We have of course been talking about the state of the football program lately. Some posters are apparently disappointed at the different tracks that OSU and Michigan have taken since 2011, when Michigan went 11-2 and OSU faltered at 6-7. Some also seem frustrated because of their shared perception that Urban Meyer has out-coached Brady Hoke since they took over their respective programs. The extent of this frustration has surprised me, though it occurred to me that I may be more familiar with OSU’s program than the average Michigan fan. I decided to take a look at where the programs stood when the two coaches took over, and what I came up with is below.
First, let’s take a look at the recent records of the two programs prior to Hoke’s and Meyer’s arrivals. We’ll specifically start with 2007 for Coach Hoke, the first year that a redshirt senior in Hoke’s first year of coaching would have been on campus. Well take 2008 for Meyer, because he took over one year after Hoke.
The 2007 Wolverines went 9-4, beat Notre Dame and MSU, lost to Ohio State, beat Florida in the Citrus Bowl, and may have played an FCS team of some sort. It’s tough to say on that last point. What isn’t tough to say is that this was the best year that any of the players inherited by Coach Hoke would enjoy prior to his arrival.
The 2008-2010 Wolverines went 3-9, 5-7, and 7-6 while never beating MSU or OSU. They did manage to beat Notre Dame two times. They made it to one bowl – my memory is hazy, but I believe Mississippi State won by a point or two, possibly on a controversial call by a ref.
Coach Hoke accordingly inherited a group of players who had been members of a team that had enjoyed consistent success against Notre Dame and no other rival. They were 1-3 against MSU at best, and none of them had ever defeated OSU. Worse – at least according to the internet (again, I don’t recall) – they had has many losses to FCS teams as they did bowl victories.
The 2008 Buckeyes went 10-3, beat Michigan, won the Big Ten, and lost in the Fiesta Bowl to Texas. The 2009 Buckeyes improved to 11-2, beat Michigan, won the Big Ten, and beat Oregon in the Rose Bowl. The 2010 Buckeyes improved yet again to 12-1, beat Michigan, won the Big Ten, and won the Sugar Bowl. The 2011 Buckeyes, in the chaos surrounding the loss of Jim Tressel, fell (as noted) to 6-7, lost to Michigan for the first time since 2003, failed to win at least a share of the Big Ten title for the first time since 2004, and lost the Gator Bowl.
EDIT: The (Tattoo) Needle and the Damage Done (a further thought on the 2011 OSU squad):
I couldn't resist that title. Someone probably used it back in 2011, but anyway...As I discuss more below, the most signifigant damage from the OSU tattoo scandal was always likely likely to be most profoundly felt in 2011. OSU lost its best coach since Woody Hayes, its offensive coordinator, and its quarterback coach - Tressel was all three. (Compare the putrid design of OSU's 2011 offense under formerly-nominal OC Jim Bollman to the offenses when Tressel was present.) OSU also lost 60% of its yards from scrimmage in Pryor, whom the Buckeyes had not expected to replace that year, meaning they only had Joe Bauserman and true freshman Braxton Miller to take over. Finally, OSU lost its leading rusher in Boom Herron and its leading receiver in Devier Posey - the team improved noticeably when Herron returned in the sixth game and again when Posey returned in the eleventh.
The above were all problems that OSU was - in my view - always highly likely to rebound from. OSU didn't have time to replace Tressel using a full hiring search in 2011 (he resigned in May - not coach-hiring season) leaving them with the untested Luke Fickel. They did have time for a full coaching search in 2012. Further, talented and now-experienced players recruited by Tressel - Miller, Carlos Hyde, Devin Smith, etc. - were positioned to replace Pryor, Herron, and Posey by 2012. Accordingly, any good coach would have righted the ship relative to the Buckeye's 2011 season.
An opinion: I believe that programs have cultures, and I believe that those cultures promote winning and losing to varying degrees. Most may find that obvious, but a few might disagree. I further believe that the above shows it to be very likely that OSU had a very strong, winning culture by the time Urban Meyer arrived in Columbus. Only his first and second year players had ever not defeated Michigan, won the Big Ten, and won a BCS game. The rest of his players were used to being at the top of the college football world.
Coach Hoke, on the other hand, inherited a program that had – for whatever reasons (I’m not wading into the RR debate) – been losing regularly in big (and not so big) games. It accordingly seems safe to say that there was not a strong culture of winning at Michigan when Coach Hoke arrived in Ann Arbor. It’s worth repeating that no one on the 2011 roster had ever enjoyed a better season than 2007, when the 2011 players who were on that team watched from the sidelines as Michigan lost in disastrous fashion twice to start out and finally rebounded to beat Florida in the Citrus Bowl (since renamed as the Bank of Capital One FedEx Visa Goldman Sachs Bowl).
