PASADENA, Calif. — If this really was the end of Urban Meyer’s storied coaching career, it was one heck of a way to go out.
No. 6 Ohio State’s 28-23 win against No. 9 Washington on Tuesday in the Rose Bowl Game Presented by Northwestern Mutual wasn’t exactly the instant classic the past few versions of the game have been, but it presented just enough late drama to justify Meyer’s notorious game-week nerves.
“I don’t think nervous is a strong enough term before a game,” Meyer said this week. “Deathly ill might be more appropriate.”
At first, the Buckeyes provided what appeared to be an effective remedy, quickly building a 28-3 lead that seemingly set the stage for a Meyer victory lap in the Granddaddy of Them All. It turned out to be just enough to absorb a late comeback attempt by the Huskies, which will leave Ohio State with three obvious, lingering questions.
The first one is unanswerable: How would the Buckeyes have fared in the playoff?
For the second straight year, Ohio State was left out of the four-team field despite winning the Big Ten title, and although there wasn’t an abundance of griping from the Buckeyes this week — they understood the ramifications of their lopsided loss to Purdue — it’s only natural to wonder what could have been. The Buckeyes’ near collapse won’t buy them any sympathy. Had they built off that 25-point lead, maybe, but after they got outscored 20-0 in the fourth quarter, there shouldn’t be much second-guessing.
Top-ranked Alabama, of course, would have been a whole different animal. Still, quarterback Dwayne Haskins showed again why he could be the first quarterback off the board in the upcoming NFL draft. Haskins, who finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting, completed 25 of 37 passes for 251 yards and three touchdowns without an interception.
That leads to question No. 2: Was this Haskins’ final game in an Ohio State uniform?
The expectation is that it was, simply because of how hard it is to turn down millions of dollars. However, as Oregon’s Justin Herbert showed last week, it’s not a foregone conclusion. Haskins and Ohio State coaches this week agreed the best approach would be to get through the bowl game, then decide if he’s ready to make the leap after starting only one season for the Buckeyes.
If Haskins does return, he’ll play for a new coach in Ryan Day, who will officially take the reins from Meyer as the Buckeyes’ head coach on Wednesday. Meyer will shift into a new role in the Ohio State athletic department as an assistant athletic director with responsibilities yet to be determined.
Meyer goes out with a career record of 187-32 with stops at Bowling Green, Utah and Florida before his seven-year stint in Columbus. His winning percentage (.854) is the best among active coaches with at least five seasons, but at just 54 years old, speculation about whether he’ll one day return to the sideline figures to be rampant for the foreseeable future.
Could this actually be the final game of Meyer’s coaching career?
He maintained this week that, yes, this is the end. However, Meyer should also find it easy to understand how difficult that might be for the general public to believe.
Even Washington coach Chris Petersen, who is second on that list of the best winning percentages among active coaches, joked this week he wasn’t convinced Meyer is stepping away for good. Petersen is also 54 and it seems as if he’s still in the relatively early stages of what has the potential to be a long, successful tenure in Seattle.