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What If: Could Ohio State have won the national title if they had been eligible in 2012?

Tattoo Gate kept the Buckeyes out of the National Championship conversation, but how much of a threat was Meyer’s first team in Columbus?

Ohio State ushered in a new era in 2012, and while an opportunity was taken away, the program would have its day soon enough
Photo by Jason Mowry/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

All this week, LGHL writers will be bring you articles with inspired by their favorite Ohio State theoretical questions. Check out all of our What If? thoughts throughout the week HERE. Whether you disagree, let us know what you think in the comments below and on Twitter @Landgrant33.

In “A Tale of Two Cities,” Charles Dickens once wrote, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” Ohio State football’s 2011 offseason could be described in a similar manner. It was a troublesome period due to the fact that OSU had recently parted ways with legendary coach Jim Tressel, went 6-7 under interim coach Luke Fickell, and received notice of a one-year bowl ban (in addition to three years of probation). The Buckeyes took a hit to their national reputation, and recruiting was expected to suffer. The program was arguably at its lowest point since 1988, the first year of John Cooper’s era.

However, good times would soon be on the horizon for the Buckeyes as prior to the 2012 season, Urban Meyer accepted the Ohio State coaching job. It was described as a dream job for him, and luckily for OSU, he was not scared off by the postseason ban.

Fickell remained on the staff to help with the transition, and he was joined by a new infusion of coaching talent, including offensive guru Tom Herman. Meyer secured a top-5 recruiting class, and the team returned close to 20 starters with experience, including QB Braxton Miller.

Even with extreme optimism for the Meyer hiring, few expected such a quick turnaround. The Buckeyes finished 12-0, and rebounded from the program’s last loss to TTUN. The 2011 loss still stands as the only one in the rivalry since 2003, but who’s counting? Ohio State was all the way back, unlike Texas.

That 2012 season was arguably the best coaching job of Meyer’s career, and it will always hold a place in OSU history. It also had (and has) many asking: What if? What if OSU was not banned from the 2012 postseason? Would they have been a legitimate threat to win the National Championship? To be honest, the heart and the head don’t see eye-to-eye on this one.

The 2012 roster was full of experience, but light on superstar talent. Braxton Miller led the way, and he was dynamic. He rushed for 1,271 yards, threw for 2,000, and accounted for 28 total touchdowns. Carlos Hyde was solid at running back (970 yards, 16 TD), and the defense was stingy when it mattered most (22.8 PPG). While there were standouts on both sides and players who went on to experience NFL success, Ohio State was not yet producing NFL talent like we have grown accustomed to in recent years.

Miller’s top receiving threats were Corey “Philly” Brown and Devin Smith; two multi-year starters who became great deep threats, but lacked the ability to take over games consistently. Hyde’s backups were Jordan Hall and Rod Smith, so we’re not talking about a monster rotation similar to what we saw in 2020 with Master Teague and Trey Sermon.

The offensive line was solid, with the likes of Jack Mewhort, Andrew Norwell, and Corey Linsley — and the tight end position was deep. The OSU offense revolved around the read option and a strong run game, supplemented by an occasional deep ball from Miller. Their 37.2 points per game put them in the top-20 nationally, but it lacked the explosiveness we see today — and was somewhat bolstered by a middle-of-the-pack strength of schedule. They scored more than 35 points only once after Week 7, against lowly Illinois.

The Buckeyes’ defense was similarly solid, but unspectacular. Ryan Shazier was an absolute menace, and he led the Silver Bullets in tackles. Interestingly enough, he was not named an All-American, but Johnathan Hankins, John Simon, and Bradley Roby were. Those four stood out, but the unit as a whole only ranked only 31st in the country in PPG.

Other starters included: Zach Boren (a man who should never pay for a drink in Columbus, but was also a converted fullback forced into playing linebacker because of injury), Garrett Goebel, and Nathan Williams. The intention here is not to diminish any of those players’ achievements in Columbus. Instead, it is to point out that the roster was simply not on par with 2001 Miami, or even the 2014 National Championship-winning Buckeyes.

The Buckeyes avenged their most recent loss against TTUN, and maybe that is what matters most. The rest is not worth losing sleep over.
Photo by David Dermer/Diamond Images/Getty Images

With all of that being considered, what Meyer and his staff did in 2012 was nothing short of incredible. Sure, the schedule was not a Murderer’s Row of opponents, but all they could do was play the teams in front of them. Meyer elevated the program and established new standards; setting the expectation of “championship or bust”. However… none of this means they would have been a true title contender.

In all likelihood, the Buckeyes would have lost handily to Alabama. The Crimson Tide were in the middle of (and arguably still are, with no end in sight) a historic run of success and defending a National Championship from the previous season. They ran Notre Dame out of Sun Life Stadium, at one point leading 35-0. Alabama suffocated LSU with defense in the 2011 title game, and brought back a unit that led the country in total defense once again in 2012. Some of the star power was gone, but they still leaned on the likes of C.J. Mosley and HaHa Clinton-Dix — two future first rounders.

On offense, Alabama was arguably more potent. Trent Richardson was gone, but most of the offensive line returned, and Eddie Lacy was the next man up at running back. The Tide have been rolling the ball out and developing a star running back seemingly like clockwork. A.J. McCarron became a very efficient quarterback, leading the country in pass efficiency, and they added Amari Cooper. Cooper was a freshman All-American who racked up 1,000 yards and punctuated his season with two touchdowns in the matchup with Notre Dame. As difficult as it is to admit, Alabama was simply a far superior team. They were a well-oiled machine, and Ohio State was picking up the pieces from a lost season.

While the Ohio State defense may have held its own, the Buckeye offense would likely have struggled even worse than LSU or Notre Dame’s did in those Alabama beatdowns. Braxton Miller had not yet reached his peak as a dual threat, and the receivers could have been easily handcuffed by strong secondary play. The 2012 Alabama team was terror on defense, and that is the main reason why I believe OSU would have suffered the same demise as the Tide’s previous victims.

Sometimes the “what if” is better than the actual result. Buckeye fans can take pride and solace in an undefeated season, and always hold on to the argument for argument’s sake. We all know TTUN has relied on hypotheticals for nearly two decades, so let us just have this one.

A previous version of this article transposed the national championship game participants with a different year. We apologize for the error. But, time is a flat circle, and we are all variants from multiple timelines, so it was probably correct somewhere in the multiverse anyway.


Would Ohio State have hoisted the 2012 National Championship trophy?

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  • 32%
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  • 47%
    (57 votes)
  • 20%
    Not knowing is the worst outcome of all
    (24 votes)
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