(Third in a series. Some schools have great football teams. Some have great basketball teams. But a select few have the best of both worlds. CBSSports.com ranks and profiles the schools who’ve positioned themselves for success now and into the future in both sports. Today, No. 3 Ohio State. Mon., Aug. 2, No. 2 revealed.)
It was a throwaway line in one of the preseason magazines. Some publication or another called Ohio State a "regional dynasty."
A backhanded compliment, to be sure, it sounded almost high school-ish. The Ohio State University hasn't exactly been District 9, I-AAA champs these past few years. The region in question happens to encompass a quarter of the nation's population. The schools in that "footprint" remain so popular that the mere presence of the Big Ten Network threatened to usher in the era of super conferences this summer.
Ohio State has dominated that region lately, winning at least a share of five consecutive Big Ten titles. That has been done only twice before, by Ohio State (1972-77) and Michigan (1988-92). Another title this year would tie the conference record.
Three times since 2002, Ohio State has played for the national championship, winning one. Best of all in this Buckeye company town: It has eviscerated Michigan lately, stuffed the remains in a 55-gallon drum and hidden what's left out in the woods. Along the way, it arguably has lapped Penn State as Linebacker U. in the last decade, produced a Heisman winner while fervently following the precepts of a bookish man who believes that the punt may be the game's best weapon.
Somewhere along the line, though, Ohio State got this bad rap. It started with a newspaper story four years ago proclaiming the recruiting death of the Big Ten. The idea germinated and flowered when the Buckeyes became postseason pushovers.
So when that throwaway line was passed along to a group of Buckeyes watching film here last week, it hit like a shot between the numbers.
"If they call us a regional dynasty," guard Bryant Browning said, "that will change soon."
Some say it already has.
"We blew -- really blew -- two national championships and another big bowl game [2009 Fiesta Bowl to Texas]," linebacker Ross Homan said. "Getting over that hump was pretty big."
Depending on how you dot your "I," Ohio State is either over that hump or never faced it in the first place. That was the Rose Bowl the Bucks won seven months ago for the first time in 13 years. Elsewhere in the region, there was a huge sigh when the Big Ten won in Pasadena for the first time in a decade.
|Flourishing Five: No. 3 Ohio State|
|Ohio State basketball|
Wonder how Ohio State has become a power on the court? Look no further than the talent-rich Buckeye State. It doesn't hurt to have Thad Matta, either. Read>>
|Ohio State football|
|2006||12-1||Lost BCS Title|
|2007||11-2||Lost BCS Title|
-- Was Big Ten champions in 2006, 2007, 2009 and Big Ten co-champions in 2005 and 2008|
-- Quarterback Troy Smith won Heisman Trophy in 2006
-- Finished in Top 10 of the Final AP poll all five seasons
-- Linebacker James Laurinaitis was three-time AP All-American (2006-08)
|Top Draft picks|
|Malcolm Jenkins||14 (2009)||New Orleans|
|Beanie Wells||31 (2009)||Arizona|
|James Laurinaitis||35 (2009)||St. Louis|
|Vernon Gholston||6 (2008)||N.Y. Jets|
|Ted Ginn Jr.||9 (2007)||Miami|
|A.J. Hawk||5 (2006)||Green Bay|
|Donte Whitner||8 (2006)||Buffalo|
|Bobby Carpenter||18 (2006)||Dallas|
|Santonio Holmes||25 (2006)||Pittsburgh|
|Nick Mangold||29 (2006)||N.Y. Jets|
|MaxPreps.com: Basketball recruiting thriving|
|No. 5 Pittsburgh: Football | Basketball No. 4 Wisconsin: Football | Basketball No. 2 Texas: Football | Basketball No. 1 Florida: Football | Basketball Blog: Honorable mention | Who's the worst?|
Ohio State, then, has become the glittering jewel of the Big Ten in the 21st century. Since Jim Tressel arrived in 2001, his program is among the top five in the country.
The decade has seen the football program -- maybe the entire school -- rise to the height of its power. Football is the financial foundation for an incredible 36 sports. Thad Matta stabilized a scandal-ridden basketball program. Evan Turner became the quintessential player, man and student.
So what is Ohio State apologizing for?
Maybe showing it can play outside its "region" by beating Oregon 26-17 in the Rose Bowl? Maybe for ceding the national landscape to the SEC which has won four consecutive BCS titles? Maybe nothing. If you want to call a Rose Bowl victory baby steps, then the baby is 50 feet tall.
"That," athletic director Gene Smith said, "was huge."
Ohio State's BCS bowl presence had become so regular that Smith was concerned about how many fans would make the trip to Pasadena.
"We weren't sure how many we were going to have," Smith said. "We weren't sure because of our last couple of years ... On that stage, with the Rose Bowl, we needed to win."
Success hasn't exactly bored Ohio State fans. The estimate was 30,000 Bucknuts in the 92,000-seat Rose Bowl. It was huge, the game, the result, the vibe left for 2010. The look of the roster suggests that this might be the best Buckeye team since 2002. That was the year Maurice Clarett flashed across our television screens for one glorious season. He's back in school, if not pads.
How, then, do you apologize for seven BCS bowls in the past eight years?
"You talk about eras and cultures," Tressel said in a rare flash of emotion. "The era has been choked so much with talking heads, you don't listen to them."
Tressel is easy to criticize. In stature and personality, he is the anti-Woody, a soft-spoken technician who keeps a firm hand on the stick. Woody would at least give you the odd freakout now and then. Tressel's office recently overlooked a summer lacrosse camp, something Woody likely would have dismissed as being unworthy of its proximity to Ohio State football.
The next step is finding out about junior quarterback Terrelle Pryor, who still hasn't fully delivered on the promise of his five-star high school career. It's coming, but it's not there yet. Part of Pryor's slow maturation is typical Tressel conservatism, part of it is the quarterback being slow taking command of the huddle. Part of it is a nagging knee injury that Pryor assures he is over.
"Last year I was going, 'When do I run, when do I throw? Where's my check downs at? Who do I look off?' " Pryor said recently.
And that was during a Rose Bowl-winning season.
How hard can it be? Tressel won his BCS title with Craig Krenzel, a molecular biology major, who was known for his headiness more than his athleticism. Troy Smith won a Heisman but was rag dolled by Florida in the national championship game. Pryor is a bigger, stronger version of Smith looking for both that Heisman and title. Both could come this season if the Buckeyes don't get too full of themselves.
"You're a target," Pryor said, reflecting on five straight conference titles. "It's going to go one of either two ways. We can go into every game thinking like, 'We're Ohio State and we're going to take over,' or we can go in there and keep it going with a powerhouse. We want another one."
If Woody established the Ohio State brand, then Tressel brought it into the modern era. The franchise was floating in a maize-and-blue funk under John Cooper. Tressel took the formula that won him four I-AA national championships and installed it at the highest level of college football.
Is he just to the right of Ronald Reagan at times? You bet. Has Ohio State bought in? The school, the fans and the state probably don't know how good they have it.
Tressel's recent contract extension will take him to 2014 when he will be 62. Is he beginning to see the end of this run?
"I had my physical and had my best numbers I've had in nine years I've been here," he said last week. "You're trying to make me look old around here. I'm a young man ... I'm stronger in some of the lifts than T.P."