Buckeyes shining four years after dark day

When the sun rose Saturday in the Buckeye State, it cast a glow over a land where seemingly everything is bright and shiny, especially those national championship rings worn by Urban Meyer and his Ohio State players.

From Cleveland to Cincinnati and everywhere in between, Buckeyes fans woke up Saturday with smiles on their faces. For so many reasons.

Maybe they thought about Meyer's declaration the day before that Braxton Miller would return for the 2015 season. While other national title contenders scramble to find a quarterback, the Buckeyes will have three excellent options at their disposal.

Maybe Ohio State fans woke to the beats of "Zeke," the new Heisman Trophy anthem for Buckeyes running back Ezekiel Elliott from rapper Mekka Don, a Columbus native and former Ohio State player. With heads bobbing, they then reviewed Bovada's early Heisman odds, which list Elliott as the leading candidate at 6-1.

Those not enamored with hip-hop or Heisman projections might have reviewed Ohio State's 2016 recruiting class, which ranks third nationally according to ESPN Recruiting, and includes the nation's top running back in Kareem Walker, as well as standout lineman Tyler Gerald. Or they could have studied the Buckeyes' 2015 depth chart, which includes 15 returning starters -- not including Miller or fellow QB Cardale Jones -- and units oozing with talent.

It's a team that, on paper, should be better than the one that just outclassed Alabama and Oregon in the first College Football Playoff.

Ohio State fans had so much to occupy their thoughts Saturday. Meyer's new contract. Tyvis Powell's Twitter pearls. Jones' and Elliott's latest magazine covers. Watching this video on a loop.

Other than Joey Bosa's minor foot injury or the fact Elliott won't be able to bear his muscular midriff in games this fall, what bums out the Buckeyes right now? They're living right.

This is just a guess, but I doubt many Ohio State fans thought Saturday about Jim Tressel, or what happened to the program exactly four years earlier. The sun wasn't shining in the Buckeye State on that Memorial Day morning (at least not figuratively), as Tressel, under pressure for his role in the tattoos/memorabilia scandal and with NCAA investigators closing in, resigned as head coach.

Ohio State was left without the coach who had won a national title in 2002, had mastered Michigan and the Big Ten, and had molded the Midwest's premier program.

Other dark days would follow: two waves of NCAA allegations; player suspensions and departures; more embarrassing news conferences; and a 6-6 regular season that included the Buckeyes' first on-field loss to Michigan since 2003. Even after Meyer's hiring, Ohio State was hit with a one-year postseason ban, then lost the Gator Bowl to suffer its first losing season since 1988 and its first seven-loss season since 1897.

Look at Ohio State now, four years after Tressel's downfall, sitting atop the college football world. It takes most programs a few years to stabilize after a scandal before making a championship push. Meyer made Ohio State an instant contender, going 12-0 in his first year and producing a three-year mark of 38-3 (24-0 in regular-season Big Ten play) with a national title.

The timing of Meyer's availability for the job, during Ohio State's darkest period in a generation, will go down as possibly the greatest stroke of fortune in program history. He gave a great program a chance to be great again right away, which you don't often see. Just ask USC and Miami.

Ohio State was winning big before the scandal broke, and Tressel's teams, while maligned for consecutive flops in the BCS title game, held their own on the national stage more often than not. But a situation like what happened in early 2011 can set back a program for years. Meyer ensured 2011 will be the ultimate blip on the Buckeyes' radar.

The players he inherited deserve a lot of credit too, especially the 2012 seniors led by John Simon, Zach Boren and others. Meyer was right when he said Ohio State will be "forever indebted" to that group.

The ability to fast-track players into major roles, most notably Jones last year but also several players from the 2013 recruiting class, also has helped Ohio State regain its footing quickly. A vulnerable Big Ten, particularly in 2012, also played a role. Would Ohio State have turned things around this quickly in the SEC or Pac-12? Probably not.

It has been a remarkable rise, and one that shouldn't be overlooked, even as Buckeyes fans celebrate a championship and look ahead to potentially winning another one.

In recruiting pitches, coaches will talk about how things can change dramatically in four years. There's no better example than Ohio State.

Four years after darkness fell, the sun is most certainly out again.