defense was No. 1 in the country for a reason.
The offense, of course!
There was a whole lot of big fat question marks regarding Georgia transfer quarterback Justin Fields to start the year. Those were answered, and answered quickly.
Fields, another Heisman Trophy finalist (I should just put ‘Two Heisman Finalists’ as its own subject in this list) and Maxwell Award finalist, led the Big Ten with 3,273 passing yards and 41 passing touchdowns to go along with 10 rushing touchdowns, and only threw three interceptions. His throws were more often than not a thing of beauty, and I can not wait to watch him take the field again next season (or whenever sports return). Arguably the best part of the season? When Fields returned to The Game, post-injury, took a snap, and threw a perfect ball to freshman wide receiver Garrett Wilson.
Justin Fields isn’t human pic.twitter.com/VAYFR5R1sd— Barstool OSU (@BarstoolOSU) April 4, 2020
Speaking of which, Ohio State’s wide receivers last season undoubtedly helped Fields maintain an elite offense. Garrett Wilson, Chris Olave, Binjimen Victor, Austin Mack and K.J. Hill led the team in receptions.
While Olave led the receivers in touchdowns (12), it was Hill who broke David Boston’s career receptions record for Ohio State with his 192nd reception against Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship. He now ranks No. 1 in school history in career receptions (201).
And of course, running back J.K. Dobbins, who I am personally going to miss the most next season. How he wasn’t a Heisman finalist is beyond me, but, nevertheless, Dobbins became the first Buckeye running back to pass the 2,000 yard mark, finishing at the top of the Big Ten (tied with Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor) with 2,003 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns.
And then, after a perfect season, with all of that aforementioned talent, experience, and with everything on the line, Ohio State lost to Clemson in a way that keeps Buckeye fans up at night.
First: the targeting ejection against defensive back Shaun Wade, who sacked Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence in the second quarter.
Trevor Lawrence was slow to get up after this hit from Shaun Wade and Chase Young.— ESPN (@espn) December 29, 2019
Wade was called for targeting and ejected. #CFBPlayoff pic.twitter.com/YXJIqTnUqY
All I’ll say about this one (because I said enough about it when it happened) is that Lawrence put his head on a platter for this tackle, and it would have been simply and utterly impossible for Wade to move his helmet in the 0.5 seconds he had before contact. The ejection penalty was put in place to prevent malicious plays, and this just didn’t deserve an ejection.
The main reason this call was so brutal is because it completely flipped the momentum from Ohio State over to Clemson. The Buckeyes seemed to be all out of sorts after Wade’s ejection, and I’m a firm believer they would have won this game had that not happened.
Moving on to Bad Call No. 2: The strip fumble scoop-and-score in the second half by Okudah. He ripped the ball away from Clemson wide receiver Justyn Ross and the officials didn’t say a word. Jordan Fuller picked the ball up and ran it in for a touchdown to go up 23-21.
Until the officials reviewed it, overturned it, and ruled it an incomplete pass.
This was originally called a catch and fumble return TD, but was overturned as an incomplete pass. #CFBPlayoff pic.twitter.com/3RxiGYTvCv— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) December 29, 2019
It hurts. Every time.
Of course, these calls were detrimental to the outcome of the game for the Buckeyes. But, Ohio State was definitely not perfect in this game. They racked up eight penalties, most of them actually being their fault, including a roughing the kicker call and two turnovers. Alas, Clemson, who seem to be Ohio State’s kryptonite, took down an unstoppable, historic Buckeye team.
Were they the better team? No. Would we have beat Clemson had those two calls never happen? I sure think so. Would we have beaten LSU in the national championship if we got there? Hell yes.