Summation: Ohio State in the Aughts

This continues our series recapping the last ten seasons in the Big Ten.

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1. Overview

"Envy assails the noblest: the winds howl around the highest peaks."

When Ovid penned these simple, and infamous words in Remedia Amoris, he could have had a distinctive decade in Ohio State football in mind.  A program soaked in historical superlatives lived and died by the sword in 2000-2009, winning national championships, and losing national respect.  Yet, even for this power-turned-pariah, the decade can hardly be considered anything but a delightful success.

Fourteen All Americans, seven ten plus win seasons (five eleven plus win seasons), six Big Ten Championships, six Top Ten finishes (Five in the Top Five), four BCS bowl wins, one Heisman Trophy winner, and a National Championship ensure that the Columbus faithful will always remember the aughts as one of the richest periods in the program's history.

Yet, it wasn't all roses for the Buckeyes.  Ask any fan outside of the Midwest, and they'll recall a plodding, endangered species that was thoroughly outclassed in back-to-back BCS national championship games, lost three consecutive BCS bowls, and was embarrassed 35-3 by the USC Trojans, another of the decade's starlets.  They'll mention a questionable pass interference call that allowed Ohio State to steal the title, and argue that the Buckeyes benefited by playing in a relic of a conference.  They'll criticize buttoned-up, predictable play calling, and point to a lack of team speed to explain the scarlet's struggles against the south.

No team in college football faced as much criticism as Ohio State over the past decade.  And no team in college football was as consistently relevant.

II. Year By Year

The Ohio State Buckeyes
Year Overall Big Ten Bowl Opponent/Result Notes
2000 8-4 5-3 Outback South Carolina - L - 24-7
2001 7-5 5-3 Outback South Carolina - L - 28-31
2002 14-0 8-0 Fiesta (BCS National Championship)
Miami - W - 31-24 BCS National Champions; Big Ten Co-Champions
2003 11-2 6-2 Fiesta Kansas State - W - 35-28
2004 8-4 4-4 Alamo Oklahoma State - W - 33-7
2005 10-2 7-1 Fiesta Notre Dame - W - 34-20 Big Ten Co-Champions
2006 12-1 8-0 BCS National Championship
Florida - L - 41-16 Big Ten Champions; Heisman Trophy Winner (Troy Smith)
2007 11-2 7-1 BCS National Championship
LSU - L - 38-24 Big Ten Champions
2008 10-3 7-1 Fiesta Texas - L -24-21 Big Ten Co-Champions
2009 11-2 7-1 Rose Oregon - W - 26-17 Big Ten Champions


III. The Worsts

A.  Most Painful Loss

After steamrolling through the regular season ranked No. 1, and defeating No. 2 Michigan 42-39 in the Game of the Century, the 2006 Buckeyes -- featuring Heisman Trophy winner quarterback Troy Smith -- hit the buffet circuit, treating their impending match-up with once-beaten No. 2 Florida in the inaugural BCS National Championship Game as a mere formality.  At least one source quipped that no team was "worthy" of facing Ohio State, and joked that instead of airing the game Fox Sports would simply broadcast four hours of Buckeye players working out in preparation for the 2007 NFL draft.

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After it was over, I stumbled back to the hotel, pulled the shades, and slept for 15 hours.

The seven-point favorite Buckeyes returned the opening kickoff 93 yards to take a 7-0 lead 16 seconds into the game.  Star wideout Ted Ginn Jr. broke his ankle on the ensuing celebration.  What followed was a lesson in hubris.  Florida garishly dominated both lines of scrimmage.  The Gator's smaller, faster athletes overwhelmed the Buckeyes, who managed a pathetic 82 yards of offense, en route to a 41-14 pummeling.  Troy Smith was 4 for 14, for 35 yards and one interception.  He was sacked five times.

After the game Florida defensive end Jarvis Moss added salt to the wounds: "Honestly," he said, "we've played a lot better teams than them.  I could name four or five teams in the SEC that could probably compete with them and play the same type of game we did against them."

