COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The record books were under assault at nearly every turn since they arrived on campus, so it should hardly have come as a surprise that some of the most-decorated players in Ohio State's history would make a little more history at the NFL draft.
Obviously with months of speculation about just how many Buckeyes would be selected in the first round, there wasn’t much to be shocked about when five of them heard their names called and opened the floodgates for what could be an all-time bumper crop of draftees from a school in a single season.
After the seniors won 50 games during their careers and, along with the draft-eligible juniors, claimed the inaugural national championship in the College Football Playoff era in 2014. They kept right on leaving their legacy by taking over the scouting combine, drawing an overflowing crowd to their pro day and then tying the mark for players invited to attend the draft in person.
That’s just scratching the surface of everything they accomplished over the last three or four seasons, though Thursday night did once again stir up one lingering question: How exactly did the Buckeyes fail to repeat in 2015?
Those players didn’t control everything that happened and there is certainly nothing at all to be ashamed about after going 12-1, finishing No. 4 in the country and winning the Fiesta Bowl to cap a career. But for every player drafted in the first round, here’s a look back at just how Ohio State’s bid to go back to back came up short.
1. An all-time fluky finish: The fans at the Horseshoe may have reveled in the demise of hated rival Michigan when an incredibly wild finish on a botched punt in the closing seconds gift-wrapped a win for Michigan State. But that one play ultimately came back to bite the Buckeyes, who would have won the Big Ten East Division if that game had gone the other way thanks to the subsequent loss by the Spartans to Nebraska and Ohio State’s throttling of Michigan in the final week of the regular season. Obviously the situation could have been avoided by simply beating Michigan State in November, but if not for that bizarre special-teams touchdown, the ultra-talented Buckeyes would have been sizable favorites over Iowa in the Big Ten title game and probably would have rolled back into the College Football Playoff with some momentum.
2. A leg infection: Ezekiel Elliott’s comments about the play-calling after the upset loss to Michigan State dominated the spotlight, but that obscured something that may have been an even bigger blow to Ohio State’s repeat bid that happened before it even started. Elliott was hospitalized for several days that week leading up to the huge primetime matchup, a fact that wasn’t disclosed until after the game when he showed off the lingering swelling from a leg infection and said he couldn’t even walk that Monday. He made it well known he wasn’t pleased to receive just 12 carries in the loss to the Spartans, but the uncertainty about his health may have played a significant role in that unusually low total.
3. A preseason injury: The Buckeyes raved throughout August about the heir apparent to Devin Smith as the deep-ball specialist, but that all came to a screeching halt when Noah Brown suffered a broken leg near the end of training camp. Urban Meyer hasn’t been shy about expressing his desire to stretch the field and expand the passing attack, and the explosive partnership between Cardale Jones and Smith during the postseason run in 2014 was a big part of the reason why he wanted it to complement the potent ground attack. It was also a factor in Jones winning the starting job last fall over J.T. Barrett, but without somebody who could consistently burn defensive backs and track down the rockets from the right arm of Jones, one of the quarterback’s best attributes was neutralized.
4. A change in the press box: Given all the returning talent and the presence of Meyer on the sideline, it seemed safe to assume the Buckeyes would be able to roll right along without Tom Herman after he left his post as offensive coordinator to take over at Houston. But the combination of Herman’s instant success with the Cougars and the inconsistency of the Buckeyes after Tim Beck took his spot coaching the quarterbacks and calling down the plays from the press box made it clear that change was a far bigger deal than might have been expected. Ed Warinner had been promoted in the wake of Herman’s departure, but it wasn’t until after the play-calling debacle which Elliott called out after the Michigan State game that he was moved to the press box to call the plays -- and the Buckeyes rolled over both Michigan and Notre Dame after making that switch, albeit one game too late.
5. A burden of expectations: The Buckeyes swore all along they wouldn’t be bothered by complacency, and there’s no reason to doubt how hard they were working based on how so many continued to develop into coveted draft prospects. But with the standard so high as the unanimous preseason No. 1 in the nation and the target on their backs as the biggest game on the schedule of their opponents each and every week, Ohio State clearly grew tired of having to defend itself if it didn’t win as impressively as most expected. The good-natured, fun-loving Buckeyes who flashed smiles and jokes at nearly every turn during the run to the championship understandably bristled at the criticism even while winning their first 10 games. Perhaps all of that pressure took a toll and played a role in them dropping the only matchup they couldn’t afford to lose.