By Jim Naveau
COLUMBUS — In Urban Meyer’s three and a half seasons as Ohio State’s football coach there is one thing that has been conspicuously absent.
That would be criticism and complaining. Even the hardest to satisfy members of Ohio State’s huge fan base have had great difficulty finding anything to criticize about 44 wins in 47 games, including a national championship, another season where the Buckeyes were undefeated and the hope that both of those could happen again this season.
Oh, there has been some minor second guessing, like the people who say Meyer should have picked one quarterback this season or those who have forgotten that OSU did not score a touchdown on one-play drives on every possession when Tom Herman was offensive coordinator.
This era of good feeling is unusual. It hasn’t always been this way and won’t always be this way if the wins become even a little less frequent.
As a lifelong list maker, it made me wonder who might be the most criticized figures in Ohio State football in the last 25 years.
Here’s my list:
1. John Cooper. Say “2-10-1” and you have all the explanation you need why Coop is at the top of the list.
If he could have beaten Michigan two or three times in the 1990s when Ohio State was a heavy favorite but lost to the Wolverines, he would have been treated much more kindly by OSU fans. But 10 losses in 13 games against Michigan defined him for many of them.
2. Jim Bollman. They called Ohio State’s conservative offense “Tressel Ball” but it was Jim Tressel’s offensive coordinator who took the brunt of the criticism for it.
Never mind that “Tressel Ball” produced a whole lot of wins, it just wasn’t glamorous, sort of like Bollman on the sidelines.
3. Steve Bellisari. The left-hander wasn’t a good quarterback but he played in an era when probably no one else on the Buckeyes roster was, either. He absorbed some cheap shots on and off the field, including a few from headline writers who thought “Belli-sorry” was the pinnacle of humor.
4. Terrelle Pryor. He was hailed as possibly the No. 1 quarterback recruit in the country coming into Ohio State but disappointed the fan base often on and off the field in his three seasons in Columbus.
5. Joe Bauserman. His assignment was to be the starting quarterback at the beginning of the 2011 season, one of the most painful autumns in Ohio State football history. His lack of accuracy as a passer and the fact he was chosen over dynamic freshman Braxton Miller meant the fans were all over him.
Penn State (5-1, 2-0 Big Ten) will be the next team to try to knock No. 1 Ohio State (6-0, 2-0 Big Ten) off its pedestal when it comes into Ohio Stadium tonight.
The Nittany Lions have won five in a row after being dominated 27-10 by undefeated Temple in its opener, though three of those wins were over teams with losing records.
Their three-year starting quarterback Christian Hackenberg has an NFL arm, but hasn’t always looked NFL ready. Some of that can be blamed on offensive lines that have allowed 84 sacks in his 31 starts.
Penn State might or might not have its two leading rushers, freshman Saquon Barkley and Akeel Lynch, who have missed the last two games with injuries. Both reportedly were practicing this week.
Penn State’s defense ranks third in the Big Ten in yards allowed (275 a game) and fourth in points allowed (14.3). The Nittany Lions took Ohio State to double overtime before the Buckeyes won 31-24 last season.
All of that would seem to point to a close game. But Ohio State has been a tough team to predict this season. Every time a blowout was expected, it ended up being a close game, at least for a while. With this predicted to be a close game, maybe this week is when the long-awaited dominant performance arrives.
Despite all the talk about Ohio State’s offense struggling, the Buckeyes lead the Big Ten at 36.8 points a game, which is down from last year’s 44.8 points a game.
Using J.T. Barrett at quarterback inside the 20-yard line seemed to enliven OSU’s offense in a 49-28 win over Maryland last week. But then a new concern arose when the defense allowed two big plays, the second week in a row OSU was stung by a long run.
So maybe some people have found something to complain about. Winning isn’t enough. If this year’s team looks anything short of invincible, they see a problem.
Invincible or not, Ohio State should get win No. 7 of the season against Penn State.
The prediction: Ohio State 31, Penn State 17.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.