COLUMBUS — History always becomes part of the discussion when Ohio State plays a Mid-American Conference school in football, especially one of the six MAC schools in Ohio.
No MAC team has ever beaten Ohio State, except for a leather helmets era win by Akron decades before the MAC existed. And no team from Ohio has beaten the Buckeyes on a football field since Oberlin walked away with a 7-6 win in 1921.
That’s the history you can read. But, with Bowling Green coming into Ohio Stadium today, it’s time to look at another type of history. The kind where you imagine “What if?”
Today’s game is the fifth time Ohio State and BGSU have played since 1992, but when the Buckeyes beat the Falcons 17-6 that year, it was the first time in 58 years another Ohio school had appeared on OSU’s schedule.
Ohio State won, but not without some struggles. Bowling Green scored first and OSU led only 7-6 at halftime. Joey Galloway went out with a season-ending knee injury and at one point starting quarterback Kirk Herbstreit limped off the field.
Ohio State had been lucky to escape with a one-point win over Louisville in its opener a week earlier and looked a little vulnerable against a Bowling Green team that finished 10-2, with its only other loss coming against Wisconsin.
If the Falcons hadn’t turned the ball over six times they might have had a chance at an upset for the ages.
If Bowling Green had won in 1992, it’s not hard to imagine history would have turned out very differently for Ohio State, John Cooper, Jim Tressel, Urban Meyer and many other football programs, coaches, players and fans.
Losing to a MAC team after never winning more than eight games in his first five seasons at OSU, having an 0-4-1 record against Michigan and four straight bowl losses almost certainly would have meant Cooper would have been fired after the 1992 season. He probably barely survived as it was because then Ohio State president E. Gordon Gee didn’t want to repeat the embarrassment that followed the firing of Earle Bruce just five years earlier.
If Cooper had been forced out eight years sooner than he eventually was, someone else would have coached Ohio State in the 1990s. Maybe those years would have been different. Maybe the records would have been different and there wouldn’t have been an opening at OSU when Jim Tressel was ready to make the leap from Youngstown State to a big-time job.
And on the other side of the field, how would the future have been different for Bowling Green if it had won that game in 1992?
At the time, BG coach Gary Blackney was a hot property in the coaching world. His first team at Bowling Green in 1991 went 11-1 and then the 1992 team won 10 games.
He would have been in the conversation for a lot of jobs. If he’d beaten Ohio State and that led to Cooper being fired, there were probably some people who would have said he should get an interview at OSU.
After going 36-8 in his first four years at Bowling Green, though, Blackney’s teams had six straight losing seaons from 1995-2000. And that led to BG hiring a 36-year-old receivers coach at Notre Dame named Urban Meyer in 2001.
If things had gone differently at Bowling Green in the 1990s, Ohio State football history might have been altered. Then, Urban Meyer’s first head coaching job might have been somewhere else and the trajectory of his career might have been different.
All that is just speculation. But the beginning of an Ohio State football season that has been preceded by so much speculation seems like an appropriate time to play “What if?”
Ohio State is replacing 16 starters this season, and most of those departing starters were far from ordinary.
The people replacing them were all highly regarded recruits but so far there is little on-the-field evidence in college to back up their four and five-star recruiting rankings.
What if those players live up to their reputations? Ohio State has another great season. What if they don’t? It will be a not-so-great season.
Ohio State has enough talent and Bowling Green lost enough talent from last year’s team, one of the best in school history, that this should be a comfortable win for the Buckeyes. Don’t expect history to be altered in any major way today.
The prediction: Ohio State 35, Bowling Green 14.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau