The last time Ohio State opened a season as the top-ranked team in college football was in 2006. That should change this September when the defending national champions from Columbus start the new season in Blacksburg against Virginia Tech, the only team to hand the Buckeyes a loss last fall. With all of the talent coming back to the squad this season, Urban Meyer should see Ohio State receive its first No. 1 ranking since his arrival that did not come at the end of the postseason.
Ohio State won the national championship last season despite never being the top team in the AP Top 25 at any point during the season. That may sound odd, but it is not quite as rare as you might think.
In 2010, Auburn was close to pulling off the same feat. The Tigers, with Cam Newton at quarterback, worked its way up the polls all season long. The Tigers were given the No. 1 ranking by the Associated Press only after defeating Steve Spurrier and his South Carolina Gamecocks in the SEC Championship Game. Auburn carried that number one ranking to the BCS Championship game against Chip Kelly and the Oregon Ducks. Oregon had previously been ranked No. 1 by the AP voters, yet lost the top spot to Auburn despite not losing. Florida pulled off a similar feat in 2007, with Meyer’s Gators (and Tim Tebow) grabbing the top spot in the poll after knocking off the previous No. 1, Alabama, in the SEC Championship Game.
But when was the last time a national champion earned the top AP ranking only after winning it all? You only need to look back to the 2011 season.
Alabama entered the 2011 season ranked No. 2 in the AP poll, and it seemed the Crimson Tide were destined to be in that position. Preseason No. 1 Oklahoma had not lost a game but slipped to No. 2 in the polls behind Alabama’s division rival, LSU. LSU took over the top spot in the poll after defeating three top 25 teams in its first four games (including No. 3 Oregon on a neutral field and road games against Mississippi State and West Virginia). Alabama moved down to No. 3 but moved back up to No. 2 to set-up that season’s edition of the Game of the Century against the Tigers, which turned out to be a field goal kicking contest (we know Alabama does not fare well in those). Alabama stayed in the hunt though and managed to sneak into the BCS Championship game to face the SEC champion LSU Tigers, and the rematch went the way of Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide. Alabama was given its first No. 1 ranking in the AP poll at the conclusion of the season, the first time they held the top spot in the poll all year.
Ironically enough, this also happened a few years prior and it did so with an Ohio State and Urban Meyer connection.
In 2006, Ohio State entered the year as the preseason No. 1 in the AP poll. Jim Tressel and his Buckeyes proved worthy of the top billing all season long, knocking off two No. 2 teams in the process (Texas and Michigan) and a pair of other top 25 programs (Penn State and Iowa) while Troy Smith went on to win a Heisman Trophy. Meanwhile, Meyer had something special brewing in Gainesville, with Florida floating around inside the top 10 all season long, just waiting to strike. After putting away Arkansas in the SEC Championship Game (and No. 2 USC was upset by UCLA), the Gators chomped on Ohio State’s championship dreams in the BCS Championship Game. The victory earned Florida a postseason No. 1 ranking from the AP, the only time all season Ohio State had not held down the top spot.
So what did Florida do the next season? The Gators started the next season ranked No. 9 by the AP voters and finished the season 9-4. But that Florida team was not quite as loaded as Meyer’s Buckeyes should be entering this upcoming season. If Ohio State finishes this upcoming season with just nine wins, it would be a complete shock.
Other Recent Close Calls
Florida State’s 2013 national championship season did not see the Seminoles ranked atop the AP poll until the ACC Championship Game, where newly crowned No. 1 Florida State took over the throne from snake bitten Alabama (Kick-Six!) just before facing Duke in the ACC Championship Game.
In 2012, Alabama held the top spot in the polls for the majority of the season until Johnny Manziel and SEC newcomer Texas A&M stunned the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa. Alabama reclaimed the top spot in the polls after demolishing Notre Dame in the BCS Championship Game.