Meyer's Year Three Brings Burdens and Expectations

By Nicholas Jervey on April 5, 2014 at 6:00a

For Urban Meyer, Year Two is typically the year his program reaches its zenith. What about Year Three?

For the first twelve seasons of Urban Meyer's career, a bulletproof narrative formed: Meyer's teams would always excel in Year Two. At Bowling Green, Utah, and Florida, each team won at least ten games. At Utah and Florida he won BCS games, and at Florida his team won the national championship. From that peak, the only way to go is down.

Year Two has come and gone at Ohio State, and it was less than perfect. It was still an excellent season: the 2013 team completed an school record 24-game win streak, won its division, and played in a BCS bowl. However, losses against Michigan State and Clemson made clear that the Buckeyes were no better than the 2012 team that preceded it.

Now comes Year Three of the Meyer Era, and there's no convenient narrative to predict how the season will turn out. What kind of season should we expect?

The Repeat

Meyer has coached only one third-year team before, his 2007 team at Florida. The epitome of a team better than its record, the Gators were a top five team that finished 9-4 because of a tough schedule and bad luck. They did manage to beat a top ten team (Kentucky – no, seriously) and land in the Capital One Bowl, where they lost to Michigan in Lloyd Carr's final game.

The weird thing about the 2007 Florida season is that it already has a copy in Ohio State's 2013 season. A dynamic, Heisman-contending quarterback (Tim Tebow/Braxton Miller) led a potent offense, aided by an equally dynamic runner (Percy Harvin/Carlos Hyde). A porous pass defense with heaps of talent held back the team from its true potential, and the team finished the year with a surprising bowl loss (Capital One Bowl/Orange Bowl) against a school they figured they ought to beat (Michigan/Clemson). Odds are, the same thing won't happen again in 2014.

The Historic Struggle

Twenty-four men have coached Ohio State football. Of those, thirteen coached for three or more seasons. For the most part, their third years were crapshoots.

OSU Coaches in Year Three
Coach Year Record
Alexander Lilley 1891 2-2
Jack Ryder 1894 6-5
Dr. John Eckstorm 1901 5-3-1
Albert Herrnstein 1908 6-4
Dr. John Wilce 1915 5-1-1
Sam Williman 1931 6-3
Francis Schmidt 1936 5-3
Paul Brown 1943 3-6
Wes Fesler 1949 7-1-2
Woody Hayes 1953 6-3
Earle Bruce 1981 9-3
John Cooper 1990 7-4-1
Jim Tressel 2003 11-2
Urban Meyer 2014 ?

 Judging by the historical record, there's little correlation between the quality of the coach and how their third season went. Francis Schmidt and Paul Brown are well-esteemed coaches, but their third teams went 5-3 and 3-6 respectively. Nobody would call Wes Fesler an superlative coach, but his 1949 team went 7-1-2 and won Ohio State's first-ever Rose Bowl. Woody Hayes had a decent, unspectacular team in 1953; the next year, they won a consensus national title out of nowhere.

Note the Block O.
Paul Brown had a rough time in 1943.

More recent coaches have had more success; coaches from Wes Fesler to present have a winning percentage of .733 (40-13-5), while the coaches from Alexander Lilley through Paul Brown won .582 of their games in their third year (38-27-2). But even those coaches' teams are far from their best. Earle Bruce fired most of his defensive staff at the end of the 1981 season, and Jim Tressel's defending national champions needed a 100-yard interception return to squeak by San Diego State in 2003.

In this scenario, 2014 could range anywhere from 6-6 to 11-1, depending on the whims of fate. Seeing as how most coaches' teams were a little worse in Year Three than the year before, mark this as an 8-4 or 9-3 season and hope for something different.

The Muschamp

Year Three is the first time a coach can really call a program his own. A coach has control over the team during the first two seasons, but it's only when the new guy's players outnumber the old guy's players that he bears total responsibility for the team. Three years the bare minimum time a coach needs to fix a bad situation; after that, the thinking goes, there's no more blaming the previous guy for the mess and the new guy is on the hot seat. Will Muschamp's situation at Florida makes a wonderful illustration of this.

