Sunday, January 9, 2011

2001-2010: Ranking Jim Tressel's 10 Buckeye Teams



In his 10 years at Ohio State, Coach Jim Tressel has compiled an impressive 106-22 win/loss record.

That is an amazing average of 10.6 wins per season, and an astonishing .828 winning percentage.

There have been a few lows along the way, but through it all, the Buckeyes have been one of college footballs best teams over these last 10 years.

Not to say that any of his teams have had the distinction of really being bad, but let's just say perhaps some were better than others.

Here's how each of Tressel's teams from 2001-2010 stack up against one another.


Number 10—2001

In his first season in Columbus, Tress led the Buckeyes to a 7-4 regular season record and a near miss at that then-elusive bowl game win vs. an SEC opponent, barely losing 31-28 to South Carolina to finish the year at 7-5.

The season was a success though when considering the Buckeyes had a winning record, played in a bowl game, and they beat Michigan in Ann Arbor as Tressel had promised they would right after he was hired.


Number 9—2004

The 2004 season was a rebuilding year but it was also still a bit of a disappointment.

You see, 10 win seasons (at least) are not the exception, but have become the rule to most Buckeye fans, so an 8-4 season in year four nearly caused the sky to fall in Columbus as you might imagine.

The Buckeyes uncharacteristically lost four conference games to four teams they historically don't lose to very often—Northwestern, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Purdue.

The season ended better than it was looking it might for a few weeks when the Buckeyes again beat rival Michigan and followed that win up with a victory in the Alamo Bowl over Oklahoma State and then-coach Les Miles, who coincidentally is currently in the running to become Michigan's next coach.


Number 8—2008

The 2008 season had the potential to be one of the best in Ohio State's glorious history. Instead, while it was a good year, it was definitely not the great year that many expected.

In week three, the No. 5 ranked Buckeyes traveled to the L.A. Coliseum to face top ranked USC in "The Game of the Century." Unfortunately, only USC showed up and they routed and embarrassed the Buckeyes, 35-3.

After climbing back into the top 10 with five consecutive wins, the Buckeyes hosted No. 3 Penn State who hadn't won in Ohio Stadium since 1970. It was a defensive battle that was ultimately decided by an ill-timed fumble that led to the game's only touchdown and a 13-6 PSU victory.

The Buckeyes finished the regular season with three straight wins, including another victory over the Wolverines. In return, they received a bid to the Fiesta Bowl to face No. 3 Texas.

That game ended up being very entertaining and it came right down to the wire, but in the end, with a little bad luck, Ohio State lost a 24-21 heart breaker to the Longhorns to finish the year at 10-3.


Number 7—2003

This one was very close. The 2003 team almost earned slot No. 6, but it was edged out by the thinnest of margins by the team you will read about after this.

What made it so tough to put the 2003 team down here instead of one spot higher was the difficult schedule the Buckeyes faced in 2003. Of their 13 opponents, only five were not ranked when the Buckeyes played them.

What ultimately landed the 2003 team here was the fact that they didn't win the Big 10 Conference despite having a solid season, and they lost to Michigan, the team that did win the conference in 2003.

That was salt in the wound to not win the conference and have it be because of a loss to the Wolverines.

As noted however, it was still an extremely good season as the Buckeyes defeated No. 10 Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl to finish off the year at 11-2.


Number 6—2007

In 2007, the Buckeyes were suppose to be one of the favorites to make a run at the BCS title game.

By week eight, they were the No. 1 team in the polls and well on their way.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the BCS title game. No. 1 Oho State lost to unranked Illinois at home, in The Horseshoe, to Ron Zook and his Illini, 28-21.

A week later, the No. 7 Buckeyes somewhat salvaged their season with another victory over Michigan.

After the rest of the teams finished their regular season games and then conference championship games, wouldn't you know it—Somehow, someway, after every team from one to six lost, Ohio State went from No. 7 back up to No. 1 in the final BCS rankings.

Unfortunately, LSU had the same fortune and moved up to No. 2 and the BCS title game, which was to be played in New Orleans, right down the road from Baton Rouge, was set.

The Buckeyes looked sharp early, even taking a 10-0 lead, but they were outgunned down the stretch and finished the season at 11-2 after the 38-24 loss, their ninth bowl loss in nine tries vs. an SEC foe.


Number 5—2009

Once again, the Buckeyes were an early favorite to play for the BCS title, and once again, the season was derailed unexpectedly not once, but twice.

After looking ahead in week one and narrowly escaping Navy, the Buckeyes were looking for sweet revenge against USC and coach Pete Carroll.

With true freshmen QB Matt Barkley taking over for the Trojans, and the Buckeyes hosting USC in The Shoe at night, the stage for redemption was set. A few blown calls and a big dose of Tressel being way too conservative ultimately led to another disappointing defeat by just an 18-15 margin.

They always say, it's better to lose early as it allows a team to recover and climb back up in the rankings. A look at the slate of games remaining gave reason for great optimism and the potential for the Buckeyes to finish 11-1 was very real.

Then came that fateful day in week seven in West Lafayette, Indiana. The Bucks looked out of it all game long. Terrelle Pryor had his worst day as a Buckeye and the seasons' goal was derailed a second time, only this time for good as the Buckeyes lost to lowly Purdue, 26-18.

After that, Tressel went back to good old-fashioned Tressel-ball. Run, run, and run some more—play defense—kick plenty of field goals—and punt fairly often—and it worked.

After winning their final five games and winning the Big 10 title, Ohio State won the Rose Bowl bid and would face PAC-10 champion, Oregon and their high-powered offense.

The Buckeye defense contained Oregon and the offense set a Rose Bowl record in time of possession. In what was dubbed by the media as "Terrelle Pryor's coming-out party", OSU defeated the Ducks 26-17 to finish the season 11-2.


