With all apologies to Urban Meyer and his team’s self-proclaimed “grind” a season ago that culminated with an improbable march to the National Title, the term seems much more apt to characterize this year’s head-scratching, teeth-gnashing version. In an honest moment that even the most diehard Ohio State fan must have had at various points this season, it seemed a house of cards-like fall seemed inevitable. But honesty is hard to come by when you are the defending champion in the midst of a 23-game winning streak and team loaded with first-round talent.
The only switch that would eventually be flipped was the one to the lights of another playoff coronation. Unless Penn State can beat Michigan State and the (underdog!) Buckeyes can beat Michigan in Ann Arbor, the party is over and the Buckeyes are off to an exhibition game in January as more of an NFL sendoff than a career tribute. 2015 was supposed to be the third team since 1980 to repeat. Instead, it will likely go down as one of the biggest Ohio State disappointments in the post-Cooper era.
Former Head coach John Cooper joined me on Kiley and Carman Friday morning and said 1998 still haunts him. It was a team Ohio State message-board point and clickers swear to this day might have been the most talented Ohio State team in the last 30 years that inexplicably fell short and finished number two overall. Essentially he said that if there were a playoff in existence back then, the team would likely be thought of much differently than it is today. Well in 2015, there is a playoff and not cracking the final four will be considered one of the most disappointing teams to come through Columbus. Falling short of its own expectations that grew exponentially thanks to the ahead-of-schedule successes of a season ago.
The Buckeyes, in this case are almost exclusively a victim of their own success. It is a testament to what Urban Meyer has built in such a short period of time that 2015 could be labeled as an unmitigated disaster if left out of the playoff. But as I wrote in 2013 in Indy after a back-breaking loss to the Spartans, these expectations are what Meyer thrives on and what has him on top of the profession. There is no coach I would rather have at Ohio State right now, which is what makes Saturday night’s loss all that much worse. The Buckeyes had everything they needed this season and squandered the perfect opportunity. As I said back in ’06 (and then again in ’07), you never know when you are going to be back. Ask USC after 2004, or Miami after 2001, National Titles are really hard to win, and they are almost impossible to defend.
So where will 2015 go down in the annals of gut-punching Ohio State losses? There were plenty to dissect during the John Cooper reign. Almost too many to count considering his 3-8 bowl record and his 2-10-1 record vs. arch-rival Michigan – he clearly deserves his own list. Post-Cooper, here are the 10 defeats that stick with me to this day.
10.) 10/17/2010: No. 1 Ranked Buckeyes knocked off by Wisconsin
In what turned out to be Jim Tressel’s final season at Ohio State, the Buckeyes were 6-0 and ranked No. 1 in the country before heading out to Madison, where so many dreams (of sobriety) go to die. This was supposed to be Terrelle Pryor’s Vince Young season and going into the fourth quarter, the Buckeyes were jumping around to House of Pain at Camp Randall. The only jumping after the game was by multiple teams over Ohio State in the polls.
The Buckeyes went on to beat Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl (sentence vacated)
9.) 9/7/2014: Virginia Tech upsets Ohio State
The Buckeyes went into their early-season feature game with Virginia Tech ranked 8th in the country, but instead left idiot fans thinking Meyer was never going to win a big game at Ohio State (having lost to Michigan State and Clemson the previous year to close the season). After the game Urban Meyer seemed outraged an opponent would dare run a defense he was not prepared to face. Tiny footnote, the Buckeyes won 23 straight games after that including a National Championship. Idiot fan is still somehow employed in the media.
8.) 9/10/2009: Buckeyes knocked off by USC’s freshman QB under the lights
This one literally kept me up all night, although that probably had more to do with me having to drive 5 hours to the Cleveland muni lot to set up a tailgate for the Browns home opener the very next morning at 6 a.m. The Buckeyes held a 15-10 lead late in typical Tressel-ball game, that somehow blew up in their faces, allowing freshman QB Matt Barkley to mount a 14-play drive, 86-yard drive that started at USC’s own five-yard line. The loss was Ohio State’s six straight against top-five teams, which included the two title game flops. USC ended up losing four games that year and Pete Carroll bolted for the NFL as if he knew bad times were ahead on campus.
7.) 11/11/2007: Illinois, Juice Williams shock Buckeyes
2007 was a wacky football season, with teams the caliber of Kansas, West Virginia and Missouri occupying spots in the top 5 late in the season. It was a transition year at QB for Todd Boeckman who had OSU undefeated with just two regular season games left. Instead, it was Juice Williams stealing the show (a sentence that should never be written anywhere EVER). The Illini went on a drive that seemed to consume the entire fourth quarter and literally used up the last 8:09 of the game with a steady diet of runs, runs and more runs. Game would be ranked higher if not for the total carnage that went down over the next week that saw five top 5 teams lose, allowing the Buckeyes to jump right back to the top spot.