From the moment Urban Meyer left Florida until the start of the 2013 season, all Florida media could talk about was Meyer "leaving the cupboard empty" for Muschamp. It was a convenient excuse for an 8-5 season in 2011, and even more so once Muschamp took the 2012 Gators to the Sugar Bowl.

By 2013, though, the program was definitively Muschamp's, and even those who hated Meyer couldn't blame him for Florida losing to Georgia Southern. Florida fans, who had not experienced a losing season in decades, took the 4-8 record about as well as a toddler takes bedtime.

Unlike Will Muschamp, Meyer has achieved enough to be safe from any off-season insurrections next year. If Florida's boosters are antsy enough, they could fire Coach Angry just like that. That's not how Meyer's 2014 is going to play out.

The Pressure Cooker

Ohio State has a 90-year-old reputation for fickle support, dating back to 1928, when a group of boosters ousted Dr. John Wilce to the dismay of coaches nationwide. As they hounded him, the president of the Ohio State University Association noted that many of them, "with tears in their eyes asked [him] to do something" when Wisconsin tried to hire him away a few years before. Wilce's departure (and Francis Schmidt's, and Wes Fesler's, and Earle Bruce's, and others) helped to develop Ohio State's reputation for being the "graveyard of coaches".

Meyer won't have problems with fan or local media support. The problem may be the stress of the job, which is enough to try any healthy man. Otherwise, the program is in strong shape: his recruiting has been gangbusters over the past three years and he has had strong staff continuity. His 24-2 record through two years has left Ohio State in a strong position, so even a disappointing season won't be the end of the line.

The concern for Meyer is that the stress of the season, no matter how well or poorly Ohio State plays, causes medical issues that force him to step away from the job. Considering the caution Meyer has taken from day one at Ohio State and his increased delegation to assistants, this scenario seems unlikely.

The Dream Scenario

15-0, Big Ten title, national champions, Braxton Miller wins the Heisman Trophy, and everyone gets a pony. Nobody said the Year Three expectations had to be realistic.

Though Ohio State fans want Year Three to be Meyer's best year yet, there's no promise that it will be. It's hard to go 12-2, let alone 15-0. There's a good chance his team will regress, like many Buckeye coaches' teams have.

Judging by the program's history, a good season to be in the works. Rather than holding the 2014 season up to create some historical narrative, maybe we can shut up and enjoy Year Three for itself.



Comments Show All Comments

216ToThe614's picture

We had the first ever 14-0 team, why not add the first ever 15-0 team to our history? Has a nice ring to it

Pick up your feet, turn your corners square! And DRIVE DRIVE DRIVE!!!

+21 HS
BroJim's picture

These are the glory days; remember the wins, the record setting games and the players. It's hard to be better off than 24-2

I season my simple food with hunger

+2 HS
SPreston2001's picture

Seriously 24-2 is nice but did it get us anything?? I really think people use that as means of success when in reality it didnt lead to any B1G titles or BCS wins...

-3 HS
BroJim's picture

I would argue that you're using a very narrow definition of success. What about all accolades and records? What about the personal development these young men? What about the legend of Kenny G? What about two more years of beating Up North? Sounds like success to me. . .

I season my simple food with hunger

+2 HS
OH10G419's picture

We got division titles... 2 Michigan wins, possibly another BCS (title or bowl) game appearance ( if not for the post seas ban)

I'm sure 24-0 swayed some recruits

Blackbeards Delight's picture

I see a conference loss at some point this season. Whipping up on everybody three years in a row just seems a bit to much to ask. New O line, new RB, new D scheme, and Braxton not throwing till Labor Day, are my concerns. But hopefully, one loss won't keep the Boys out of the playoff. 

"Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve 23yr, it's what's for breakfast"

- Me


+3 HS's picture

Braxton will be throwing in fall camp (well before Labor Day).  No new running back just a different running back. New D scheme can only be an improvement.

There. Now your only worry is the O Line. No losses. Think positive. 

+3 HS
TMac's picture

....maybe we can shut up and enjoy Year Three for itself

Absolutely enjoy year three for itself, but I'd rather do it out loud, with plenty of volume and TBDBITL providing the soundtrack!


