Stability key as Ohio State approaches 900 wins

Staff Writer
Buckeye Xtra
Ohio State head football coach Jim Tressel holds up the championship trophy after Ohio State beat Miami 31-24 in two overtimes in the Fiesta Bowl on Friday, Jan. 3, 2003, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)

Timing is everything. And Ohio State could not have timed things better. The Buckeyes are one “W” from becoming only the second FBS program to reach 900 wins, and that illustrious feat almost certainly will happen Saturday against Rutgers.

The Scarlet Knights are a most appropriate opponent, considering that in 1869 they played in the first football game in America, setting the stage for the hundreds of thousands of college games to come.

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It says something that Ohio State has won more of those games (899) than any team except Michigan (943) — Yale has 902 wins but competes in FCS — and one of the things it says is that the Buckeyes have benefited from strong coaching through the years. Particularly of late.

Urban Meyer is a top-five coach. Jim Tressel was another top-five coach. The two have combined for 168 wins (180 if you include the 12 vacated wins from 2010) over 15 seasons.

Meyer and Tressel certainly have felt the hot seat, but not because they failed to win enough. Their transgressions were self-inflicted lapses in judgment. And that’s a nice way of putting it. On the field, however, they seldom slipped up. Tressel’s worst season was 7-5 in 2001, his first year on the job; Meyer has not lost more than two games in any of his prior six seasons.

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Which brings us back to timing. The schools immediately ahead of and behind Ohio State in wins — Michigan and Texas (898) — are in the midst of what seems to be perpetual meltdowns, which makes OSU look even better. The Wolverines have not been relevant since 2006, when losing to the Buckeyes in The Game of the Century cost them a chance to play for the national championship. Since then, Michigan has gone 83-58 (.589).

Jim Harbaugh was hailed as the great agent of change when Michigan hired him in 2015, but so far things are status quo. Harblah is 9-9 in his last 18 games, is 1-5 against rivals Ohio State and Michigan State and the Wolverines have gone 670 days without defeating a team with a winning regular-season record. More salt in the wound? Michigan has 17 consecutive road losses to ranked teams and has not won a Big Ten championship since 2004.

I thought Harbaugh would turn things around in Ann Arbor, and although Michigan has not imploded under his watch, neither has it become a title contender. Where I erred was in failing to predict the inadequacy of Harbaugh’s game management. He is either too involved in live decision-making or not enough. I wager the former.

Harbaugh has brought in some excellent coaches, but the results have not matched the hires. Ed Warinner is a top-notch offensive line coach — he proved it under Meyer at Ohio State — but Michigan’s line was a mess last week in a 24-17 loss at Notre Dame.

Harbaugh may not be on the hot seat, but it is warmer than ever. It’s a good thing the Wolverines have a healthy 44-win advantage on Ohio State, because the Michigan we once knew — a team that could always run the ball successfully when needed — has disappeared.

Bill Bender of the Sporting News wrote after Michigan’s loss to Notre Dame: “The reason for the lack of offense is simple, and it comes down to the same old cliché. It doesn’t matter if it’s Rich Rodriguez, Brady Hoke or Harbaugh coaching — Michigan isn’t going anywhere until it can run the football in a big-time game.”

If Harbaugh looks more confused on the sideline than a once-a-year grocery shopper trying to find the baked beans, Texas coach Tom Herman is the charming waiter who makes a good first impression but then messes up the order.

If I was wrong about Harbaugh, I’m looking two-for-two with misreading what Herman would accomplish sooner than later at Texas. It’s still relatively early, but the hook’ em comes quicker at Texas than Michigan. The Longhorns finished 7-7 last season, opening with a 51-41 home loss to Maryland.

It was thought that another season like 2017 and Texas fans would be itching to escort Herman beyond Austin City Limits. Well, let the itching commence. The Longhorns again lost to Maryland last week in their opener.

Many more embarrassing displays like that and Herman’s chief concern will be having his club stripped from him instead of him strip-clubbing. After the Maryland loss, he referenced John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men.” Memo to the former Ohio State offensive coordinator: You might want to bone up on “The Winter of Our Discontent.”

Ohio State, meanwhile, has its own issues. But winning games is not among them. They’re about to reach 900. Still going strong.

roller@dispatch.com

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