Can anyone close the gap on Ohio State in the Big Ten East?


How do you gauge your own success when you’re living in a division with a college football monolith? Penn State and Michigan both built themselves into top-10 level programs in the late stages of the 2010s, Indiana just fielded its best team in 30 years, and Michigan State isn’t that far removed from its best run of success since the 1960s. They have all helped to turn the Big Ten East into the second-best division, on average, in college football.

Since Penn State’s White-Out win over Ohio State in 2016, however, the Buckeyes are unbeaten against the East division. There are occasional scares here and there (42-35 vs. Indiana in 2020, 52-51 vs. Maryland in 2018, 39-38 and 27-26 against Penn State in 2017-18), but on average, the Buckeyes have dominated a very good division for years. Even as a college football blue blood, they’re enjoying their highest long-term level of quality ever. And with the way they have continued to recruit under Ryan Day — their 2021 haul was their third top-two class in five years — there’s no reason to assume a downfall is coming anytime soon.

That said, there could be a few more moments of vulnerability. Buckeye stars Justin Fields and Trey Sermon are gone, not to mention seven regulars on defense. The talent level isn’t in question, but if they are a little less consistently elite in 2021, any number of teams — hungry Penn State and Michigan programs looking for rebounds, an experienced and savvy Indiana looking to finish the job after coming so close last year — could take advantage. We know who the favorite is here, but running the table is harder than Ohio State has made it seem in recent years.

Let’s preview the Big Ten East!

Every week through the summer, Bill Connelly will preview another division from the Group of 5 and Power 5 exclusively for ESPN+, ultimately including all 130 FBS teams. The previews will include 2020 breakdowns, 2021 previews and a brief history of each team in one handy chart. The series has thus far covered the Conference USA East and West, the MAC East and West, the MWC Mountain and West, the Sun Belt West and East, the top and bottom half of the AAC, the seven Independents, the ACC Atlantic and Coastal, the Pac-12 North and South, the top and bottom half of the Big 12 and the Big Ten West.

Jump to a team: Rutgers | Michigan State | Maryland | Indiana | Michigan | Penn State | Ohio State

In Greg Schiano’s first year back in Piscataway, Rutgers won three games and finished 97th in SP+. And it provided undeniable reason for optimism.

2021 Projections

Projected SP+ rank: 94th

Average projected wins: 3.3 (1.4 in the Big Ten)

  • Likely wins*: Temple (75% win probability), Delaware (69%)

  • Relative toss-ups: at Syracuse (45%), at Illinois (35%)

  • Likely losses: at Northwestern (32%), Michigan State (30%), Maryland (17%), at Indiana (9%), at Michigan (8%), Wisconsin (6%), Ohio State (5%), at Penn State (4%)

* Likely wins are games in which SP+ projects the scoring margin to be greater than seven points, or above about 65% win probability. Likely losses are the opposite, and relative toss-ups are all the games in between.

Playing five teams projected 75th or worse will give the Scarlet Knights a chance to improve on last year’s win total, but there probably isn’t much room for error.

What we learned about Rutgers in 2020

This is still going to take a while. Heaping doses of hope, trick plays (new coordinator Sean Gleeson was allowed to have some fun last season) and great special teams made the Scarlet Knights more competitive than they’d been in a while. They won as many conference games as they had from 2016-19 combined, and they lost three more by one score.

This was definitive progress, though the fundamental stats weren’t great. Opponents generated both a much better success rate (46% to 35%) and better explosive play rate (14% to 9%) than the Scarlet Knights, which meant RU had to dominate special teams and force turnovers to win. That’s not a particularly sustainable recipe.

Schiano and his assistants did find some keepers: receiver Bo Melton, interior linemen Nick Krimin, Cedrice Paillant and Bryan Felter, defensive end Mike Tverdov, defensive tackle Julius Turner, linebacker Olakunle Fatukasi and corners Avery Young and Tre Avery are all Big Ten-level players, as are kicker Valentino Ambrosio and punter Adam Korsak. Schiano dipped his toe into the transfer portal again this offseason, too, bringing in return specialist Joshua Youngblood (Kansas State) and corner Patrice Rene (North Carolina) among others.