It was the beginning of a national publicity storm.

B. Worst Team

The 2000 Ohio State team entered the decade on the heels of an abysmal 6-6 campaign that kept the Buckeyes at home for the holidays for the first time in twelve seasons.  A firestorm was building around embattled head coach John Cooper whose 2-9-1 record against Michigan had spoiled his tenure in Columbus.  The Buckeyes started the season strong, earning victories over Arizona, Penn State, and Wisconsin on the way to a 5-0 record.  Twin losses in October to Minnesota and Purdue began to unravel tensions, but it was only after a 26-38 loss to Michigan in Ann Arbor that the wheels fell off the bus.  The Buckeyes would fall 24-7 in the Outback Bowl to South Carolina.  The next day, John Cooper was fired after 13 seasons at the helm.  Cooper was 111-43-4 at Ohio State.

C. Program's Low Point

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After dropping back-to-back national championships in 2006 and 2007, No. 5 Ohio State traveled to Los Angeles to meet the top-ranked USC Trojans.  The Buckeyes limped into the game short star fullback Chris "Beanie" Wells, but eager to exorcise their big game demons.  It was another Buckeye catastrophe.  In the wake of the 35-3 loss I called for Ohio State to "bow out of the limelight," and for fans in Columbus to evolve "from a culture that expects to win, to one that merely demands to compete."


IV. The Bests

A. Biggest Win/Program High Point

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In 2002, the Ohio State Buckeyes faced the heavily favored Miami Hurricanes for the BCS National Championship.  The 11.5 point underdogs squared off against a defending national champion Hurricane squad with a Heisman finalist quarterback, a Heisman finalist running back and a 34 game winning streak.

As Wikipedia describes:

The Hurricanes jumped out to an early 7–0 lead, quieting the largely scarlet and gray crowd. The second quarter, however, belonged to Ohio State, with a Mike Doss interception setting up a Craig Krenzel touchdown run which was followed by a Ken Dorsey fumble setting up the Buckeyes on the Miami 14. A Maurice Clarett touchdown run put Ohio State ahead 14–7 at halftime.

The Hurricanes stalled on their opening drive of the half, handing the ball over to Ohio State who drove inside the Miami ten yard line before Krenzel was intercepted by Sean Taylor, who was then stripped of the ball by Maurice Clarett on the return. The Buckeyes settled for a field goal and a ten point lead.

A Willis McGahee touchdown run brought the Hurricanes within 3 points by the beginning of the fourth quarter. On third down a catch by Chris Gamble was ruled incomplete due to his being out of bounds. Replays however seem to show that: 1) Gamble had his jersey grabbed on this play which could have resulted in pass interference call and a consequent Ohio first down. 2) Gamble appeared to land inbounds, again a first down. With a first down Ohio State would have been in a position to run the clock out and win the game without it going to overtime. Instead they had to punt and Groom punted the ball 44 yards. Todd Sievers kicked a field goal to send the game into overtime.

On their first possession in overtime, the Hurricanes scored a touchdown on a 7 yard pass to Kellen Winslow. Ohio State had no choice but to play for another overtime, with Krenzel completing a fourth and 14 pass to Michael Jenkins, giving Ohio State new life. On fourth and 3, after an initial signal of defensive holding, a pass interference penalty was called by official Terry Porter on Miami defensive back Glenn Sharpe who held receiver Chris Gamble in the end zone. However the penalty was flagged after the play was completed and while Miami was celebrating an apparent victory, causing the call to become controversial. (Note: This play has been reviewed many times with sportcasters and fans offering different viewpoints, and potentially one of many reasons for College Football adding instant replay (although this would later not become a reviewable play) With a first-and-goal at the two, Krenzel scored three plays later on a one-yard touchdown run, sending the game into another overtime. Though initially shrouded in controversy, "The Call" has since been defended by sportswriters as a good one, was validated by the National Association of Sports Officials, and was selected by Referee Magazine as one of the "Best 18 Calls of All Time."

