clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Ohio State 42, Oregon 20: Only the Start for Urban Meyer

The Buckeyes made a strong claim to being the nation's best team, but their story is far from over.

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Only three coaching hires have made me swear upon seeing them go official: Nick Saban at Alabama, John Calipari at Kentucky, and Urban Meyer at Ohio State. The third of those has finally produced a national championship just as the first two did.

"Finally" is only slight hyperbole. The Buckeyes could have had a chance to win it all in Meyer's first year if not for Gene Smith's nonsensical decision to send his 6-6, interim coach-led 2011 team to a bowl instead of self-imposing a year's bowl ban for Jim Tressel's sins. That '11 crew might have struggled, but the program wasn't really in distressed condition. Meyer took over a top tier program that was full of talent. It was ready to go. Three years in, Meyer is an absurd 38-3 at OSU. That .927 winning percentage is not just better than any three-year stretch he had at Florida, but it's also better than his 22-2 run in a pair of seasons at Utah.

Oregon was not truly in this game for much of it. Only Ohio State's four turnovers—all largely the Buckeyes' fault—kept the Ducks in the game. Oregon had no answer for the physicality of the Buckeye offensive line and Ezekiel Elliott, who set a national title game record with 246 yards on 36 carries (6.8 YPC). It was unfortunate that Marcus Mariota didn't look like his Heisman winning or Seminole destroying self, but he doesn't play linebacker or nose tackle anyway.

The focus of this offseason with the Buckeyes will be the quarterback depth chart. Will Braxton Miller really stay? How will J.T. Barrett's recovery go? Will Cardale Jones's strong play late this season mean he could challenge Barrett's place ahead of him? If we've learned anything this season, it's that any of the three is good enough to lead the team to a title. It's a point of interest, but with nearly every key player back for next year, it's actually not all that important.

The real question is about Meyer. In his last coaching gig, it was the pressure of repeating as national champion that broke him as a person. He had broken as a coach before then—LSU's defense reduced him to tears in 2005—but his inability to handle expectations drove him off the sideline and into the broadcast booth.

Meyer swore when he accepted the Ohio State job that he learned how to handle stress. While he certainly felt the need to follow up his excellent first two seasons in Columbus, the fall of 2015 will be his real test. Beginning today, January 13, the story of 2015 will be whether the Buckeyes can repeat. The burden of expectations of a repeat finally crushed '14 Florida State in the Rose Bowl just as it crushed Meyer's '09 Florida in Atlanta.

If there's one thing different, it's that the '15 Buckeyes won't be a fatally flawed team personnel-wise as those Seminoles and Gators were. Look at the depth chart. There's a ton of guys who have something other than "SR" by their names. FSU in '14 and UF in '09 lost more key players than the '15 Buckeyes will be missing.

If Meyer can keep it together through 2015, no matter how the season turns out for his team, it will be big for the foreseeable future of college football. Meyer is only 50 years old. If he really has figured out how to handle the heat, there's no reason to think he won't be a dominant force for a while in the way that Saban has been at Alabama. If he can't, then he'll go supernova again with the engine at his core burning up all his energy and exploding.

This national title is only the beginning of the story that Meyer is writing in Columbus. Only the next decade of college football is at stake.