The Almanac: Figuring Out OSU's Worth

With Ohio State's loss to Penn State Saturday, the trend of the Buckeyes losing on the big stage continued. In his weekly column, Jeff Svoboda breaks down the Buckeyes' schedule and performances over the past few seasons to find some interesting trends.

Going into Saturday's Penn State game, a colleague of mine said that this game would be a big litmus test for the Ohio State football program. OSU is the team to hate for many fans – in the eyes of the national public the Buckeyes are an overrated team that feasts on a weakened Big Ten in order to reach the top of the polls only to crash to earth when reaching the big stage.

The gist of this person's statement was that a loss to Penn State would show that, all along, this Buckeye team was overrated, that despite some nice wins, they haven't been the team people thought – or in some cases hoped – they were all along.

Now that the Buckeyes have lost, I'm not sure I agree with that statement totally, but in my head I started thinking about Ohio State's record over the past few seasons. It's true the Big Ten is down – there's no way to argue this – and that as a result, the Buckeyes haven't been tested on a weekly basis, making it that much harder to figure out the true worth of the program since the 2006 season began.

It's also true that the Buckeyes haven't done well on the big stage, falling to a number of teams that have turned out to be the very best in the country. If I have to lose, I'd rather lose to the very best, but it still goes to show that perhaps this team simply has been not ready for prime time.

With that in mind, I decided I'd go back and look at Ohio State's performance against ranked teams over the past few years to see what trends, exactly, I could find that would clue me in on just how good the Buckeyes have been. Below are the results of the 13 games Ohio State has played against ranked teams during the past three years, including the bowl games.

2006
No. 2 Texas, W 24-7
No. 24 Penn State, W 28-6
No. 13 Iowa, W 38-17
No. 2 Michigan, W 42-39
No. 2 Florida, L 41-14

2007
No. 23 Purdue, W 23-7
No. 24 Penn State, W 37-17
No. 23 Michigan, W 14-3
No. 2 LSU, L 38-24

2008
No. 1 USC, L 35-3
No. 18 Wisconsin, W 20-17
No. 20 MSU, W 45-7
No. 3 Penn State, L 13-6

Overall, it's not bad. The Buckeyes are 9-4 against ranked teams over the past three seasons, which isn't a poor mark considering that these games are against the top teams in the nation. Of course there are some trends, which I want to break this down further by rearranging the teams by ranking.

2008: No. 1 USC, L 35-3
2006: No. 2 Texas, W 24-7
2006: No. 2 Michigan, W 42-39
2006: No. 2 Florida, L 41-14
2007: No. 2 LSU, L 38-24
2008: No. 3 Penn State, L 13-6
2006: No. 13 Iowa, W 38-17
2008: No. 18 Wisconsin, W 20-17
2008: No. 20 Michigan State, W 45-7
2007: No. 23 Purdue, W 23-7
2007: No. 23 Michigan, W 14-3
2006: No. 24 Penn State, W 28-6
2007: No. 24 Penn State, W 37-17

What's clear is that Ohio State has had mixed results against the top 10 – well, top three, really – while having it easy against teams ranked after that. There's less shame, to this writer, in losing to the top teams than being upset by lower squads, but it does fuel the argument of some that Ohio State cannot play with the best. What is also clear is that Ohio State is at least better than teams ranked below the top 10, as almost all of the wins against ranked teams below 10th have been decisive.

One final tweak I'd like to make is to rank the teams by their final ranking. This might seem a bit unfair, but there is something to be said to what happens to a team after they play Ohio State. Most people wouldn't agree that Wisconsin is the No. 18 team in the nation in 2008, so it has some importance. For this year's teams, I'll take the current AP ranking.

2006: No. 2 Florida, L 41-14 (finished 1)
2007: No. 2 LSU, L 38-24 (1)
2008: No. 3 Penn State, L 13-6 (3)
2008: No. 1 USC, L 35-3 (5)
2006: No. 2 Michigan, W 42-39 (8)
2006: No. 2 Texas, W 24-7 (13)
2007: No. 23 Michigan, W 14-3 (18)
2008: No. 20 Michigan State, W 45-7 (21)
2006: No. 24 Penn State, W 28-6 (24)
2006: No. 13 Iowa, W 38-17 (UR)
2008: No. 18 Wisconsin, W 20-17 (UR)
2007: No. 23 Purdue, W 23-7 (UR)
2007: No. 24 Penn State, W 37-17 (UR)

My, it is interesting how the Ws and the Ls fall. The dividing line seems to be somewhere between Nos. 5 and 8, driving home the argument of those that say Ohio State, while being ranked in the top three at points throughout each of the three years and at No. 1 for a lot of that time, might not have really been that good after all. It's up to you to decide if being somewhere between the fifth-best and eighth-best team in the nation is elite or not.

Now, these numbers are fudged a little bit, I will admit. Of course a team is going to go up after beating OSU (see, Florida and LSU) and down after losing (see Michigan and Texas in 2006). And this doesn't include the loss to unranked Illinois, who would eventually finish 20th, in 2007, although I would consider that contest an outlier because of the fact that it the lone real upset suffered by the Buckeyes.

But what this does say is that, when it is all said and done, that Ohio State is 0-4 during the past three seasons against teams that eventually would be considered top five teams. Interpret those facts as you wish.

One final thing I'll do is take a look at the average Scout.com recruiting rankings of the ranked teams to beat OSU during this span. I'll take the five-year average from that season backward.

OSU (2002-06) vs. Florida: OSU 11.8, Florida 9
OSU (2003-07) vs. LSU: OSU 14.4, LSU 7
OSU (2004-08) vs. USC: OSU 10.2, USC 3.8
OSU (2004-08) vs. Penn State: OSU 10.2, PSU 21.2

What this tells me is that those top five teams to beat Ohio State, save Penn State, probably had better players, LSU and USC by a decent margin. Over no five-year span during the past three seasons was Ohio State's recruiting average in the top 10. In other words, maybe it's not so surprising that the Buckeyes have come up short against the very best.

The good news? Ohio State had the No. 4 class last year and is working on the No. 1 class in the nation right now. If the recruiting rankings were finished today, OSU's five-year average from 2005-09 would be 8.2, its highest in a while.


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