I looked at the 2011 Michigan and 2012 OSU rosters by noting the rosters’ cumulative experience and recruiting rankings (stars). I used Scout for the recruiting rankings. They tend to have rank Midwestern players higher than to other services, but that should not favor OSU or Michigan, because both tend to recruit Midwestern and non-Midwestern players in about equal fashion.
I credited player experience as follows: A redshirt freshman was given credit for 0.5 years of experience, because he was on campus but didn’t play. A true sophomore was given credit for one year of experience, because he had played for one year. A redshirt sophomore was given credit for 1.5 years, etc.
The players I counted: I wanted to capture the teams as Coach Hoke and Coach Meyer inherited them. I did this by only giving the teams credit for the years of experience and recruiting stars of players who joined the programs prior to the arrival of the given coach. Accordingly, though both Michigan and OSU had verbal commitments from recruits prior to the arrival of the two coaches, I did not count those players. Hoke and Meyer at least had to close the deal on those recruitments – meaning that they were not completely inherited – and I frankly didn’t have a good way of distinguishing between whom it was that was in the bag for the relevant coach and who wasn’t.
A quick note: Any player who started out as a walk-on is not counted as a scholarship player below. Jordan Kovas is therefore counted as a walk-on even though he earned a scholarship after arriving in AA. I simply didn’t have a good way of tracking down all of the players who followed the Kovacs route for both teams.
What I found is this:
OSU – Urban Meyer inherited a team with 55 scholarship players, and their average Scout ranking was 3.69 stars. Those 55 players had an average of 1.91 years of experience (again, note that I only gave credit for 0.5 years for a redshirt season). Meyer also inherited 43 walk-ons, and they had an average of .8 years of experience. The experience of the scholarship and walk-on players combined was an average of 1.42 years.
Michigan – Coach Hoke inherited a team with 56 scholarship players, and their average Scout ranking was 3.38 stars. Those 56 players had an average of 1.96 years of experience. He inherited 46 walk-ons who had an average of 1.26 years of experience. The experience of the scholarship and walk-on players combined was an average of 1.65 years.
What we can take from this: Coach Hoke inherited a slightly more experienced roster (at least when we only compare the scholarship players), but Urban Meyer inherited a solidly more talented one. Another way of looking at the above numbers is this: roughly one out of every four of Meyer's players had one more star than did their Michigan counterpart (Meyer's 55 players had 14 more total stars than Hoke's 56, and 14/55 is .254). In addition to what’s above, it’s worth remembering that not all four stars are alike, and I frequently noticed while compiling the rankings that OSU was much more likely to have high-four star guys (as an example – the same seemed true for 3 star guys) than was Michigan.
It’s also worth noting – and I suppose you’ll just have to trust me on this – that the players Meyer inherited fit his schemes much better than did the players whom Coach Hoke inherited. We can argue all day about how flexible a coach should be, but I don’t think there’s any question that it is at least easier to work with players who fit your preferred scheme. Examples: We all love Denard (Scout's 16th-ranked cornerback in 2009) and Drew Dileo, but they do not fit what Coach Hoke wants to do in the way Braxton Miller and Jordan Hall fit what Meyer wants to do.
Edit: The Needle and the Damage Done II (further thoughts on OSU's 2011 turmoil):
Meyer deserves credit for the recruiting and coaching that he did in the shadow of NCAA sanctions. However, it is of course true that not all NCAA trouble is created the same. First, as poster Dr. Steve reminds us below, Meyer was allowed by the NCAA to recruit fafter being hired in November of 2011 despite the fact that OSU still had a full staff coaching the team. Meyer had no responsibilities but to recruit. Further, OSU knew within roughly three weeks of Meyer's hire that they would only be hit with a one-year postseason ban and a three-year cap of 82 total scholarships. This was not an ideal situation, but it was hardly the harsh blow to the OSU program that some had predicted. As I said above, the more severe penalty was the damage done to OSU's 2011 season, when they hoped to win an NCAA championship. Take this for what it's worth, but OSU fans regret the loss of that season far more than they do last season's postseason ban or the loss of the scholarships.
Meyer may well have out-schemed and/or out-recruited Coach Hoke at times since the two took over at OSU and Michigan. I am not arguing one way or the other as to who is the best coach. However, we must when comparing the two realize that they did not take over equivalent programs (as much as this might pain us). Coach Hoke took over a less talented team and a team that was not accustomed anything close to the success Meyer’s players had enjoyed. Further, Meyer admittedly had to overcome what turned out to be notable but not-severe NCAA trouble, but this trouble was minor compared to what OSU suffered prior to his arrival, and that trouble (the loss of Tressel et al.) was always most likely to affect the 2011 more than any other. In my opinion, this created the perception that Meyer rescued OSU from a far worse situation than he did. Meyer had to recruit and coach against a one-year bowl ban, while Hoke had to recruit and coach against four years of failure. I would take the former any day.