6.) 9/11/2005: Texas beats Ohio State at the Shoe
This might be the loudest the Horseshoe has ever been. N. 2 vs No. 4, and two of the top recruiting classes in college football. The game felt like a de facto BCS clinching game for the winner, with two eventual Heisman winners squaring off in Vince Young and Troy Smith. I think at least three of my neighbors wrote death letters to Ryan Hamby following his colossal drop in the endzone. I can’t even imagine what his twitter feed would have looked like had it been around back then.
5.) 11/25/2003: Tressel loses lone game To Michigan
This one is probably not as high on other fans lists and is mostly forgotten because it was Jim Tressel’s only setback against the Maize and Blue. But it is there for me probably because I was there in the press box and had to deal with trash-talk during the fourth quarter from all the Wolverines fans they somehow allowed in (replete with flasks and Go Blue gear). Not to mention a brawl that broke out on the golf course before the game, but that is fodder for another blog. Scott McMullen came in relief of Craig Krenzel in that game and played decently, but ever the loyalist, Tressel went back to a banged-up Krenzel and it did not go well.
4.) 10/13/2003: Wisconsin snaps Buckeyes’ 19-game win streak
There is nothing better than your school winning a National Title while you are on campus as a student. Conversely, there is nothing worse than that first loss after the title when you have convinced yourself that your team is unbeatable. So was the case in 2003 when I was despondent following the Buckeyes loss in Madison. If ever a game was defined by one play that stayed etched in your mind, this was it as Lee Evans beat Chris Gamble on an out and up for the winning score in the fourth. I am also still pretending the Robert Reynolds choke hold on Jim Sorgi never happened.
3.) 12/08/2013: Spartans stop Miller on 4th down in Indy
Urban Meyer won his first 24 games at Ohio State, but none of that seemed to matter as it was a Tressel disciple ended the win streak and sent Urban to the nearest golf cart with pizza in hand. A win and the second-ranked Buckeyes were almost assuredly in the BCS Title game. Instead, Braxton Miller (spectacular all night) was somehow stymied on 4th and 2 at Sparty’s 38 yard-line, ending the dream of a title game appearance. You gotta wonder how Tressel felt that night, as his former assistants, Mark Dantonio and Jim Bollman got the best of Urban Meyer.
2.) 10/21/2015: Michigan State upsets defending champion OSU with backup QB
Everything ends eventually and Saturday night, the Buckeyes’ 23-game win streak was snapped and their hopes at defending their title were all but ended. The one will be tough to get over. Yes the weather was not ideal, yes Michigan State and their staff were bursting with confidence because of ’13, yes the Buckeyes day of reckoning seemed inevitable throughout the season, but this loss could not happened. Just could not. Not against Sparty without their senior QB.
The numbers at the end: Five first downs and 132 total yards would be substandard for a half of Ohio State football. But the whole game? Inexcusable, regardless of whether the skies had opened up or not. Urban, who may have admitted once or twice to walking to school uphill both ways, said the wind was against his team the entire game. The Buckeyes had all the winds of momentum they would ever need to get back to the college football playoff and compete for the title. Instead, that wind most assuredly is in their face the rest of the way.
1.) 8/28/2007: Florida upsets Ohio State in title game blowout
First, if you are wondering why LSU’s beatdown of Ohio State in ’08 is not on the list, I do not think that Buckeye team ever really belonged in that game. Had LSU been healthy all year, nobody ever would have thought Ohio State belonged on the same football field with Todd Boeckman at QB.
Now that we got that out of the way, I will NEVER get over the blowout loss to Florida. NEVER. I have seriously stricken everything from my memory about that season as best I could. I will not even go back and watch the famous No. 1 vs. No. 2 game which took place like 75 days earlier. Just cannot do it. The ‘06 team achieved so much all season and yet I have this visceral anguish that pops up anytime that season is referenced.
The Buckeyes were a seven-point favorite, the fifth largest in the BCS era. They had the runaway Heisman Trophy winner guiding the offense as a senior. They rolled through their season and their Big Ten schedule with blowouts in 10 of their previous 12 games. Their one close call was against Michigan, but was excusable because the Wolverines were the number two team in the country.
60 minutes after kickoff everything had changed. The loss signified a changing of the guard in the college football strata. The Big Ten was no longer revered. No. 1 vs. No. 2 was deemed a manufactured showdown. The SEC became the preeminent conference and spawned a cottage industry of Midwest football-bashing. Catchy phrases like “SloHio” and “SEC Speed” sprouted overnight. That loss, paired with Michigan’s defeat to USC in the Rose Bowl and their subsequent loss to Appalachian State got the ball rolling on narrative change that lasted almost eight years in one form or another.
We had never seen a loaded Tressel team look that helpless. Coach abandoned the run and even panicked with a bizarre fourth-down attempt in at their own 29-yard line in the second quarter. Troy Smith looked like he could not outrun Jim Bollman following the extensive layoff. Ted Ginn went down on the first play of the game, tackled by his own teammate. This one got ugly early, leaving 15 of us speechless for the entire second and third quarter. In the fourth we all got in heated exchanges and headed for the cars early. It was the most excruciating loss in my Ohio State lifetime and one that I will never forget.
What are some of your least memorable Ohio State losses in recent history? Leave your thoughts below in the comments.