ONE Not Done!

+3 HS
bleedscarlet's picture

Nice shout out for TBDBITL... worth the price of admission themselves

Slingin' swag since 1970


+1 HS

We keep Braxton healthy (knocks on wood loudly) and the defense improves OSU is unbeaten going into the PSU and MSU games and has a legit shot at 13-0 and a return trip to Indy. He gets hurt and is out a significant amount of time? I still think we're strong enough to be 11-2 at the worst. That's IF the defense improves and IF the offense doesn't get bogged down as a result.


"Sherman ran an option play right through the south" - Greatest Civil War analogy EVER.

Run_Fido_Run's picture

I don't know. The 13 seasons tabulated above represent only about ten percent of Ohio State's 123 total seasons. A lot of variables contributed to the results besides the third-year-in-the-coaching-cycle factor. As it were, the roughly 65 percent winning percentage in those seasons is only a bit below the 72 percent all-time program winning percentage.

Other great coaches have had stellar third seasons - Nick Saban (2009 Bama), Pete Carroll (2003 USC), Booby Petrino (2010 Ark), etc.

I'm not sure how good the Buckeyes will be in 2014, but the third-season factor does not discourage me in the least.

+1 HS
DC-town's picture

The B1G 'should' be better this year and we need it to be- the East is shaping up to be a meat grinder that hopefully tests us enough to prepare for the pplayoff.

I hope to see an undefeated season and a few close games that are fun to watch- 

'Piss excellence' -RB

buckeyeradar's picture

We'll be a target on everyone's schedule this year.  Let's make it a moving target one game at a time.  GO BUCKS!

I may not be the sharpest crayon in the box but I'm one of the most colorful.

+4 HS
VintonCountyBuck's picture

Not sure why this was down voted.

Unless that up vote target was moving.

Seriously though, The Buckeyes seem have a target on their backs every game.  We just need to go out and care care of business.

 +1 for you to even it out.

“Right now, Michigan is not at the pinnacle of college football, and that’s all Urban Meyer cares about...He’s been there and knows what it takes to get there.” 

+4 HS
ScarletNGrey01's picture

Interesting article, good stuff.  However, I'm not sure past performance or the season 2, 3 whatever syndrome applies here.  This is a new season, great recruits, good returning players, a top QB, top notch coaches ... it's a unique situation.  The schedule this season will be tougher than last season, so we'll see what happens, won't be a cake walk for sure.

The will to win is not as important as the will to prepare to win. -- Woody Hayes

+1 HS
BoFuquel's picture

Be careful in what you are willing to accept. GO BUCKS!

I wish I didn't know now what I didn't know then.

buckguyfan1's picture

Young, hungry, and fast... I like it. 

+1 HS
RBuck's picture did I know Earle's record would be 9-3?

Long live the southend.

+3 HS
Nicholas Jervey's picture

Pretty weird, since everybody used to call him "11-1" Earle Bruce.

Ceci n'est pas une signature.

OSUFlash's picture

I don't us making the 4 team playoff. Too many new faces and the team. Winning the Big 10 title game will be tough enough but is possible. I say 11-2 is probable and12-1 possible.


-1 HS
SPreston2001's picture

I really dont understand when people bring up records from previous coaches and times. Each coach has their own way of doing things along with different players. Theres always a first time for everything...

+1 HS
lippertini's picture

Exactly, +1.  And each situation is always unique with regard to players, coaches and schedule.  From the title, I was hoping for a more in-depth analysis of the actual team vs. our competitors, along with the author's prediction.

UrbanPirate's picture

Everyone agrees, but it's the off season-what else are we going to talk about? They write it, we read it, and discussion ensues

Just... Go Bucks.


+2 HS
ToTheHouse's picture

Well, from the OL-school-days..."The Game" was and still is the 1st-Championship, before Rose Bowls, Fiesta Bowls, etc. and we have basically owned the team up north for the past 10 yrs. Sure the bar has been raised, so has leaving early for the pros. So including Nov. anything past that is a gift, but don't forget The Game regardless what happens after it.  Coach Urb is getting settled in with his own recruits now, the future is as bright as all the (3-4-5) STARS !