Ohio State took the field again on offense, moving down the field quickly and capping the drive with a 5-yard touchdown run by Maurice Clarett. Miami began its second overtime possession with no options except to score a touchdown. Backup quarterback Derek Crudup, who came in for a play after Dorsey was shaken up, converted a fourth down pass to Winslow, which was followed by facemask and pass interference penalties against Ohio State that now gave Miami an identical first-and-goal situation at the two-yard line. The Hurricanes were stuffed on the first three plays, and pressure forced a desperation throw by Dorsey that fell incomplete in the endzone, ending the game with Ohio State as the 2002 football national champions.

With the win, Ohio State became the first and only team in the FBS to finish a season 14-0.  (Just 221 teams have gone undefeated in the history of the sport).

The 2002 National Championship is the Big Ten's most recent.

B. Best Team

See above.  The 2002 team remains the perfect rough and tumble embodiment of Tresselball.  I will give honorable mentions to the 2005 and 2006 squads.  The former was a dropped touchdown pass away from beating eventual national champion Texas', and featured a litany of current NFL standouts (A.J. Hawk, Bobby Carpender, Nick Mangold).  The later, was easily the most dynamic team of the decade.


V. Play and the Player

A. Play of the Decade

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"Holy Buckeye!"

November 9th, 2002.  Trailing a 4-5 Purdue team by three points with 2:17 remaining in the fourth quarter, the third-ranked Buckeyes faced fourth and one after a conversion on third and fourteen fell just short. As Wikipedia describes:

Coach Jim Tressel opted against attempting a 54-yard field goal by Mike Nugent to tie the game, and in an uncharacteristically high-risk move, ran pass play "King Right 64 Y Shallow Swap" instead, whose first option was a short crossing pass ("shallow swap") to Hartsock (the "Y" receiver). Instead, Krenzel went deep to wide receiver Michael Jenkins, jostling with defensive back Antwaun Rogers. Jenkins caught the pass at the goal line and scored. After a Gamble interception of Purdue quarterback Kyle Orton stifled any comeback by the Boilermakers, the Buckeyes escaped West Lafayette with a victory, 10-6. From his call of the touchdown, ABC announcer Brent Musburger uttered a phrase that has gone down in Buckeye lore: "Holy Buckeye."

B. Player of the Decade

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While a number of worthy candidates come to mind, there is no equal to Troy Smith.  As ESPN's Adam Rittenberg describes the Big Ten Player of the Decade, "Smith took home the Heisman, the Walter Camp and the Big Ten MVP awards in 2006. He also led Ohio State to a Fiesta Bowl championship following the 2005 season."  Like so many valuable players Mr. Smith's numbers (5720 career passing yards, 1,197 career rushing yards, and 54 touchdowns) don't tell the whole story.  Smith's soft-spoken leadership was a refreshing tonic in the huddle.  As a starter he carried Ohio State to a 27-3 record, and (most importantly) four consecutive victories over Michigan.

Smith doesn't just rank as one of the best Ohio State quarterbacks of the decade.  He's on the short list of the best program quarterbacks of all time.


VI. The Rivalry Notes

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Ahem, you mean "Buckeye Championship Series."

Ohio State's eight BCS bowl appearances are the most of any team.  Its five BCS bowl victories are tied with Florida for the second most wins, behind USC (6).  Here is Ohio State's complete history in the BCS: 

Won 1999 Sugar Bowl
Won 2003 Fiesta Bowl*
Won 2004 Fiesta Bowl
Won 2006 Fiesta Bowl
Lost 2007 BCS National Championship Game
Lost 2008 BCS National Championship Game
Lost 2009 Fiesta Bowl
Won 2010 Rose Bowl

And, here's a cumulative list of BCS bowl wins and appearances by teams.

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