Number 4—2005

The 2005 season almost came in third. The combination of two losses and only playing 11 regular season games are really the only reasons for this. Going forward from here up to No. 1 in these rankings, we'll really be splitting hairs to differentiate the teams.

In week two, Vince Young and No. 2 Texas visited Columbus for one of the biggest games the stadium has ever hosted. The Buckeyes were a Ryan Hamby dropped touchdown pass away from victory over the eventual 2005 National Champion Longhorns, instead suffering a 25-22 defeat.

One month later, the No. 6 Buckeyes found themselves in Happy Valley to face the No. 18 Nittany Lions. In a low-scoring battle, PSU prevailed 17-10, dropping the Buckeyes to 3-2 and all the way down to No. 15 in the polls.

With six consecutive wins, including victories over three ranked teams—Michigan State, Minnesota, and Michigan—the No. 4 Buckeyes were back in business and earned another trip to the desert, this time to face No. 6 Notre Dame.

The outcome was never really in doubt as the Buckeyes dropped the "Fightless" Irish, 34-20 to finish the season at 10-2.


Number 3—2010

Heisman Trophy contender? Check.

Highly ranked veteran team to start the season? Check.

Another BCS title game appearance derailed? Check.

Sure, the Buckeyes did have the preseason Heisman favorite, and the team was ranked No. 2 in the polls to open the season. And yes, they were No. 1 during the season after Alabama lost, until they themselves met the same fate just one week later.

Then there was what became known as Tat-Gate after the regular season was over and a couple of weeks before their bowl game.

But all that said, this team and this season was very special, despite falling short of another BCS title game appearance.

How often do three teams go 12-0 or 13-0 in a season making an 11-1 season not that impressive? Almost never, that's how often.

But winning a share of a sixth consecutive conference title, beating Michigan for the seventh straight time, playing in yet another BCS bowl game, and winning that BCS bowl game against No. 8 Arkansas to finally capture that elusive, first-ever win over an SEC team in a bowl game to finish the year 12-1 all adds up to one of the best seasons under Tressel, or any Buckeye coach for that matter.


Number 2—2006

The 2010 season was a lot like the 2006 season.

Heisman Trophy contender? Check.

Highly ranked veteran team to start the season? Check.

Troy Smith was not the preseason favorite for the Heisman like Pryor, but he was in the running, and the Buckeyes were actually No. 1 in the first poll and remained at No. 1 wire to wire.

They defeated three ranked teams during the regular season, two of which were No. 2 at the time. They finished the regular season 12-0 after what was surely the best Ohio State-Michigan game in the history of the series as No. 1 OSU edged No. 2 Michigan 42-39.

After the season and some controversy over who should be No. 2 and face Ohio State for the BCS title, SEC Champion Florida jumped the Wolverines in the final rankings and faced the Buckeyes in Arizona.

Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, Troy Smith did win the Heisman and he and several other of his teammates lost their focus and determination. They also had to become overconfident after hearing constantly how they couldn't lose and that Florida had no chance.

What ensued was a beatdown of epic proportions. No. 1 Ohio State looked like a high school team on both sides of the ball against the Gators. Florida beat the Buckeyes 41-14.

Ohio State might have been the better team on paper in 2006, but Florida was the better team on the field that night, hands down.


Number 1—2002

In 2002, Ohio State became the second team to win 14 games in a season, and the first to win 14 games in an undefeated season. BYU was 14-1 in 1996.

Over the course of the year including the BCS title game, the Buckeyes faced and beat five top 25 teams. Two of those games were blowouts, while the other three were fairly close as you might expect games between two ranked teams to be.

What was not expected and actually surprising were the three games Ohio State nearly lost against three below average and unranked teams.

Cincinnati almost became the first state school to beat the Buckeyes since Oberlin College did it in 1921. The No. 6 Buckeyes eked out a 23-19 win over the Bearcats to save their season.

A few games later, the No. 4 Buckeyes (7-0) faced unranked Wisconsin at Camp Randall Stadium. The Buckeyes again escaped, this time with a 19-14 win.

Three weeks later, No. 3 Ohio State (10-0) saw their season slipping away late in the fourth quarter as they trailed Purdue 6-3.

On fourth down and a yard to go as the clock ticked under 1:40, Buckeye QB Craig Krenzel delivered a miracle 37-yard touchdown pass to Michael Jenkins that caused announcer Brent Musberger to exclaim "Holy Buckeye!"


One thing is for sure. The Buckeyes were battle-tested in 2002 and they found ways to win games even in the face of tremendous adversity—something elite teams do.

The season ended with the unbeaten Miami Hurricanes ranked No. 1 and the unbeaten Buckeyes ranked No. 2. Much like the 2006 Gators team, the 2002 Buckeyes constantly heard the experts projecting that OSU had no chance and to expect a big Miami win.

It made sense at least when you considered how chock-full of future NFL pros the Miami roster was stocked with.

Nevertheless, in what most people still consider to be the greatest BCS title game to date, the Buckeyes shocked the college football world and won the 2002 BCS championship 31-24 in a double overtime instant classic.

There was some controversy over a possibly questionable interference call on fourth down against Miami in the first overtime period that allowed the Buckeyes to force a second overtime, but there were calls earlier that went against OSU that would have allowed them to win the game without OT, so it all evened out in the end.


You can see there have been a few games and moments we'd all like to forget, but overall, we really can't complain about where JT has taken the program in his 10 years.

Having won 10 or more games in eight of his 10 seasons is boast worthy. He has made Ohio State football the cream of the crop in the Big 10, and restored it as one of the best programs in the country.

We're looking forward to ranking the next five or 10 years under Coach Tressel if we're so blessed to have him at the helm that long.






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