To the NC House...Repeat gonna be Sah-weet!

allinosu's picture

I think it all up to our defense. We will score pretty good on everybody so if we turn it around, the sky is the limit.

cinserious's picture

The main thing this article tells me is Gene Smith screwed us out of our rightful national championship. Had he not given us a bowl ban for the 2012 season instead of opting out of the Gator Bowl in 2011, our undefeated Buckeyes would have been the team rolling over Notre Lame for the NC instead of 'Bama. Next comes the 2013 'letdown' season (still better than Florida's 2007 letdown). And finally, like Forida in 2008, we come roaring back to take another championship in 2014!

Thanks a lot Gene.

One day I will valiantly become a political prisoner of 11W jail.

-1 HS
seafus26's picture

Carlos Hyde would have rolled over notre lame's excuse of a D even more than Eddie  Lacey did. 

Go Bucks and michigan STILL SUCKS!

nm_buck's picture

OSUFlash: "I don't us making the 4 team playoff. Too many new faces and the team."

Be positive.   Look at Woody's 1954 team coming off a 6-3 season... or Tress's 2002 team coming off a 7-5 season.

You never know... that's the beauty of Ohio State football.  It's why we are fans.

"The future is bright at Ohio State."  - Urban Meyer 1/1/15

Mean Mr Mustard's picture

I think that the defense will be much better.  Braxton Miller will struggle against really good defenses, but he will crush every can on the schedule

-1 HS
kdogg72's picture

Should be an interesting year. I am not sure that we have ever had a quarterback return for their final season who already has this many accolades. We will have a lot of young talent on this team, but I truly believe we will only be as good as our defense is. We have more playmakers on offense, but there is NO way we will have the same power run game. We just lost the best offensive line Urban Meyer has ever coached. If we have a shut down SEC defense, or ala Sparty, we will be really, really good. If not, I foresee some bumps in the road.



nm_buck's picture

I can't remember any OSU QB leaving early.

"The future is bright at Ohio State."  - Urban Meyer 1/1/15

bleedscarlet's picture


Slingin' swag since 1970


Athens BuckCat's picture

Boy howdy am I ready for year three to get under way! It should be an exciting season

CharlotteBuckeye's picture

Year 3 goals:

1. Beat Michagain 

2. Get Braxton the heisman, helps with impressing recruits in the south and overall impression of TOSU. 

3. Beat m. state.

4. Smack PSU in the mouth again, they are getting a bit high and mighty in the off-season.

5. Defeat House Lannister and reunite the kingdoms.

1. Coach is always right.

2. See rule #1.

+2 HS
Buckeye_in_SEC_country's picture

8-4 or 9-3? I'm thinking more like 10-2 or 11-1 with a bowl win. If Ash is the man like I've been reading, we should see a playoff birth. Great coaching can always overcome inexperience.

nm_buck's picture

We'd better not have a loss if we want to make the playoffs....

"The future is bright at Ohio State."  - Urban Meyer 1/1/15

Bamabucknut's picture

It is time to DELIVER.

Deliver = win the Big 10.Win your bowl game.

Seattle Linga's picture

I really like the college playoffs finally - but I wish it had more than four teams playing.

You have to bring it week in and week out. 

OH10G419's picture

These articles are on point! Heads up to the writer! Thanks for the good read!

Hoody Wayes's picture


You write:

It was still an excellent season: the 2013 team completed an school record 24-game win streak, won its division, and played in a BCS bowl.

Buckeye expectations = National championships. This is why Urban Meyer was hired. 2013...not excellent.

You conclude:

Rather than holding the 2014 season up to create some historical narrative, maybe we can shut up and enjoy Year Three for itself.

Maybe...Urban Meyer's best work is coaching the Buckeye fan base?

Go Bucks!

blackblockO's picture

I think in order to get in that playoff we need to win every game. The perception of the big is my reasoning. So everything counts

D-Day0043's picture

I hope to see gut stomping wins over both teams from that whore of a state up north. That would make me a very, very happy man.

I am D-Day0043 and I approve this message.