This year's pilgrimage primarily consisted of an excursion into ACC country, where 14 members of the OSU coaching staff took in four programs: North Carolina State, North Carolina, Wake Forest and Duke. While those programs are not typically associated with the upper echelon of college football (they combined for a 26-25 record last season) they each have coaching staffs that caught the attention of OSU head coach Jim Tressel.
"We just decided before we went there that those were four pretty good coaching staffs right now as you look at what they're doing," he said. "All four do a good job of teaching the game of football."
But what was there to gain from checking out teams that the Buckeyes will not play? As it turns out, the coaches likely had a number of factors to examine on their trip to North Carolina.
Duke is manned by former quarterbacks coach David Cutcliffe, who coached two Super Bowl MVPs in Peyton and Eli Manning while at Ole Miss. With a superstar in the making in Terrelle Pryor now entering his sophomore season, it would make sense for Tressel to pick Cutcliffe's brain as to how to best develop his quarterback.
While in Durham, however, OSU coaches Darrell Hazell and Luke Fickell did not have time to sit down with Cutcliffe. Instead, they were there to get some tips on how the Blue Devils defended Navy's triple-option attack last season.
In a 31-21 victory against Navy last season, Duke held the Midshipmen to 207 net rushing yards – nearly a full 100 yards below their season average of 292.4.
This year, the Buckeyes open their schedule at home against Navy.
"You look at our schedule and our defense has never seen anything like Navy," Tressel said.
The Blue Devils are not the only school OSU visited to have played the Midshipmen. En route to its third consecutive winning season, Wake Forest suffered a 24-17 defeat against Navy last season. In addition to a strong performance put forth by Navy on the ground, the Demon Deacons were undone by a season-high six turnovers.
Not all of the trips are undertaken with the specific purpose of gathering information on a future opponent, however.
"Ultimately it gets down to the teaching, but what you go in there talking about is ‘How do you defend this?' or ‘How did you guys attack that?' " Tressel said. "Then ultimately if it looks like it might fit and we look like we have the kind of people who can do it and we have the kind of opponents that are doing those kinds of things, ‘OK, now how do we teach that?' "
But aside from those little tips, Tressel said the annual trips to check out schools generally re-affirm one thought about the OSU program: all things considered, the Buckeyes have it pretty good.
"The neatest reality is you always come back from those situations saying, ‘You know what? We've got it pretty good and we do it pretty well and if we add these two or three or four or five little things that we just learned that we've never done or considered, if we add that, maybe we can even get better,' " Tressel said. "I think it's always a good affirmation of what you're doing."
That desire for self-study flies in the face of fans who have criticized the coaching staff in recent years for first falling flat in consecutive national title games and then suffering through a difficult 2008 season. Along the way, the OSU offense struggled to put forth a consistent effort while it adapted to both a quarterback change and an early-season injury to the team's most important offensive player.
Asked to clarify what he meant in saying that he realizes OSU has it pretty good, Tressel cited a few examples.
"I think the first thing that we were talking about is we have great facilities," the head coach said. "The second thing is we have great kids. The third thing we were talking about is a lot of the things we saw others doing very well we were doing them similarly and maybe in some things we felt we are a touch ahead in that category.
"We're certainly not ‘woe is me' but sometimes you need to go and look around and recognize that we're pretty fortunate and you know what, we are doing things OK."
That does not mean Tressel plans to allow his coaching staff to grow complacent, however.
"I think you evaluate just as hard or maybe even harder when you're successful if you're smart," he said. "We've always gone by the theory ‘if it ain't broke, break it' because as soon as you go by the theory of if ‘it ain't broke, don't fix it all' of a sudden you are going to have 31 percent of your world out of work."