Last week we ranked the top ten college football programs in the state of Texas and California. Our series continues today with Ohio. This is a the top ten programs we’d buy stock in right now for this season in the state of the Buckeye State. Every program is judged on a pound-for-pound basis on a basis somewhere between mathematical formula and eyeball test to rate each team on where it sits today.
1. Ohio State – In a state that loves football – high school, college and professional – as much as anyone in the country, the Buckeyes are Ohio’s national team. Jim Tressel led Ohio State to eight BCS appearances from 2002 to 2010, including an epic national title win over Miami in January 2003, but most agree the program has taken a step up with the hiring of Urban Meyer. After all, his 16-0 record in Columbus makes it hard to argue otherwise.
2. Mount Union – The accomplishments of Larry Kehres are impeccable. Eleven Division III national championships, including a 15-0 title team in 2012. Twenty-four Ohio Athletic Conference championships, including every single year since 1992. But the Purple Raiders’ program patriarch is gone, and now it’s son Vince’s turn to run the show. Every indication, including Mount Union’s 3-0 start to 2013, tell me this program will pick up right where it left off, but Vince has some size 24 shoes to fill before Mount Union can overtake the behemoth in Columbus.
3. Cincinnati – There’s a lot to be proud of in the Queen City, like claiming at least a share of four of the last five Big East championships, two BCS trips and a 12-0 regular season in 2009. But after losing three straight head coaches to other jobs, and being the last major program left outside of a major conference, Cincinnati brought in Tommy Tuberville with an eye on bigger and better things, on top of the same winning formula Cincinnati has played for years. Results still to be determined on both fronts.
4. Toledo – There’s a gaggle of solid-to-good MAC programs from Ohio, but we’re giving Toledo the nod thanks to their past (a MAC-best 10 conference titles and 13 bowl games), present (three straight seasons of eight wins or more) and future (head coach Matt Campbell). The Rockets opened this season with respectable performances in setbacks to Florida and Missouri, followed by wins over Eastern Washington and Central Michigan.
5. Bowling Green – The Falcons match Toledo with 10 all-time MAC championships and, like the Rockets above them, came within one win of playing for the conference championship in 2012. Dave Clawson’s team was anchored by a defense that ranked sixth nationally and led the MAC in rushing defense, total defense and scoring defense. Off to a 3-1 start in 2013, Bowling Green will have a chance to earn the No. 4 spot when they visit Toledo at the Glass Bowl on October 26.
6. Wittenberg – If you want to build a winning Division III program in Ohio, it helps to play a conference that doesn’t feature Mount Union. Just like Joe Fincham’s program at Wittenberg University: owners of a 41-7 record since 2009 and at least a share of three of the last four North Coast Athletic Conference titles. The Tigers went 10-2 last season and reached the second round of the Division III playoffs, knocking out in-state foe Heidelberg 52-38 in the first round.
7. Heidelberg – Head coach Mike Hallet’s offense has topped the 40-point barrier 13 times in 23 games since the beginning of the 2011 season. Not coincidentally, Heidelberg is 19-4 over that span. The ‘Berg went 9-2 last season, losing only to OAC foe Mount Union and Wittenberg, and opened 2013 with 107 points in its first two weeks and a No. 13 national ranking.
8. Ohio – If you can forgive the loss to Louisville in the opener, Frank Solich has led the Bobcats to another solid 3-1 start. In the second act of his head coaching career, Solich has recorded a 62-45 record in eight-plus seasons in Athens, including a 39-19 mark since 2009.
9. Ohio Dominican – Our lone Division II rep out of the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, Bill Conley’s program (birthed in 2004, joined Division II in 2010) doesn’t have the history of the rest of the programs on this list – but only Mount Union and Ohio State are playing better football at this moment. Combining a five-game winning streak to close last season (which helped ODU finish second in the GLIAC’s South Division in 2012) with a 3-0 start to this season, the Panthers own an eight-game run in which they’ve outscored opponents by an average score of 43-16. The program’s first postseason trip can’t be too far around the corner.
10. Youngstown State – The edge between Ohio’s lone two FCS programs goes to the Penguins out of the Missouri Valley Conference, no doubt helped by Youngstown’s 28-10 triumph over Dayton to open the season. Eric Wolford led Youngstown to its first win over a No. 1-ranked team with its 27-24 win over North Dakota State in 2011, and the program’s first defeat of a BCS program in knocking off Pittsburgh 31-17 to open the 2012 season. In the present tense, the Penguins have won six of their last seven outings, including six in a row against FCS competition.
Honorable Mention: Ashland, Dayton, Findlay, Kent State