COLUMBUS, Ohio — Finding people to agree with the sentiment that Urban Meyer hasn’t completely maxed out Ohio State’s potential over the last five years might not be that hard.
I’d probably start at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center and knock on his door. The ultra-competitive coach has always gone to work with an eye on championship rings, so maybe he would agree.
Then over in the locker room, there’s a roster full of guys who came up short in the College Football Playoff last season, including redshirt senior quarterback J.T. Barrett, who surely would like to be healthy and on the field to raise a trophy.
And all across Ohio you can find one of the largest, most passionate fan bases in the country walking around with a title-or-bust expectation.
But here’s the problem: Those are irrational people, the kind who live chasing an impossibly high standard. And that’s about the only support somebody like ESPN’s Paul Finebaum should have after making a case this week that Meyer hasn’t achieved enough with the Buckeyes.
It takes an uncommon perspective to accept the challenge of winning a national championship every season in this new age of college football. Meyer has won one national title at Ohio State.
To sign up to play for that coach takes a different mindset. There are plenty of schools where the pressure to win it all every year doesn’t exist, but Meyer’s decorated recruiting classes are wired to take on the biggest challenges.
And as for that high standard of the fans at the Horseshoe? Think of it like a family that cracks jokes on each other or brothers that beat up each other. It’s funny or good-natured when they do it, but outsiders trying to do the same should tread carefully.
So sure, the Buckeyes have dropped some high-profile games the last few seasons. But the grand total of losses under Meyer is six, which is staggering to think about heading into the coach’s sixth season in charge — especially next to those 61 wins.
And, yes, the Buckeyes came up short in a Big Ten title game in 2013 that kept them from claiming one of those coveted rings and playing for a national championship. It’s also probably best not to rehash what happened against Clemson at the end of last season.
But there are almost certainly some rings missing because of circumstances beyond Meyer’s control that can’t reasonably be held against him. If Ohio State had taken a bowl ban before he arrived, his remarkable undefeated debut season in 2012 could have produced a lot of glittery hardware.
If the Big Ten had a completely balanced schedule to even the playing field in the division, there’s a chance the tiebreaker would have looked different and the Buckeyes could have been in Indianapolis playing for a ring before the playoff last season.
And in 2015, the selection committee probably was a year behind the curve in recognizing that the four best teams might not have won a league title.
(And by the way, that’s not the only job of a coach. Based on the graduation rates, the summer internships and the popularity of Meyer’s Real Life Wednesdays program, the off-the-field success has been off the charts, too.)
None of this is designed to make excuses for Meyer or Ohio State, because they aren’t needed.
The Buckeyes have knocked off rival Michigan five times in a row under Meyer. They hardly ever lose. And there is one of those sparkly national championship trophies on prominent display in the lobby of the practice facility.
Does Meyer wish he’d won more? Certainly.
Has he underachieved because he hasn’t? Not by any rational standard.