What we didn’t learn about Rutgers in 2020

How long until there’s clarity at QB? Three signal-callers took 100+ snaps behind center last season; Noah Vedral led the way and ran the ball pretty well, but he averaged just 4.0 adjusted net yards per pass attempt (which adjusts for sacks, touchdowns and turnovers). Artur Sitkowski (5.4 ANY/A over 85 attempts) transferred, and Johnny Langan had the best ANY/A average (6.7) but was primarily a short-yardage and red zone guy (56 rushes to 13 pass attempts). Your ceiling is only as high as your quarterback’s, and Rutgers’ is pretty low.

Rutgers’ history in one chart

  1. Frank Burns took RU to a sustained elevation that no one else has managed. From 1974 to ’80, the Knights averaged 8.4 wins per year, with an 11-0 run in 1976.

  2. A two-decade slide bottomed out in the late-1990s, with Rutgers winning a total of 14 games from 1996 to 2002 under first Terry Shea, then Schiano.

  3. Schiano’s program building gradually clicked. RU won nine games in 2003-04, then ripped off six bowl seasons in his final seven years, including an 11-win 2006.

  4. After Schiano left for the NFL, the program quickly slid again, from 15 wins in 2012-13 to 12 in 2014-15 to just nine in four years from 2016 to ’19.

  5. Schiano’s back and provided at least a hint of promise last year.

In its first season after Mark Dantonio, Michigan State looked … like a Dantonio team: solid defense, devastatingly inefficient offense. When might Mel Tucker change that?

2021 Projections

Projected SP+ rank: 59th

Average projected wins: 5.1 (3.2 in the Big Ten)

  • Likely wins: Youngstown State (96% win probability), WKU (81%), at Rutgers (70%)

  • Relative toss-ups: at Northwestern (58%), Maryland (38%), at Purdue (35%), Nebraska (35%)

  • Likely losses: Michigan (32%), at Indiana (24%), Penn State (22%), at Miami (12%), at Ohio State (9%)

The Spartans are projected favorites in four of their first six games and none thereafter. Any hope of a bowl will require a fast start.

What we learned about Michigan State in 2020

It takes a while to change a program’s DNA. Tucker is a defensive guy, and in end Drew Beesley and others, he certainly found some pieces to like. State forced passing downs and prevented big pass plays, but there wasn’t much of a pass rush, and the Spartans let teams off the hook on passing downs a little bit too much.

Combined with a horrible offense (122nd in success rate) and poor punting, they got smoked in the field position department and, typically, on the scoreboard. They beat Michigan — something Michigan State teams are wont to do — and upset Northwestern, but lost their other five games by an average score of 40-14. They stumbled to 65th in SP+, their worst ranking since 2006, the year before Dantonio arrived. That’s not the type of symmetry that you look for.

Tucker brought in 14 transfers, but the old Michigan State might remain the new Michigan State for a while longer.

What we didn’t learn about Michigan State in 2020

What is this offense eventually supposed to look like? Jay Johnson is a veteran offensive coordinator who followed Tucker from Colorado to MSU. In terms of tendencies, his playcalling in East Lansing in 2020 — throwing frequently on standard downs, running more than average on passing downs, quite a bit of tempo — was the opposite of what he established in Boulder in 2019. He seems to adapt to what his personnel can do, but … it’s not incredibly clear what that is.

The QB battle is between quick-passing Temple transfer Anthony Russo and all-or-nothing Payton Thorne, with a couple of all-or-nothing talents (Jalen Nailor and Ricky White) out wide. Wake Forest transfer Kenneth Walker III is a good yards-after-contact back, too, but efficiency is an issue everywhere you look.

Michigan State’s history in one chart

  1. Biggie Munn’s Spartans went 26-1 with two national titles from 1950-52, then finally joined the Big Ten and went 9-1 in 1953. Pretty good transition.

  2. MSU’s peak under Duffy Daugherty came in 1965-66; behind players like Bubba Smith and George Webster, they went 19-1-1 with claims of two national titles.

  3. Before he was winning titles at LSU and Alabama, Nick Saban was succeeding George Perles, upsetting No. 1 Ohio State in 1998 and going 10-2 in 1999.

  4. After four losing seasons in five years, MSU hired Dantonio in 2007. What followed: three Big Ten titles, three AP top-10 finishes and six years with double digit wins.

  5. MSU went just 27-24 in Dantonio’s last four seasons, then started the Tucker era 2-5. This is a pretty big year for the trajectory of the program.

In only five games, Maryland ran the gamut from rousing wins (35-19 over Penn State) to demoralizing losses (43-3 to Northwestern, 27-24 to Rutgers). What now?

