Ohio State Football: Near Misses In The Past Haunt, Teach

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 08: Quarterback Troy Smith
GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 08: Quarterback Troy Smith /
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LOS ANGELES, CA – SEPTEMBER 13: Head coach Jim Tressel of the Ohio State Buckeyes leads teammates Alex Boone
LOS ANGELES, CA – SEPTEMBER 13: Head coach Jim Tressel of the Ohio State Buckeyes leads teammates Alex Boone /

The 1998 disappointment began the decline of John Cooper. Two sub-par seasons and another bowl loss in 2001 resulted in his firing. The Buckeyes turned to a lesser known coach from Youngstown State to carry the ball forward, Jim Tressel.

In just his second season, Tressel reached the promised land that fans had sought for three decades by leading an improbable run to a BCS National Championship over a Miami team loaded with elite talent.

Tressel sustained his success through the 2000’s, remaining in the conversation for the title game every year. Despite not making it back to the top, Tressel built a formidable program designed for long-term success.

Following a breakout Junior season from quarterback Troy Smith, the 2006 team entered the season with a number one ranking. This team would return the trophy to Columbus.

The season progressed seamlessly. The Buckeyes notched three wins versus ranked teams early on including a revenge game at second ranked Texas. One close call against a putrid Illinois team was the only cause for concern heading into the final week of the season and a matchup versus undefeated and second ranked Michigan.

The game lived up to its billing in a back and forth affair the was termed the Game of the Century. Ohio State needed all of its offensive firepower to rack up 42 points and hung on for victory.

Following the win, the Buckeyes were the lone remaining undefeated and simply awaited a challenger. Florida eventually surpassed Michigan as the number two team in the BCS preventing a rematch with the Wolverines.

Ohio State traveled to Phoenix as seven point favorites with Smith coming off the awards circuit. Many thought the game would serve as a coronation of one of college football’s all time great teams.

Lightning struck on the opening kick with All-American Ted Ginn Jr. scoring a 93-yard touchdown on the return. The Buckeyes were off to a route, but tragedy struck in the celebration. Position-mate Ray Small crashed into Ginn during the celebration, injuring his ankle. He was ruled out for the rest of the game.

The game went downhill from the initial moments. Troy Smith played terribly without his top target and under constant pressure. The Gators blended quarterback system also baffled the Buckeyes, resulting in 34 first half points.

The Buckeyes were thoroughly outplayed after the bad break, and despite an incredible season, received little credit for their play. The team was defined by the single game. As Smith summed up after the game, “Sometimes you have great games and sometimes you don’t.”