Senior Editor Terry Johnson attempts to answer an impossible question the only way that he knows how: letting the best Ohio State teams of the last twenty years settle the issue on the gridiron — sort of. They’ll at least settle it by way of a cool simulation exercise from our friends at WhatifSports.com. Next, we look at the matchup between the 2002 team and the 1997 outfit.
Round 1: 1998 vs. 2012
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Ohio State Football Simulation Series: Round One, Game Two – 2002 vs. 1997
Okay, let’s get some housekeeping items out of the way first.
As we talked about last week, we are continuing our simulation of the best Ohio State teams over the last twenty years.
And as a reminder, we used the seeding method used by the Sports-Reference.com’s Simple Rating System (SRS) to seed the teams. SRS uses both strength of schedule and margin of victory, so it gives preference to teams that beat quality opponents — not necessarily where you might think teams would be slotted based on record and trophies.
Next up, we have the dreaded, close to call No. 8 vs. No. 9 seed matchup between the national-title-winning 2002 squad and an underappreciated 1997 team.
(8) 2002 vs. (9) 1997
Setting The Table
The 2002 squad was a team that survived many close calls — some against quality competition — others not so much. At the end of the season though, despite the many Houdini acts, the Buckeyes were left with a 13-0 record after surviving Michigan in a classic at the Horseshoe.
As a result, Ohio State got an invite to play in the Fiesta Bowl against No. 1 ranked Miami for a shot at pulling off an improbably national championship. The team had freshman sensation Maurice Clarett at running back, the game managing Craig Krenzel at QB, and a suffocating defense. As you know, it sealed the deal.
The 1997 team was another one of those John Cooper teams that came oh, so close to bringing home a national championship, but unfortunately the Michigan bug-a-book struck again, ruining an otherwise fantastic year that ended with a sour note — losing to Florida State 31-14 in the Sugar Bowl. Joe Germaine and Stanley Jackson shared time at quarterback, and guys like Andy Katzenmoyer, Damon Moore and Na’il Diggs patrolled the defense.
How It All Went Down
Mike Nugent kicked four field goals – including the game-winner with just one second remaining – to lead the 2002 national championship team on to the second round.
It looked like John Cooper’s 1997 team was going to pull off the upset in the early going. The Buckeyes scored the game’s only touchdown on a 3-yard run by Matt Keller two plays after a nifty 33-yard catch-and-run by Ken-Yon Rambo. They would extend the lead to 10-0 on a 25-yard field goal by Dan Stultz.
However, as the Miami Hurricanes found out, no lead is ever safe against the 2002 Buckeyes. Even though it never reached the end zone, Ohio State came up with huge plays in the fourth quarter, including a 9-yard run by Maurice Clarett on fourth down and a clutch catch by Ryan Hamby to set up Nugent’s winning kick.