2021 Projections

Projected SP+ rank: 32nd

Average projected wins: 7.1 (4.6 in the Big Ten)

  • Likely wins: Howard (99.9% win probability), Kent State (95%), at Rutgers (83%), at Illinois (76%)

  • Relative toss-ups: at Michigan State (62%), West Virginia (56%), Indiana (51%), Michigan (49%), at Minnesota (41%), Iowa (39%), Penn State (37%)

  • Likely losses: at Ohio State (19%)

With any semblance of consistency, Mike Locksley’s Terps could be on their way to a lovely season. But consistency hasn’t lived in College Park for quite a while.

What we learned about Maryland in 2020

Upside on offense? Check. My marginal explosiveness measure looks at the magnitude of a team’s successful plays, adjusting for field position. Maryland ranked first in FBS in marginal explosiveness (fifth rushing, seventh passing) … and 72nd in success rate. From quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa to RB Jake Funk (now a Los Angeles Ram) to each of the top four receivers — Dontay Demus Jr., Brian Cobbs, Jeshaun Jones and blue-chip freshman Rakim Jarrett — everywhere you looked was an all-or-nothing weapon. The result: spectacular inconsistency. In five games, Maryland scored 3, 45, 35, 11 and 24 points.

Funk and center Johnny Jordan are the only departed starters; experience won’t be an issue in 2021, and Locksley brought in well-traveled offensive coordinator Dan Enos to theoretically bring stability to the attack.

What we didn’t learn about Maryland in 2020

Can the run defense catch up to the pass defense? After a woeful start — they allowed 43.5 points per game and 6.7 yards per play to Northwestern and Minnesota — the UM defense tightened up, allowing only 24.3 and 4.6, respectively, against Penn State, Indiana and Rutgers. The key was a dynamite pass defense. Opponents kept trying to pick on freshman cornerback Tarheeb Still, but he broke up eight passes and allowed just a 46.5 QBR. Last year’s top five DBs all return, as does one of the nation’s better interior pass rushers in tackle Mosiah Nasili-Kite. It’s going to remain hard to pass on the Terps.

That would mean more if you couldn’t run all over them. UM allowed at least 234 rushing yards in four of five games and finished 79th in rushing success rate allowed. Locksley signed three ESPN 300 linebackers, including five-star Terrence Lewis, plus veteran defensive coordinator Brian Stewart. If the Terps can push opponents behind schedule just a bit more, this could be a top-30 defense.

Maryland’s history in one chart

  1. For a few years, Jim Tatum made Maryland a powerhouse. His Terps won the 1953 AP title, won 10 games three times and finished in the top-10 four times from 1951-55.

  2. With star defenders like Randy White and Joe Campbell, UM was an ACC power in the 1970s, winning three league titles and going 11-1 with a Cotton Bowl bid in 1976.

  3. The Terps hadn’t won more than six games for 16 years when alum Ralph Friedgen took over in 2001; they went 31-8 in his first three seasons in charge before slowly fading.

  4. UM went 7-6 in 2014, its first season in the Big Ten. They’re still waiting for their second winning season.

  5. Maryland’s football history is one of collapses and surges. In two years under Locksley, the Terps have collapsed and surged from week to week! Maybe that changes in 2021?

Indiana finished 12th in the AP poll in 2020; the only times the Hoosiers topped that (1945, 1967), they were back to the bottom of the pack within three years. Tom Allen’s work has only begun.

2021 Projections

Projected SP+ rank: 27th

Average projected wins: 7.0 (4.7 in the Big Ten)

  • Likely wins: Idaho (99%), Rutgers (92%), at WKU (88%), Michigan State (76%)

  • Relative toss-ups: Minnesota (58%), at Purdue (57%), at Maryland (49%), Cincinnati (43%), at Michigan (42%)

  • Likely losses: at Iowa (33%), Ohio State (32%), at Penn State (31%)

IU’s win total exceeded its statistical output in 2020. If that happens again, no 2021 game is out of reach. If the opposite happens, however, there are plenty of potential losses, too.

What we learned about Indiana in 2020

The little things matter. Indiana was outgained by 2.2, 1.7 and 0.9 yards per play, respectively, in wins over Penn State, Michigan and Wisconsin. The Hoosiers’ success rate (41.7%) was barely better than opponents’ (40.3%), and while they made a lot of explosive plays, they allowed a lot, too. Going 6-2 with that recipe is hard to replicate.

