Ohio State Football: Five National Titles That Got Away

Ohio State Football: Five National Titles That Got Away

Terry Johnson

Ohio State Football: Five National Titles That Got Away


Ohio State is one of the programs that has a bushel of national titles, but there are also some that got away. Here’s a look at the five seasons that were within a whisker of adding more national titles to the Buckeyes’ illustrious history.


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Ohio State Football: Five National Titles That Got Away

Ohio State has had some great teams over the years. One of the top programs in the country, the Buckeyes have captured eight national championships, the most recent one coming in 2014 in the inaugural College Football Playoff.

Unfortunately, there has also been some heartbreak along the way, with some very talented squads coming up just short in their quest for a title. Here is a look at five Ohio State teams that should have won a national championship.

2015

For most Buckeye fans, the 2015 season still stings. Ohio State entered the year as the defending champ and faced top challenger Michigan State at home. All the Bucks had to do was defeat the Spartans – a team that they scored 49 points against the year before – and they would return to the College Football Playoff.

That didn’t happen. The Buckeye offense couldn’t do anything right on a night that saw some less than desirable rain conditions, finishing the evening with 132 yards – the worst total under Urban Meyer’s watch.

Still, Ohio State had a chance to win this contest. After downing a punt at the Michigan State four-yard line, the Buckeye defense could have won the game by forcing a three and out. However, the Spartan offense was able to pick up a few first downs, and ultimately flipped the script, giving OSU the ball at its own seven.

Michigan State kicked the game-winning field goal on the ensuing possession.

This painful defeat knocked the Buckeyes out of the Big Ten and national championship races. Had Ohio State won this game, there’s no doubt in my mind that it would have won the College Football Playoff for the second straight season. After all, it defeated eventual champion Alabama the year before.

1979

The Buckeyes were six minutes away from winning the national championship in Earle Bruce’s first year in Columbus. All they had to do was stop USC on the final drive.

They couldn’t. Trojan TB Charles White ran for a then-Rose Bowl record 247 yards – including 71 on the decisive drive – to lead USC to a 17-16 victory over the Buckeyes.

What made this loss so devastating was that Bruce played the percentages and lost. Leading 13-10 with just under six minutes to go in the fourth quarter, he opted to kick a 24-yard field goal rather than going for it on fourth down. Considering that the Buckeye D only gave up 10.5 points per game that season, it’s perfectly understandable why Bruce took the points and trusted the Scarlet and Gray defense to keep SC out of the end zone.

Sadly, it didn’t.

If Ohio State had won this contest, there’s no doubt that it would have won the national championship. Remember, even though the Buckeyes were the No. 1 team in the land, the Trojans were a seven-point favorite. That means that nothing Alabama did in the Sugar Bowl would have been enough to overtake OSU in the final poll.

1996

Unlike the 2015 campaign – where the Buckeyes knew why they didn’t win the national championship – the 1996 season is a bit of a mystery.

Don’t get me wrong: Ohio State clearly controlled its own destiny. All it had to do was beat TTUN in the season finale. The Buckeyes jumped out to a 9-0 lead at halftime and appeared to have the game in hand.

Unfortunately, Brian Griese came off the bench to guide the Wolverines to a 13-9 victory. If Ohio State’s defense holds in the second half, there’s no doubt that it wins the national championship.

However, the infamous All-American Shawn Springs’ slip on the natural grass provided the fluky touchdown TTUN needed to steal one away.

Yet, even with the Buckeyes’ loss in that contest, I can’t figure out why they didn’t win at least a share of the title. After all, Ohio State defeated Arizona State – which beat defending champion Nebraska earlier in the season – in the Rose Bowl. That victory was much more impressive than Florida winning a rematch against Florida State. It’s disappointing that the pollsters just went along with what the Bowl Alliance said, rather than voting for the best team in the country.

On a side note: it’s very disappointing that the SEC always gets a “do over” when it comes to playing for a national championship.

Don’t worry, there’s more on that topic later!

1973

Heading into The Game, Ohio State was the No. 1 team in the country. With a victory over TTUN, the Buckeyes would go to the Rose Bowl to face USC, which embarrassed them 42-17 the year before.

Although OSU would return to Pasadena to avenge its loss against the Trojans, it did not win the national championship that season.

What’s even more shocking is the reason why the Bucks didn’t win the title in 1973. The team didn’t win the national championship because of a questionable decision by Hall of Fame coach Woody Hayes.

Here’s what happened. Leading 10-0 in third quarter, Hayes opted to go for it on fourth and two from the TTUN 34-yard line. This decision certainly raised a few eyebrows. Sure, if Ohio State picked up the first down, it could have put the game out of reach. However, a field goal would have accomplished the same thing. If – and it’s an Orlando Pace-sized if – Blair Conway and future three-time All-American Tom Skladany didn’t have the leg to hit from 51 yards out, the Buckeyes should have at least punted and pinned TTUN deep in its own territory.

Unfortunately, the gamble didn’t pay off. The fired up TTUN squad rallied to tie the game at 10, giving OSU its lone blemish of the season.

Although Notre Dame would also finish the 1973 campaign undefeated, it would have been very hard for the pollsters to vault the Irish over the Buckeyes. While it really pains me to say it, a victory over TTUN would have mattered more than a win over Alabama.

2017

I realize that people who are familiar with my work will say, “Dude, make like Elsa and let it go”.

Sorry, I can’t do that. Ohio State – not Alabama – deserved the fourth and final spot in the College Football Playoff last year.

Save me the “But the Buckeyes lost by 31 on the road” argument, SEC fans. After all, the SEC champion lost 40-17 away from home as well. If a blowout loss knocks Ohio State out of the running, then it has to eliminate Georgia as well. But, if it doesn’t keep Georgia out, why does it remove Ohio State from the bracket?

It shouldn’t have. And, given that Alabama didn’t beat a power five conference opponent with fewer than four losses (until the College Football Playoff), there’s no way it should have qualified for the field.

Yet, instead of relying on facts and resumes, the Selection Committee decided to give the college football world the middle finger and do whatever it pleased.

That’s truly a shame. Although Ohio State lost two games, it was evident that the 2017 squad had the talent to win the national championship. Given that Clemson completely humiliated the Buckeyes in 2016, I have absolutely no doubt that the team would have rebounded to win that matchup (just as it did in the 1973). Considering what the OSU offense did against Kirby Smart’s Alabama defense in 2014, I would have liked its chances in that contest as well.

 

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