Saturday’s game against Maryland marks Urban Meyer’s 200th as a head coach and 73rd running the Buckeyes. The Ohio State grandmaster owns the highest winning percentage (.849) among active college coaches.

And to think it all began with a punch.

Actually, it goes back further than that, but when considering counterfactual alternate history — which attempts to answer “what-if” questions — the roundhouse that Woody Hayes landed to the throat of Clemson nose guard Charlie Bauman in the 1978 Gator Bowl is a solid starting line in an interesting run through time.

What are you talking about, Oller? Just this: Every current event is dependent on other events that happened, or not.

You likely wouldn’t be here today — at least not in your current form — if your parents had waited an extra hour to, well, you know. Regarding what-if outcomes, every second matters. Every thought matters. Everything you ate on Thursday, and how fast you ate it, affects something on Friday.

Likewise, one could argue that Hayes’ punch indirectly led to Meyer becoming the Buckeyes coach in November 2011. And here you thought all it took was Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith picking up the phone and dialing Meyer.

Consider: If Hayes had not slugged Bauman, he likely would have coached at least one more season, which means Ohio State athletic director Hugh Hindman might never have hired Earle Bruce. If OSU had not hired Bruce, Bruce would not have hired Meyer as a graduate assistant at Ohio State (1986 and ’87). Who knows where Meyer would have landed? It still could have been with the Buckeyes. But when? Mess with Meyer’s timeline and you mess with today.

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It goes deeper. When Meyer was considering his coaching options after two seasons at Utah, he contacted his mentor — Bruce — to weigh the positives and negatives of several potential job opportunities, including openings at Florida and Notre Dame.

“I told him Florida was the better job,” Bruce said when Meyer was hired at OSU. “Easier to win a national championship.”

Apparently so, because Meyer won the national title in 2006, his second year on the job, when Florida defeated Ohio State.

If Meyer had not worked under Bruce, perhaps he ends up at Notre Dame instead of Florida. Maybe he remains in South Bend 10 years. Maybe he doesn’t burn out and take a year off in 2011, which is what allowed Ohio State to hire him.

See where this is headed? Six degrees of separation meets “Back to the Future.” Hayes’ punch is only one in a million ticks on the what-if timeline.

Let’s take it another direction.

Consider: What if former Oregon coach Mike Bellotti had accepted the offer from Ohio State athletic director Andy Geiger to coach the Buckeyes in 2000? Or if Geiger had hired Glen Mason from Minnesota instead of Jim Tressel from Youngstown State? Or what if Tressel had accepted the University of Miami job in 1995 instead of remaining at YSU? Do the Buckeyes make the title game? Do they defeat (Tressel’s?) Hurricanes?

Without Tressel at Ohio State, there likely is no Meyer at OSU. Tressel’s impressive run — one title in three national championship appearances — came to an inglorious end when the university forced him to resign on May 30, 2011, upon learning that he lied to NCAA investigators regarding improper benefits to players.

One of those players was quarterback Terrelle Pryor, who never returned to the Buckeyes after his suspension. Pryor’s absence is significant, because when Luke Fickell took over as coach in 2011, his starting quarterback was Joe Bauserman and his backup a kid named Braxton Miller. You remember Joe? A talented baseball player.

If Fickell had Pryor, maybe the Buckeyes finish 10-1 or 9-2 instead of 6-7, and instead of Smith hiring Meyer he re-ups on Fickell and Meyer lands somewhere else, possibly even the NFL.

On the other hand, maybe Pryor helped Meyer win the 2014 national championship with the Buckeyes. Think about it. Pryor not only helps get Tressel ousted, but Ohio State opts to take a bowl ban in 2012 because of Tattoogate, which involved Pryor.

Do the Buckeyes finish 12-0 in 2012 if they are bowl eligible? Or did playing with nothing to lose allow them to perform relatively stress-free? The undefeated season gave Ohio State confidence, which Meyer used as a steppingstone to a 12-2 record in 2013, which paved the way to a 14-1 mark and national title in 2014.

I wonder if Urb has thanked Pryor lately?

Anyway, you can see some of the ways Meyer might have missed out on becoming the Buckeyes coach. And we barely touched on his shaky health at Florida, which led to his resignation, which led to the famous pink notebook paper and reinvigoration to coach again.

Then again, maybe it didn’t begin with a punch but with too many punch-outs. If Meyer had hit .350 instead of just shy of .200 as an Atlanta Braves minor leaguer in 1983, baseball might have beaten out football. And the Buckeyes might be coached by … Jim Harbaugh?

roller@dispatch.com

@rollerCD

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