That said, they excelled at the little things. They won the field position battle, dominated in the red zone, and produced more turnover opportunities than their opponents. That is replicable. They finished 26th in SP+, and they return 16 starters. Thinking of them as Big Ten contenders might be a reach, but the Hoosiers are likely to have another strong year.

What we didn’t learn about Indiana in 2020

Passing on IU is annoying. Typically about 21 to 22% of a team’s passes defensed (INTs or breakups) are interceptions; stray from that, and you’ll probably see some regression to the mean. IU’s percentage last year was 33% — 17 INTs to 35 breakups. Turnover regression is coming.

The Hoosiers’ ultra-aggressive pass defense, however, isn’t going anywhere. Safety Jamar Johnson is gone, but everyone else in the secondary returns, including maybe the best cornerback trio in the conference in Tiawan Mullen, Jaylin Williams and Reese Taylor. Linebackers Micah McFadden and Cam Jones are excellent blitzers, too.

Can the offense find consistency? Even with the excellent Ty Fryfogle and Whop Philyor, IU still ranked 90th in passing success rate. Things trailed off considerably after quarterback Michael Penix Jr. tore his ACL against Maryland, but Penix was inconsistent himself, completing 56% of his passes and ranking 44th in Total QBR.

Penix should be healthy, and Allen brought in transfers like USC RB Stephen Carr, FSU slot D.J. Matthews and Texas A&M WR Camron Buckley to account for the loss of Philyor and RB Stevie Scott. The upside is clear, but a little more reliability would go a long way.

Indiana’s history in one chart

  1. The best IU team ever: Bo McMillin’s 1945 Hoosiers, who beat Michigan, pummeled ranked Minnesota and Purdue teams by a combined 75-0 and finished 9-0-1.

  2. John Pont’s 1967 Hoosiers went 7-0 in one-score games and upset No. 3 Purdue on their way to the Rose Bowl. IU’s still waiting on a return trip to Pasadena.

  3. IU hadn’t enjoyed a winning season in 11 years before Lee Corso — the Sunshine Scooter himself! — took them to 8-4 with a Holiday Bowl win.

  4. From 1995-2011, IU enjoyed just one winning season. But after a 1-11 debut, Kevin Wilson raised expectations and took the Hoosiers to bowls in both 2015-16.

  5. Allen’s Hoosiers are 14-7 with back-to-back SP+ top 30 finishes in the last two seasons. How much further can he raise the bar?

Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan tenure has been defined by high levels of achievement and an inability to beat Ohio State. In 2020, however, his Wolverines genuinely underachieved.

2021 Projections

Projected SP+ rank: 23rd

Average projected wins: 7.3 (5.0 in the Big Ten)

  • Likely wins: NIU (97%), Rutgers (92%), WMU (89%), Northwestern (86%), at Michigan State (68%)

  • Relative toss-ups: Indiana (58%), at Maryland (51%), at Nebraska (47%), Washington (42%)

  • Likely losses: Ohio State (34%), at Penn State (33%), at Wisconsin (29%)

Solid long-term results and recruiting mean that SP+ gives the Wolverines the benefit of the doubt despite a 2-4 campaign. But with four opponents projected 14th or better, even a top-25 performance might only produce a 7-5 record or so.

What we learned about Michigan in 2020

Things can fall apart quickly. In seven years prior to Harbaugh’s arrival, Michigan averaged an SP+ ranking of just 36.6. But the Wolverines immediately jumped to 10th in Harbaugh’s first year and averaged a ranking of 9.8 over his first five seasons.

Last year, the recipe for success fell apart. Defensive coordinator Don Brown had neither the pass rush nor cornerback play to execute his aggressive scheme, and UM went from allowing 20.7 points per game to 34.5. Meanwhile, a pair of new QBs faltered — Joe Milton made too many mistakes and got benched for Cade McNamara, who was great against Rutgers but overwhelmed against Penn State. Michigan topped 24 points only once after the season opener.

Knowing he needed some new blood, Harbaugh dismissed Brown and brought in Mike Macdonald, a former Ravens assistant under John Harbaugh. Milton and others transferred away. After a year of pretty significant change on the two-deep, now comes more change both there and on the coaching staff.

What we didn’t learn about Michigan in 2020

Who’s the QB of the future? Macdonald’s not the only key addition. Harbaugh brought former Texas Tech quarterback Alan Bowman in as well. Bowman’s career has been constantly sidetracked by injury, and it has rendered him inconsistent — he’s produced a raw QBR over 80 and under 35 in five games each. But he could assure a higher floor at the position if McNamara is not yet a consistent option.

