In modern college football, an explosive passing game is essential to winning a national championship.

Alabama’s 2017 incarnation was the last team to win a title with fewer than 30 touchdown passes. And with a ratio of 28 TDs to 3 interceptions, the Crimson Tide were still an elite passing team.

Alabama’s 2015 title is the last time a team won without finishing in the top 20 nationally in touchdown passes — back when Nick Saban was commanding star destroyers instead of a Death Star.

2017 is also a significant date within the Big Ten.

That year, Ohio State led the B1G with 39 touchdown passes. Buckeyes quarterbacks have proceeded to lead the Big Ten in touchdown passes every season since. That marks the first time in Big Ten history that a single program has led the league in touchdown passes for 5 consecutive seasons. (Purdue did it every year from 1997-2000, with Drew Brees responsible for 3 of those 4 seasons.)

And it’s not if Ohio State is keeping that streak alive by edging out its peers by 1-2 touchdowns per year. The level of domination is staggering.

Ohio State quarterbacks have thrown 206 touchdown passes since 2017. Only 2 other Big Ten programs have thrown more than 100 in that span.

Rutgers, which has consistently had the worst quarterback play in the B1G since joining the conference, is at the bottom of the list with 42 touchdowns in the past 5 seasons combined. Ohio State quarterback CJ Stroud threw 44 touchdowns alone last season — while missing a game against Tulsa that surely could have accounted for 4-5 more.

Big Ten TD passes 2017-2021

  • 1. Ohio State: 206
  • 2. Purdue: 134
  • 3. Penn State: 120
  • 4. Indiana: 94
  • 5. Iowa: 91
  • 6. Michigan: 88
  • 7. Michigan State: 87
  • 8. Wisconsin: 83
  • T-9. Maryland: 79
  • T-9. Minnesota: 79
  • 11. Nebraska: 73
  • 12. Northwestern: 65
  • 13. Illinois: 60
  • 14. Rutgers: 42

A night and Day difference

When it comes to Ohio State’s current run of dominance, there are no coincidences.

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It began when Urban Meyer hired Ryan Day to replace Tim Beck as the Buckeyes’ offensive coordinator and has continued since Day took over for the deposed Meyer.

Day’s first season in Columbus illustrated the impact of his play-calling.

In 2016, JT Barrett (24 TDs) and Young Joe Burrow (2 TDs) combined for 26 touchdowns  — 3 behind conference leader Trace McSorely of Penn State. The Buckeyes averaged 213.9 passing yards per game on 31.5 attempts per game, averaging 6.8 yards per attempt.

Day took over the next season when Beck joined former Buckeyes offensive coordinator Tom Herman in Texas. Barrett was still the starting quarterback, throwing 35 of Ohio State’s 39 touchdown passes. But Ohio State’s offense didn’t just become more explosive — it became more efficient.

The Bucks averaged 262.8 YPG passing despite throwing the ball a hair less than the previous season — 31.4 attempts per game. Ohio State’s yards per attempt jacked all the way up from 6.8 to 8.4. And that was Day’s least efficient passing offense. His 1st season remains the only time the Buckeyes have averaged fewer than 9 YPA.

And given the way things are going for Day and the Buckeyes in recruiting, it may be quite some time before we see Ohio State dip below 9 YPA again.

Recruiting catnip

Whether you’re a quarterback or wide receiver, Ohio State’s offense is an irresistible recruiting pitch that requires very little verbal persuasion. Day just has to show a kid the film and say, “We think you’re next.”

It’s built on strong-armed quarterbacks and game-breaking receivers. And only the best of the best can make it onto the field.

Consider this: In the past 3 seasons, Ohio State had 2 first-team All-Americans and first-round NFL Draft picks who earned those distinctions at other programs because they didn’t start for the Buckeyes.

Joe Burrow didn’t beat out Dwayne Haskins in 2018, so he transferred to LSU and had the best year in college football history in 2019. Jameson Williams had 15 receptions and 3 touchdowns in his first 2 seasons at Ohio State. Williams saw the writing on the receiving room wall with Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson and Jaxon Smith-Nijgba, so he transferred to Alabama.

Williams caught 79 receptions for 1,572 yards and 15 touchdowns at Bama. Without him, Crimson Tide QB Bryce Young doesn’t win the Heisman Trophy and the Tide don’t get to the national title game.

And that’s the guy who would have been WR4 in Ryan Day’s 2021 offense.

Given that reality, the Buckeyes are getting their choice of top recruits at both of those critical positions. The top quarterback in the Class of 2021, Quinn Ewers, already came and went after he couldn’t beat out CJ Stroud for the starting job.

Ohio State is loading up again in the upcoming batch of recruits.

Wide receivers coach Brian Hartline already secured commitments from Class of 2023 5-star receivers Brandon Inniss and Carnell Tate. There are only 6 5-star receivers in the entire country for that recruiting class. That’s on top of 4 4-star receivers and a 4-star quarterback in this year’s freshman class.

5 years and counting

With Ohio State’s passing attack approaching a point of self-sustainability, it is hard to envision the next season in which the Buckeyes won’t lead the B1G in TD passes. Purdue was closest to catching Ohio State last season and still finished 11 touchdowns back — in essence, 1 per game.

But this year might end up being the best chance in quite a while for anybody but the Buckeyes to finish on top. Unlike last season, Purdue is settled at quarterback before it breaks camp. Aidan O’Connell is the definitive starter.

The Buckeyes also have a pair of potential touchdown hogs in their backfield. Running back TreVeyon Henderson had 15 touchdowns in 184 carries last year and may see a bigger workload this season. The same is true of fellow sophomore Miyan Williams, who had 3 TDs in his 71 carries.

But if Henderson and/or Williams have big seasons on the ground, it won’t be because the Buckeyes can’t move the ball through the air. It’ll mean Ohio State’s offense is an even bigger nightmare for opposing defensive coordinators to deal with than usual.