Exploring Some of the Darkest Timelines Ohio State Avoided During Its Current Golden Age

By David Regimbal on July 6, 2020 at 2:50 pm
Bo Pelini
© Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

My toddler son falls a lot.

I'm convinced he's the clumsiest human being on planet earth. I've witnessed men drink more alcohol than any person should, only to exit the bar with more grace and awareness than my youngest.

A brief example — I packed my wife and kids up over the weekend to have a (socially distanced) holiday party at my dad's house. Pops just finished his dream backyard setup, which features a beautiful drop-off deck that walks out to a stamped-out patio.

It's gorgeous and goals and all of that, but it's horrendously un-Lucas proof. There are two small sets of stairs on either side of the deck that lead to the patio. There is no hand rail protecting the space between said sets of stairs.

You already know where this is going, as my wife and I did the moment we arrived. Despite our best efforts, my son took a small tumble that resulted in about 30 seconds of crying and a minimum of three years off my life.

After the nerves settled and a, "no children on the deck," mandate had been ordered, I thought about the times in my life when I lived on the edge. Like that time in third grade when I thought it was a good idea to use a flimsy piece of wood and a milk crate to construct the absolute worst bike ramp you've ever seen. It only took one broken wrist for me to retire as a... uh... ramp architect?

Or how about that time the first boss I ever had thought it would be okay for his 18-year-old employee to drive the company-owned truck that had questionably reliable brakes to pick up some supplies for the festival we were working. Getting to the restaurant was easy enough, but returning through a sea of thousands of people was the challenge. Our spot at the event was at the bottom of a hill, sandwiched between a series of classic show cars. The brakes on the truck failed as I was barreling down the hill, and I missed a pair of classic cars on either side by, and I am not exaggerating in the slightest here, a couple of inches before a tree mercifully stopped my descent into hell.

My point is — when you're living on the edge, sometimes you break your wrist, and other times you narrowly avoid causing irreparable damage to someone's prized possessions.

All that introspection got me thinking about how Ohio State avoided some near-disasters in recent history. There have of course been moments when the program fell off the edge (hi, tatgate), but in large, the Buckeyes have avoided catastrophe at an amazing clip during this golden age.

Let's look back at how wrong things could've gone had Ohio State slipped over the edge in certain/recent situations.

The (Worst) Game of the Century

What if Ohio State's thrilling 42-39 win over Michigan in 2006 had gone the other way?

That game will always be on my Mount Rushmore of football moments based on build-up alone. Ohio State and Michigan fans always look forward to the game all season. That year, every college football fan in the country shared in that anticipation.

I was a sack of nerves the entire game, but I remember the relief I felt when Troy Smith connected with Brian Robiskie for a 13-yard touchdown to put the Buckeyes up 42-31 late in the fourth quarter.

The nerves returned when Chad Henne and the Wolverines answered with a quick touchdown and two-point conversion on the ensuing drive. With two minutes and change remaining, Lloyd Carr called for an onside kick.

What if Ted Ginn didn't come down with the ball and Michigan recovered?  The Buckeye defense had been shredded by Michigan's offense in the second half to the tune of 25 points that afternoon. If Henne, Mike Hart and the Wolverines took over near mid-field, I'm not sure Ohio State comes away a winner in this one.

How much of a ripple would that have created? Would Smith still go on to win the Heisman Trophy? Would Jim Tressel's dominance over Michigan continue on schedule or would Carr regain control of the series? And oh god, imagine if the Wolverines went on to beat Florida in the title game that season like they did a year later in the Capital One Bowl. 

I'm not sure what the answers are here, but the questions make me feel icky all over.

Terrelle Pryor Chooses the Dark Side

The Rich Rodriguez era at Michigan was arguably the greatest comedy of the Aughts. It started with a season that featured a loss to *checks notes* Toledo, and ended with a tear-filled performance of Josh Groban's You Raise Me Up to famous Michigan alum that elicited this response from the original artist. 

But what if Rodriguez's tenure started with a bang?

Terrelle Pryor was the top recruit in the country and the most celebrated dual-threat quarterback since Vince Young in 2008, and he would've been absolutely lethal in Rodriguez's spread offense. He ultimately, of course, chose Ohio State over Michigan.

Michigan's average recruiting class ranking was 13th nationally between 2008-2010. Would Pryor's presence alone have attracted better players to Ann Arbor had he committed to the Wolverines? Would Rodriguez and Pryor have been able to build something special at Michigan?

Then on the flip side, what would that have done to Ohio State? The Buckeyes had Todd Boeckman in 2008, but the primary option outside of Pryor in 2009 and beyond was // insert horror shriek sound effect // Joe Bauserman.

And with no Pryor, there may have been no tatgate. And with no tatgate, there isn't an important job opening atop Ohio State's football program heading into 2012.

And speaking of that job opening...

Urban Meyer Stays Retired, Ohio State Hires Bo Pelini

What if Urban Meyer committed to his retirement back in 2011 and Ohio State was forced to explore Option B?

Meyer was the top choice from the start, but if Gene Smith had failed to entice him out of retirement, he would have been forced to explore other options. 

At the time, Bo Pelini was a legitimate and desirable candidate. He built a championship-caliber defense as defensive coordinator at LSU between 2005-07 (which Ohio State unfortunately encountered in a national championship game), and was in the midst of impressively resurrecting a Nebraska program from the grave.

He even topped this list of candidates for Ohio State to consider if Meyer stayed in retirement.

If the Buckeyes had to settle for Pelini, there's no chance the program becomes the dominant force it is today. While Pelini made Nebraska competitive, he never built them into more than a fringe contender that failed on the biggest stage.

Meyer's Ohio State team faced a Pelini-led Nebraska squad just once in 2012. The result was a 63-38 thrashing that featured one of the filthiest juke moves in Braxton Miller's artful career.

Bullet(s) dodged.

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