How many proven commodities are on the roster? Running back Hassan Haskins is excellent, receivers Ronnie Bell and Cornelius Johnson have had their moments, linebacker Josh Ross is great both rushing the passer and dropping into coverage, and cornerback Gemon Green, thrown into the fire, has won some battles here and there.

The return of star edge rusher Aidan Hutchinson will help immensely, but with this schedule, any significant rebound in 2021 will require some tactical upgrades from Macdonald and offensive coordinator Josh Gattis, plus breakthroughs from quite a few well-touted youngsters — second-year guys like receivers Blake Corum and A.J. Henning and DBs Andre Seldon and Jordan Morant in particular.

Michigan’s history in one chart

  1. The 1947 Michigan Wolverines: the best team to not win the national title.

  2. After Bump Elliott’s bumpy (sorry) tenure, UM hired Bo Schembechler in 1969. He engineered 16 top-10 finishes and 10 Rose Bowl appearances in 21 years.

  3. Gary Moeller and Lloyd Carr mostly maintained standards following Schembechler’s retirement: eight top-10 finishes from 1990 to 2007 with six Rose Bowls and an elusive national title.

  4. Things went awry after Carr’s retirement. They have finished unranked as many times in the last 13 seasons (eight) as in the 56 before that.

  5. Harbaugh’s Wolverines were on the doorstep of a CFP bid in both 2016 and 2018 but couldn’t get past Ohio State. Now they’ve won just 11 of their past 21 games.

After three top-10 finishes in four years, James Franklin’s Nittany Lions began the 2020 season 0-5 before rebounding to win four straight. Was that a sign of cracks forming … or just a bad month?

2021 Projections

Projected SP+ rank: 14th

Average projected wins: 8.5 (5.9 in the Big Ten)

  • Likely wins: Villanova (99%), Rutgers (96%), Illinois (93%), Ball State (91%), at Michigan State (78%), Auburn (70%), Indiana (69%), Michigan (67%)

  • Relative toss-ups: at Maryland (63%), at Iowa (46%), at Wisconsin (40%)

  • Likely losses: at Ohio State (34%)

PSU is experienced, and the hire of offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich is exciting, but the Nittany Lions play their three most highly projected opponents on the road. That’s suboptimal.

What we learned about Penn State in 2020

Brent Pry is incredibly consistent. With Pry as defensive coordinator from 2017-19, PSU ranked 10th, 11th and 10th, respectively, in defensive SP+. The Nittany Lions lost all-world linebacker Micah Parsons to a late-offseason opt-out in 2020 and fell … to 14th. They didn’t create enough negative plays, but once you were behind schedule, they got in your quarterback’s face and ended drives.

With last year’s top three linebackers (including sophomore havoc machine Brandon Smith) and all but one defensive back returning — plus 2019 starting corner Tariq Castro-Fields, who missed two-thirds of last season — there’s plenty to like about the 2021 defense.

What we didn’t learn about Penn State in 2020

Will a remodeled D-line hold up? Any question about the defense comes up front, where four of eight regulars depart, including first-rounder Odafe Oweh. Two transfers — Duke tackle Derrick Tangelo and Temple end Arnold Ebiketie — could be key. Tangelo is exactly the kind of run disruptor they lacked, and Ebiketie had four sacks in six games. If they click, so will the defense.

Is Yurcich the guy? After offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne took the ODU head coaching job, Franklin brought in Minnesota’s Kirk Ciarrocca for 2020. After a slow start, PSU averaged 36.3 points per game during its winning streak. Quarterback Sean Clifford’s last two games were his best, an encouraging sign.

Franklin, however, chose to roll the dice: he fired Ciarrocca in favor of Yurcich, the former Oklahoma State, Ohio State and Texas assistant.

The last five offenses Yurcich has been associated with (four as coordinator) have all ranked eighth or higher in offensive SP+ and averaged at least 38.4 points per game. He inherits wideout Jahan Dotson, slot Parker Washington and a loaded RB room led by Keyvone Lee and potentially Baylor transfer John Lovett. But the 2021 offense will be determined by Yurcich’s relationship with Clifford. The third-year starter has been top-40 in Total QBR for two seasons, but for PSU to reach its potential he needs to jump into the top 15 or so.

