Ohio Sate was able to win a national championship under Urban Meyer, taking home the first-ever College Football Playoff with a 42-20 win over Oregon at the end of the 2014 season. As great as it was to see the Buckeyes hoist the trophy, Meyer should have won a couple more titles during his time in Columbus. One of those titles that should have been was Meyer’s fault, since all he had to do was feed Ezekiel Elliott against Michigan State in 2015.
The other year in which Ohio State could possibly have a national title was in 2012. This missed opportunity wasn’t Meyer’s fault, though. Athletic director Gene Smith needs to be blamed for this, since he didn’t self-impose a bowl ban for the Buckeyes in the 2011 season. There’s no guarantee that the NCAA wouldn’t have still ruled Ohio State ineligible for postseason play in 2012, but it’s hard to imagine the Buckeyes being left out of bowl season two years in a row, especially if they took swift action against themselves.
I can understand how Smith probably did everything in power to reward interim head coach Luke Fickell and his players for their hard work during a trying season in 2011. Had Smith and company looked at the big picture, they would have tried to put the season behind them as quickly as possible. With Meyer named as Ohio State’s next head coach just a few days after the Michigan game, brighter days were undoubtedly ahead for the football program.
Instead, Smith and his braintrust thought it was necessary to play in the prestigious Gator Bowl, where they would take on Florida, who was also 6-6. Maybe Smith wanted to get some revenge on the Gators for the national title game a few years prior, I just don’t know what a win over a mediocre Florida team would really prove. Adding insult to injury, Ohio State didn’t even win the game, falling to the Gators 24-17.
The decision would look even more foolish at the end of the 2012 season when Ohio State was the only undefeated team in the country following Alabama’s destruction of Notre Dame in the BCS National Championship Game. Had the Buckeyes been eligible to play in the postseason in 2012, you know ABC/ESPN would have been salivating at an undefeated Notre Dame team taking on an unblemished Ohio State team.
The Fighting Irish were definitely tested throughout the season, winning six games by seven points or less. Notre Dame answered every test prior to the game against Alabama, winning four ranked teams, with two of those victories coming against Big Ten foes Michigan State and Michigan. The calling card of the Fighting Irish was their defense, allowing more than 20 points just once in a 29-26 win over Pitt in triple overtime.
The star of the Notre Dame team that year was Manti Te’o, who became a media darling after he announced both his grandmother and girlfriend had died on the same day. Following the season, it was revealed that Te’o was catfished, and Lennay Kekua wasn’t real. If Ohio State played Notre Dame in Miami, just imagine how much coverage would have been spent on the matchup of Braxton Miller against Te’o, with both players finishing in the top-five in Heisman Trophy voting.
Things weren’t perfect with Ohio State’s first team under Meyer. The Buckeyes weren’t exactly convincing in non-conference wins over UCF, California, and UAB. Later in the year Ohio State went to overtime twice, outlasting Purdue 29-22 in Columbus, and Wisconsin 21-14 in Madison. The best performance of the year prior to the Michigan game came in a 63-38 win over Nebraska in the Cornhuskers’ first trip to Columbus as a Big Ten member.
What makes me thing that Ohio State could have beaten Notre Dame despite not having a complete team was the fact that the Buckeyes had game-changers on both sides of the football. Miller accounted for 28 touchdowns in his sophomore season, while Ryan Shazier registered 115 tackles, with 17 of them being for loss. The two definitely had the potential to power Ohio State to a title, especially in a year where there was no true dominant team in college football.
One hurdle Ohio State would have had to clear had they been eligible for the 2012 postseason is a Big Ten Championship Game against Nebraska. Since the Buckeyes crushed the Cornhuskers at Ohio Stadium, I don’t think Urban Meyer’s team would have had too big of an issue against Nebraska in Indianapolis. The win would have bolstered Ohio State’s resumé, since the Cornhuskers entered the 2012 Big Ten Championship Game against Wisconsin ranked 14th.
Alabama would have likely tried to argue they should have been in the title game over Ohio State had the Buckeyes been eligible, it just would have been hard to pass up a battle of two unbeaten teams. Had Notre Dame and Ohio State battled, I can’t really see the Buckeyes having much trouble getting to Everett Golson and the offense of the Fighting Irish.
Obviously Te’o and the rest of the defense would have caused some issues for Ohio State, but Miller was so electric and the running game of the Buckeyes was so dominant that I think Ohio State would have worn Notre Dame down. Alabama rolled up 529 yards on the Fighting Irish, with half of those coming on the ground. I don’t see why Ohio State couldn’t have put up some numbers on Notre Dame.
It’s easy to say this 10 years later, but it becomes even more obvious as we age. We shouldn’t look at the 2012 season as a lost season though, since the Buckeyes still had a memorable year, gaining confidence in what Meyer could do for them. The season was a fun ride, with a lot of lessons being learned throughout the year. Hopefully the same decision never has to be made again.