Since it is “What If?” Week here at SB Nation, plenty of questions came up when it comes to the recent history of Ohio State football and basketball. Questions like, what if William Buford hits the game-winner against Kentucky in the 2011 Sweet Sixteen? What if Troy Smith wasn’t suspended for the first game of the 2005 season? What if Ohio State plays Michigan in the BCS Championship Game instead of Florida?
For me, the biggest “what if” is what if Tatgate never happened? The reason why this question is so interesting is because of how many other questions arise from it. If Tatgate doesn’t happen, Jim Tressel continues coaching at Ohio State, which impacts Urban Meyer coming to Columbus.
Jim Tressel & Urban Meyer
Tressel was 58 when he resigned from Ohio State, so he certainly still had some years left as a head coach if he didn’t have to deal with Tatgate. The Sweatervest was about to begin his 11th season in Columbus, and you figure, if his head coaching career had been allowed to continue uninterrupted, that he would have coached the Buckeyes for at least five more years.
Urban Meyer’s career path would have looked a lot different if Tatgate hadn’t forced Jim Tressel out at Ohio State. Meyer was working with ESPN when Tressel resigned, having left Florida due to health issues about five months prior. Many knew that it was only a matter of time before Meyer scratched the head coaching itch again, but his decision would have been a lot tougher if one of his “dream jobs” didn’t open up so quickly.
Tressel continuing to coach in Columbus would have forced Meyer to resume his head coaching career elsewhere. In the two years after Tatgate, jobs at Auburn, USC, Oregon, and Texas became available, and it would have been interesting to see if Meyer would have went on to coach at any of those schools, or if maybe another school made a head coaching job available for him.
No matter who was in charge, Ohio State was likely to be in the national championship hunt. 2014 turned out to be a magical season for Ohio State, despite ending it with their third-string quarterback forced to start the final three games of the season. However, I don’t think the season plays out the same way with Tressel at the helm. Do the Buckeyes defeat Alabama in the CFP Semifinal? It’s hard to have much confidence in Ohio State topping the Crimson Tide, especially considering the difficulty Tressel had with SEC teams.
Even though the 2014 season might not have ended with a national title, there’s a chance that a couple of the other seasons might have finished in glory under Tressel. There were some hiccups in Big Ten play under Tressel during his time with the Buckeyes, but we didn’t see Ohio State completely decimated in a conference game like they were against Iowa and Purdue under Meyer. I also highly doubt that Tressel would have forgotten to feed Ezekiel Elliott against Michigan State in 2015.
Because of Tatgate, Luke Fickell is thrust into the position of interim head coach after the dismissal of Tressel. Fickell had been the co-defensive coordinator at Ohio State, and was considered an up-and-coming head coach candidate. Some schools might have soured on Fickell after he posted just a 6-7 record in 2011. While Fickell returned to the school as defensive coordinator under Urban Meyer, there’s no question Fickell’s head coaching journey takes a different path if there isn’t the need for him to step in as head coach for the 2011 season.
If Tatgate doesn’t happen, Terrelle Pryor returns to Ohio State for his senior season, and almost certainly is a candidate for the Heisman Trophy. Pryor’s return to Ohio State means that the Buckeyes aren’t forced to start true freshman Braxton Miller for most of the season, which could have an impact on his future development.
Pryor’s NFL career certainly doesn’t look the same if he returns to Ohio State for his senior season. NFL scouts would get another year of tape on Pryor, along with being able to go through the full pre-draft process of evaluating Pryor. Some teams who might have been interested in Pryor in the regular draft could have been more hesitant to take a chance on him in the supplemental draft. Even though Pryor’s NFL career could have still led him to wide receiver, he might have gotten a better shot at quarterback at the professional level if he had been able to play a full senior season of college football.
DeVier Posey & Daniel “Boom” Herron
While Terrelle Pryor bolted for the NFL in the summer of 2011, DeVier Posey decided to serve his five-game suspension to begin the season. Posey was Pryor’s favorite target in 2009 and 2010, with the duo linking up for 123 catches, nearly 1,700 yards, and 15 touchdowns in those two years. Posey struggled to knock the rust off when he returned from the suspension, catching just 12 passes for 162 yards and two touchdowns in four games. Despite the difficult senior season, Posey was still taken in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft by the Houston Texans, but had Posey been able to close out his Ohio State career with Pryor throwing him the football, his draft stock likely would’ve been much higher.
Boom Herron was a workhorse for Ohio State in 2010, toting the rock 216 for 1,155 yards and 16 touchdowns. Like Posey, Herron was also suspended for the first five games of the 2011 season. Once Herron was allowed to return to the team, he put together a solid season, averaging five yards per carry in the final seven games of the season, taking some of the pressure off of freshman Braxton Miller. Herron would go on to be drafted in the sixth round of the 2012 NFL Draft, but he could have gone higher if he was able to get a full season under his belt in 2011.
The most interesting question to come out of Tatgate, however, is what happens with The Game in 2011? Even with a freshman quarterback and an interim head coach, Ohio State nearly defeated Michigan in Ann Arbor, falling to the Wolverines 40-34. The Buckeyes came into 2011 riding a seven-game winning streak against Michigan, and Ohio State has won eight straight against the Wolverines since. As if the Buckeyes didn’t already live rent-free in the heads of Michigan fans, imagine living in a world where the Wolverines hadn’t beaten Ohio State since 2004. The tracker of the number of days since Ohio State lost to Michigan would be glorious.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how Ohio State would look different over the last decade if Tatgate hadn’t brought a premature end to Jim Tressel’s reign as head coach. Does Ohio State get some of the recruits under Tressel that they did under Meyer? How does Tressel’s coaching philosophies and tactics change as college football changed? Does Tressel adapt or is he stuck in his ways, which lead to the Buckeyes falling out of relevance at the top of the college football world?
The 6-7 season and loss to Michigan was definitely tough to stomach, along with missing out on the BCS in 2012 after not self-imposing a bowl ban in 2011. It would have been great to see Tressel end his time at Ohio State on his own terms, as well as Pryor, Posey and Herron getting a full senior season. But, all that happened after Tatgate was the best Ohio State could have asked for when having to deal with the scandal. Meyer held the program in tact, and now Ohio State is stronger than ever under Ryan Day.