Penn State’s history in one chart

  1. After a dip at the end of Rip Engle’s 16-year tenure, PSU hired Joe Paterno to take the program to a different level. Beaver Stadium’s capacity at the time: ~46,000.

  2. From 1968-81, PSU came as close as possible to a national title without winning one, with seven top-five finishes and, in 1973, a Heisman winner (John Cappelletti).

  3. The breakthrough came in the 1980s: PSU won the 1982 and 1986 national titles, with top-3 finishes in 1981 and 1985 to boot. Beaver Stadium by 1991: ~94,000.

  4. Following the Jerry Sandusky sexual assault scandal, Paterno was fired and the NCAA levied heavy punishment that it would eventually dial back. Franklin was hired in 2014.

  5. Franklin’s tenure has included a Big Ten title and three AP top-10 finishes. Is the trajectory still strong after last year’s brief stumble?

On average, the Big Ten is the second-best conference in college football. In some seasons, like 2020, it might be the best. And over the last nine years, Ohio State is 74-5 in Big Ten play. Goodness.

2021 Projections

Projected SP+ rank: Fourth

Average projected wins: 9.4 (6.9 in the Big Ten)

  • Likely wins: Akron (99.6% win probability), at Rutgers (96%), Michigan State (91%), Tulsa (90%), Purdue (86%), Maryland (81%), at Minnesota (70%), at Nebraska (69%), at Indiana (68%), at Michigan (66%), Penn State (66%)

  • Relative toss-ups: Oregon (58%)

  • Likely losses: None

Ryan Day’s Buckeyes will obviously be excellent, but they are starting a new QB and facing some solid September tests (at Minnesota in Week 1, Oregon in Week 2). Can they avoid an early stumble before they reach fifth gear?

What we learned about Ohio State in 2020

Honestly? Not much. It says a lot that we pretended Justin Fields had a disappointing season. Fields finished second in Total QBR, and the Buckeyes ranked second in offensive SP+, but because an elite defense (Northwestern) got the best of him — but not RB Trey Sermon — and a good defense (Indiana) forced a few mistakes, Fields was an overrated disappointment. Sure.

Fields and Sermon are gone, though, as are two all-conference linemen. Key new players — most importantly, a young, new starting quarterback, be it C.J. Stroud, Jack Miller III or Kyle McCord — will have to clear this “second is disappointing” bar. That could produce a few more moments of vulnerability.

Whether anyone can take advantage is a different story. OSU still has all-world receivers Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson, RB Master Teague III, three other all-conference linemen, etc. Those vulnerable moments won’t last particularly long.

What we didn’t learn about Ohio State in 2020

Was Kerry Coombs the right hire? In Coombs’ first season succeeding new BC head coach Jeff Hafley, Ohio State went from allowing 13.7 points per game and 4.1 yards per play to 25.8 and 5.9, respectively. Strength of schedule certainly had a role in that, but while the run defense was fine, the pass defense was strangely poor. The Buckeyes ranked 104th in passing success rate and went from allowing a 97.5 passer rating to 143.1 as Coombs, Hafley’s replacement, implemented higher rates of zone coverage to little effect.

With a full offseason and fewer Covid-related disruptions, maybe Coombs can fully install and teach the system he wants. But he’ll be doing so without seven of the 14 players who logged 200+ snaps. If the Buckeyes are to contend for a national title, both cornerback play and the pass rush probably need to improve. The secondary has experience, and either or both of ends Tyreke Smith and Zach Harrison could erupt up front, but we won’t know for sure that the rebound will happen until it does.

Ohio State’s history in one chart

  1. After averaging a 5-3-1 record from 1946-50, Ohio State turned to Woody Hayes to raise the program’s postwar profile. It took him a few years, but he got there.

  2. Hayes’ program ran into a bout of inconsistency in the 1960s, but a surge in recruiting prompted a run of nine top-10 finishes from 1968-79 and the 1968 national title.

  3. Hayes was fired after the Charlie Bauman incident in 1979. Earle Bruce would maintain a high bar through most of the 1980s.

  4. Neither Bruce nor John Cooper could bring the Buckeyes a ring, but Jim Tressel took over in 2001 and rode a run of seven close wins to an unlikely 2002 title.

  5. The Buckeyes under first Urban Meyer, then Day: 106-11 with eight AP top-6 finishes, five Big Ten rings and a national title in nine years. Not bad.

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