The Ohio State University football team will enter the 25th contest of the Urban Meyer era this Saturday in Indianapolis undefeated, with a 24-0 record untarnished by a loss in either of the past two regular seasons. The squad has "found a way to win" in a couple of close ones (Purdue and Michigan State last year, That Team Up North this year), and has posted more than a few good, old-fashioned beatdowns (Nebraska last year, Penn State this year).
But even holding the longest active winning streak in the NCAA's Football Bowl Subdivision (a streak now tied for the 13th-longest in Division I history), some pundits aren't all that impressed. "Ohio State hasn't played anyone," they say. "The Big Ten is a weak conference," they say (it's still better than the ACC, as we've all pointed out in recent days, and I'd argue it's on par with the PAC-12 this year, at the same time the mighty SEC is clearly having its own down year, but I digress).
Former Buckeye running back and current ESPN analyst Robert Smith helped put Ohio State's current streak into perspective following then #1 Alabama's last-second (literally) loss to #4 Auburn with this gem of a Tweet:
Wait, you're telling me that the man I heard referred to on ESPN last week as "the greatest coach in college football history" has lost 5 games in November over the past four seasons? If you assume the average Alabama team plays four games in November, that's only a 60% winning percentage in what has traditionally been known as the most important month of the season.
What makes this even more striking is the fact that SEC scheduling has trended lately toward packing a couple of cupcakes into the November slate, while putting some marquee conference matchups upfront to take advantage of favorable pre-season ranking bias ("SEC good, B1G bad" say the voters) and help set the narrative cycle that the SEC is the toughest conference in the history of organized sports, ergo, November cupcakes are irrelevant because we've already been brainwashed in September that Alabama plays a veritable Murder's Row while the Ohio State's of the world are feasting on teams like San Diego State and Florida A&M (God that was a long sentence, but you get the gist).
Here's how the Tide's losses shake out: those five blunders include 2010 losses to #10 LSU and #2 Auburn, a 2011 loss to #1 LSU in that classic 6-9 OT debacle, a 2012 loss to #15 Texas A&M, and last weekend's flop against #4 Auburn.
Take that a step further, and in November since 2010, the Tide have lost 5 games to ranked opponents, while winning only three times against teams ranked in the top 25. And this is the team that has won three national championships in that timespan... What other team in the country could lose that many November games and even be considered for a bid in the title game at all, let along have won it all?
Smith called Saban the "anti-Belicick" because of the latter's stellar record in the playoffs and because of the connections between the two coaches. I'd say that Saban is the anti-Tressel, a man I came to think of as "Mr. November." Much like Reggie Jackson was known as "Mr. October" for his clutch hitting in baseball's postseason, The Vest was known for winning big games in November, when it traditionally matters most to a team's season.
Coach Tressel went an amazing 28-4 during his time as the Head Coach of the Buckeyes, including two losses during his first season at the tiller. His record against That Team Up North is well-known and ultimately his legacy (along with the National Championship in year two, of course), but his record in the final month of the season was almost flawless. By comparison, Urban Meyer has gone 39-7 in November during his stints at Bowling Green, Utah, Florida and a 7-0 run in November play at Ohio State.
So while people can carp about Ohio State's schedule all they want, the fact that the "greatest coach in history" has dropped five games in November over the past four seasons underlines and highlights just how tough it is to go undefeated in a single season, let alone in back-to-back seasons.
By the way, should Ohio State win out this season, including a Bowl Game, they will be tied with Nebraska's longest streak in school history at 26 games, a feat the Huskers achieved between 1994-1996. At 27-0, they will tied the Spartan's longest streak in school history, a run Michigan State notched between 1950-1953. Winning next season's non-conference schedule will put the Buckeyes at 30-0, good enough for the longest streak in Big Ten history, besting the current record of 29-0, set by That Team Up North from 1901-1903.
The record of all streaks? Forty-seven in a row won by the Oklahoma Sooners between 1953-1957. But let's not worry about any of that right now - they best thing about being 24-0 is the chance to go 25-0. Go Buckeyes! We don't give a damn for the WHOLE state of Michigan!