The Next Step for Ohio State Football

Congratulations to Ohio State on a remarkable season. The Buckeyes are without a doubt somewhere they couldn't have possibly thought they'd be after only a year since Urban Meyer was hired.

Ohio State is undefeated, in the regular season, for the first time since 2006. This was obviously a special year due to their probation. Many in Buckeye Nation argue they should have self-imposed a bowl ban last year to soften the sanctions. Honestly, no one knew what the NCAA was going to do. Then and now I am not confident self-imposing would have saved the team this year. An article at Eleven Warriors confirms what no one knows what the NCAA would have done:

Ohio State’s situation isn’t as easy as those on the outside might think, however. If Ohio State had self-imposed a bowl ban on the football program a season ago, it wasn’t guaranteed to be ineligible this season. In fact, opinions on the matter are split.

The NCAA has refused to comment on the subject, saying the association doesn’t deal with hypotheticals. Experts on the inner workings of intercollegiate athletics have said it is nearly impossible to conceive how the NCAA would have ruled.

One part about the case that is often forgotten is Ohio State’s status as a repeat violator due to the violations committed under former men’s basketball coach Jim O’Brien. Combined with the severity of the football program’s violations and a look back at history – Alabama and USC both received multi-year bans – one can make the case for the NCAA giving the Buckeyes a ban in 2012 even with a self-ban in 2011.

But Smith hasn’t second-guessed Ohio State’s decision not to self-impose a bowl ban.

“No, I don’t have any regrets,” he said. “A lot of people want to talk about that, but the reality is you make a decision based upon the information in front of you. We had a lot of smart people (involved). I didn’t make that decision on my own. You look at all the previous cases and I think we did the right thing at that particular time.

During the Ohio State vs. Michigan game, the 2002 National Championship team was honored. Jim Tressel, Maurice Clarett, and many of the other team members were on hand, and a lot of the members of the team lifted Tressel upon their shoulders while he was given a standing ovation by the crowd. I am sure that was a great moment for Tressel and Clarett, but the best part about that moment is that it happened and that it is over.

Make no mistake about Tressel, he is in many eyes the most successful coach at Ohio State, but his tenure did not end well. Because of a very complicated scandal - that he clearly knew about - he was fired from Ohio State after battling to keep his job.

Now is the time to close the book on the successes and failures of Jim Tressel. Many fans are not happy that he left while the athletic director and school president remain. Those who feel that way are ardent supporters of Jim Tressel, which is fine, but move on.

Make no doubt about it, Ohio State is the best team in the Big Ten. But the question is whether the team have been this successful if they were eligible for the post-season, or were they playing loose because they had nothing to lose? No one knows. And frankly, it does not matter. The team won every game they played, and for that they deserve the congratulations to which they are receiving.

The job of Urban Meyer is obvious, do his best to repeat this year’s success for as many years as possible. Meyer will have to be the recruiter and motivator that the previous coach was while respecting the traditions of Ohio State. Next year, Ohio State could easily finish at 12-0 again, with their toughest (at this point) competition coming from Michigan. The Buckeye’s likely will not lose a home game next year, and that is something that should frighten the rest of the conference.

This offseason Meyer will have several decisions to make, none more important than deciding rather to keep or replace Co-Defensive Coordinator Luke Fickell. Many believe he is gone, and for him, I believe that is a good move. Fickell is a good coach that has suffered through a lot of ridiculousness at Ohio State. Fickell has earned the chance to coach his own team, and I imagine him and his agent are listening to offers.

Three years ago, I would have guessed Fickell to be the eventual Tressel replacement, but that obviously is not the case now. Fly away Fickell, spread your wings and fill your bank account. You have earned it. Oh win a few games if you must, but that is not required.

Yes, it would be easy for Fickell to stay, especially considering he is making about $775,000, but at a school like Ohio State salary doesn't matter. Urban Meyer isn't there to save the Buckeyes a few dollars, he's there to decide if the team better or worse without Fickell?

Urban Meyer had a great first year, but as Mark Mazzone (@Believelander) mentions, winning in his first year is nothing new. He must find ways to continue to win interesting games in a weak conference. He must also improve his non-conference schedule to balance his weak conference schedule. Meyer and company have the chance to do something special in 2013 with the momentum from this year’s success and they need to build on that.

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Image credit to Hayden Grove (@H_Grove) of More Than A Fan(articles).