The year was 1956. Ohio State’s college football program was ranked fifth in the annual Associated Press preseason college football poll and was coming off a season in which they had won all but two games. Expectations for a strong season were, no doubt, high.
But head coach Woody Hayes was in hot water with the Big Ten for providing loans to his players, and after an investigation, the conference put the team on probation for one year and banned it from playing in that season’s Rose Bowl.
Sixty-two years later, Ohio State is once again entering the season with a No. 5 preseason ranking, having won all but two games the previous season. Controversy blankets the campus once more: Head coach Urban Meyer has been suspended for the opening three games of the season after an investigation concluded that he had mishandled domestic assault allegations against former wide receivers coach Zach Smith.
High expectations are nothing new in Columbus. For about as long as college football has been around, the Ohio State Buckeyes have been a force. In the annals of the sport’s history, only Michigan (943) — oh, the irony — and Notre Dame (906) have won more games than the Buckeyes (898).1 Since the turn of the century, only Boise State, which has played in three non-Power-Five conferences over that stretch, has won more total games than Ohio’s flagship university.
And that prodigious success isn’t lost on Associated Press voters.
Ohio State has failed to make the poll just four times in the 69-year history of the poll, most recently in 1988. That was John Cooper’s first year at the helm after taking over for the fired Earle Bruce. Cooper wouldn’t miss another preseason poll. Hayes only missed out in 1966 and 1967, the lone instance of the team failing to crack the AP preseason poll in consecutive years.
Which got us thinking: Does Ohio State dominate this poll more than any team in any sport dominates its preseason poll? AP voters produce a preseason, weekly and postseason poll for three college sports: football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball. In 1989, the polls expanded to a 25-team format, which remains the current standard.
Across the three sports, only the Tennessee Volunteers women’s basketball program has been more of a mainstay on the preseason poll than the Ohio State football team, according to data from the website College Poll Archive. Tennessee has made the AP preseason poll 98 percent of the time. It’s missed just once in the poll’s 42-year history — in 1976, the year the poll was introduced. Largely under their legendary coach, the late Pat Summitt, the Volunteers piled up eight national championships and 18 Final Four appearances, controlling the sport for decades before Connecticut assumed the mantle.
|North Carolina||Men’s basketball||48||84|
Ohio State has at least five more appearances on the AP preseason poll than any team in any sport, having qualified in 94 percent of available seasons. Since 1989, Ohio State’s average ranking in the preseason AP poll is 10.3. And perhaps no team dominates the opening month of the season like Ohio State, which has gone 21-2 over the last six years in the month of September, winning by an average margin of more than 30 points per game. But preseason rankings aren’t always pinpoint precise: Ohio State typically underperforms relative to its lofty preseason ranking.
AP preseason polls typically draw from blue-blood schools, so it’s no surprise that other well-heeled programs like the football teams at Oklahoma and USC and the men’s basketball team at Kentucky are among the most-ranked.
But on the gridiron, no team is accustomed to high expectations like the Buckeyes. Columbus has produced the second-most first-round NFL draft picks all time, and the team is expected not only to win, but to dominate. In this weekend’s season opener against Oregon State, Ohio State opened as 38-point favorites, the most lopsided betting line of any opening-week contest for a ranked team. “A place like Ohio State, we’re expected to win every game we play,” Meyer has said. “There’s not many places like that.” Those are expectations that Meyer also noted aren’t always “easy to embrace.” But players and coaches alike should recognize that’s what they’ve signed up for in Columbus: a culture of on-field success, national title aspirations and a preseason ranking.