COLUMBUS, Ohio — For Ohio State, Christmas might as well be moved to the first week of February.
Thanks in part to their annual success on national signing day, the Buckeyes are in the midst of one of the best runs in program history. During head coach Urban Meyer’s five seasons, the Buckeyes own a 61-5 record. They went undefeated in 2012, finishing 12-0 (a postseason ban kept them from a title shot). They won a national championship in 2014. Two years later, they’re back in the playoff. The two “worst” seasons ended in an Orange Bowl loss and a Fiesta Bowl win.
The only blemish — such as it is — is the fluky lack of conference championships. Despite averaging one loss per year, Ohio State owns just one Big Ten title in the Meyer era. The Buckeyes were banned in 2012, lost to Michigan State in 2013 and were kept out each of the last two seasons by head-to-head tiebreakers.
Other than that, life is good.
“We’re on an incredible run,” said linebacker Raekwon McMillan.
Most amazingly, the Buckeyes have performed best when expectations were lowest. A 6-7 season in 2011 was followed by the unbeaten 2012 campaign. In 2014, a young group of Buckeyes stormed their way through the College Football Playoff. And this year, after losing nine underclassmen to the NFL draft, Ohio State is back in the playoff.
In both of those playoff seasons, inexperience was no match for the talent Meyer shoved onto the field. Quarterback J.T. Barrett finished fifth as a Heisman finalist in 2014. Sophomores Ezekiel Elliott and Joey Bosa exploded into superstars. Redshirt freshman Darron Lee became a turnover-forcing machine. Two years later, the Buckeyes are reaping similar rewards from players like Malik Hooker. The sophomore safety became a unanimous All-American in his first season as a starter.
“No one sees the guys that are behind all the people leaving,” defensive end Sam Hubbard said. “Guys will leave this year and we’ll have more guys and reload. That’s just good recruiting and good competitive excellence for older guys that have been making plays, showing the young guys how to do it, and when they get a chance they’re hungry to get out there.”
It’s no secret how the roster ended up with so many talented players. According to the 247Sports composite rankings, Ohio State finished second in 2013, third in 2014, seventh in 2015 and fourth in 2016.
Bringing in players who can contribute right away has allowed the Buckeyes to keep on winning. Doing so every year has helped the program avoid down cycles that have plagued traditional powers like Texas, USC and Florida.
There’s no sign of it stopping, either. Meyer’s next recruiting class will be his best ever. It already features six 5-star prospects and 10 4-stars. More of each will arrive before February. The lone 3-star in the class happens to be the No. 1 kicker in America.
“When coach Meyer took the job and started recruiting that’s exactly what he said we were going to do when he got here,” Hubbard said. “I’m glad I trusted in him and got here at the right time and that’s what we’re going to continue to do. We’ve got a great recruiting class that’s coming in, a great senior class that’s leading the way and we’re just going to keep it rolling.”
On second thought, Christmas might just be a year-round thing for Ohio State fans.