Ohio State football is 8-0 for the 20th time in school history.
What does that mean?
To paraphrase Ryan Day this week: Not much.
“I think all it means is that you have a lot more to lose if you let it get away from you. That’s it,” the coach of the Buckeyes said when asked about his team’s climb up the rankings. “And the more this builds, the more we have to lose.
“So we're not going to get anxious about that or anything like that, but at the same time, we also know that we've got a bigger bullseye on our chest week in and week out. We have to work harder and harder and we're more and more invested every week.”
A crunching of the numbers confirms Day’s caution is warranted.
While 8-0 beats being 7-1, which is better than 6-2 and so on, little of tangible value has come of this season yet.
History shows there is no guarantee the Buckeyes’ jeweler will be busy again this winter after churning out four Big Ten championship rings since 2010 (not to mention a piece to commemorate an undefeated, uncrowned year on top of those).
The school claims eight national championships, so you can start with some easy math there, but that is just the beginning of a tale that has some surprising twists.
For one thing, less than half of those national title seasons (three) included an 8-0 start, so it is neither a qualifier nor a disqualifier for that matter.
What else we learn from looking back at those 8-0 starts?
1. At least one has occurred in six of the past seven decades.
This is the fourth 8-0 start since 2011, but that only ties the current decade for second-most.
One was in the 1940s, one was in the ‘50s, two were in the ‘60s, five were in the ‘70s, four were in the ‘90s and three were in the 2000s.
2. The 1944 team picked the wrong year to go undefeated.
With the country wrapped up in World War II, the service academies became magnets for some of the best players in the country.
As such, Army went 9-0, led the nation in scoring and was voted No. 1 in the Associated Press poll.
Ohio State, which outscored its opponents 287-79, had to settle for No. 2, though those Buckeyes are sometimes referred to as the “civilian national champions.”
Ten years later, the Buckeyes bowed to no one. The 1954 squad started 8-0, beat Michigan and then topped California in the Rose Bowl to close out a perfect season and claim the AP title.
3. Ohio State started 8-0 three years in a row from ’68-70 but ended up with only one consensus national title to show for it.
In 1968, an Ohio State lineup consisting mostly of sophomores went 8-0, “folk-rocked Michigan” in the words of Sports Illustrated and then finished the job with a 27-16 win over USC in the Rose Bowl.
In 1969, Michigan beat 8-0 Ohio State in the season finale, a game that denied the Buckeyes a second straight national title and set up a showdown in 1970 in Columbus.
That season, Ohio State again was 8-0 heading into the Michigan game, but this time Woody’s boys left nothing to chance. They pounded out a 20-9 victory to earn a trip to the Rose Bowl… where they were upset by Stanford.
That cost Ohio State ultimate glory, but the Buckeyes were still named national champions by the National Football Foundation.
4. From 1973-75, Ohio State started 8-0 three times in a row but never finished the job.
In ’73 they tied Michigan and won the Rose Bowl, but pollsters were more impressed with Notre Dame (AP champions) and Alabama (coaches poll).
In ’74, Michigan State upset the Buckeyes in week nine. They bounced back to beat Iowa and then Michigan but lost to USC in the Rose Bowl.
In ’75, Ohio State won all 11 regular season games before being upset again in the Rose Bowl, this time by UCLA.
Four years later, that same thing happened again — even though first-year coach Earle Bruce’s Buckeyes beat the Bruins in the regular season.
5. Not until 1993 did Ohio State again start the season 8-0 again.
This time they tied a surprising Wisconsin team in week nine but were still Rose Bowl-bound if they beat Michigan in the season finale. The Wolverines had other plans as they embarrassed their rivals 28-0 in Ann Arbor, sending the Badgers to Pasadena and relegating Ohio State to conference co-champs.
This was one of four times Ohio State began 8-0 in the ‘90s, and each time a team from Michigan ruined the Buckeyes’ fun.
The Wolverines did the deed again in ’95 and ’96, both times taking down previously undefeated Ohio State teams in the season finale.
In ’98, Ohio State took care of business against Tom Brady and the Wolverines in The Game, but the Buckeyes’ hopes of being the first BCS national champions had been dealt a fatal blow two weeks earlier by a Michigan State team coached by Nick Saban.
6. The dawn of the 21st century brought a new coach — Jim Tressel — and hope for an end to such disappointing ends to the season when his second squad went 14-0.
The 2002 team did not exactly cruise to the national championship, though.
Looking back now, the ’02 Buckeyes’ 8-0 start almost feels like a prelude to the real season. Starting with a 13-6 win over Penn State to finish October, the results of the final six games served to better define how that team is remembered.
After a 34-3 win over Minnesota, Ohio State squeaked out a 10-6 win at Purdue (the “Holy Buckeye” game) then outlasted Illinois 23-16 on the road in the school’s first overtime game.
The Buckeyes rallied to beat Michigan 14-9 in a game not decided until Wayne grad Will Allen’s interception on the final play, heroics that set up a thrilling 31-24 double overtime upset win over Miami (Fla.) in the Fiesta Bowl.
Tressel had two more teams start at least 8-0, and both 2006 and ‘07 ended up more or less like ‘70s throwback seasons.
No, there were no bellbottoms or outlandish hairdos, but in each case the Buckeyes lost their grip on a potential national title in the final game of the season.
The biggest difference? Instead of a Pac-10 powerhouse doing the deed, SEC teams (First Florida and then LSU) became Ohio State’s destroyer.
7. And what about more recent history?
Urban Meyer, who coached those Gators to the upset at the end of the ’06 season, had three teams start 8-0 after taking over as head coach at Ohio State in 2012.
Like the student of history he is, Meyer led none of them to national championship but won it all in another season.
Meyer’s first team went 12-0 in 2012 but was ineligible for postseason play because of NCAA sanctions from the end of the Tressel era.
His second team also won its first 12 games before losing the Big Ten championship game to Michigan State and the Orange Bowl to Clemson.
After his third Ohio State squad overcame a week two loss to Virginia Tech to finish 14-1 and win the first College Football Playoff, Meyer’s ’15 squad won its first 11 games.
Then came a 17-14 loss to Michigan State that is even harder to explain than the previous upsets at the hands of the Spartans as Mark Dantonio’s team was sans starting quarterback Connor Cook because of an injury.
The moral of the story?
8. Ryan Day can tell his team 8-0 is nice but doesn’t mean much — and he can do so without it being strictly coach-speak.
“I think this has been something we've been talking about for a long time,” he continued Tuesday. “We expected to be in this situation, and now we have to act accordingly.”
What does that mean?
“Just staying locked in week in, week out on this game, preparing the same way, playing with the same energy, playing together, taking care of the football, tackling well, playing tough,” Day said, ticking off every cliche in the book. “If we do that, then we're going to have a chance week in and week out. If we don't, then we're going to put ourselves at risk.
“That's really what it comes down to, trying to help 18-, 19-, 20-year old kids understand that this is a great opportunity and that these opportunities don't come around but a few times in a lifetime, and you have to capture those moments and what are you willing to sacrifice to go and achieve those goals. That will be the things we talk about this week.”
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