Since I became a full-fledged fan of Ohio State back in 1984, the Buckeyes have won a total of 228 games. Those are a lot of victories, to be sure- but some stick out more than others. Here, in order, are my ten favorite Ohio State wins since 1984. I had to leave some good ones off the list, but that's just the happy hazard of rooting for one of the greatest programs in college football.
Before we start, here are some honorable mentions that didn't quite make the cut:
November 21, 1987: Ohio State 23, Michigan 20- The Buckeyes send Earle Bruce out a winner, coming back from a 13-0 deficit to top the Wolverines in Ann Arbor.
September 24, 1988: Ohio State 36, LSU 33- Down 33-20 with four minutes to play, the Buckeyes rip off sixteen unanswered points to shock the Bayou Bengals- the program's last win to date over an SEC opponent.
October 28, 1989: Ohio State 41, Minnesota 37- The Buckeyes overcome a 31-0 second-quarter deficit to beat the Gophers in the Metrodome.
September 19, 1992: Ohio State 35, Syracuse 12- The Bucks get revenge for a loss in the previous year's Hall of Fame Bowl, walloping the then-powerful Orangemen in the Carrier Dome.
November 24, 2001: Ohio State 26, Michigan 20- 310 days after promising that the Buckeyes would make us proud in Ann Arbor on the football field, Jim Tressel delivers with a win in the Big House.
September 9, 2006: Ohio State 24, Texas 7- The Buckeyes avenge their defeat to the Longhorns in Columbus by roping the Steers in Darrell K. Royal.
Now, on to the list.
10.) November 11, 1995: Ohio State 41, Illinois 3- Payback is always nice, and payback is exactly what the Buckeyes got at the expense of the Illini on this cold November afternoon. Ohio State had experienced all sorts of problems with Illinois before that game, especially in Columbus. The Illini had won four straight in the Horseshoe, and after beating Ohio State there the previous year had crowed that the home of the Buckeyes was now "their house." They would pay the price for their impudence.
Doing the bulk of the collecting was tailback Eddie George. With record-breaking receiver Terry Glenn on the shelf with a shoulder injury, the Buckeyes would have to rely on George and the ground game against a tough Illinois defense anchored by defensive end Simeon Rice and Butkus Award-winning linebacker Kevin Hardy. What followed was a demolition job. With tackle Orlando Pace, tight end Rickey Dudley, fullback Nicky Sualua and the rest of Ohio State's blocking corps flattening Illini defenders, George ran wild. By the end of the first quarter, Steady Eddie already had 135 yards rushing- and he was just getting started. His 64-yard touchdown run broke the game open in the third quarter, by the end of which he had already shattered the Ohio State single-game rushing record set by Keith Byars.
By the time it was over, Eddie George had torn apart Illinois's defense for 314 yards on 36 carries with three touchdowns- two rushing and one via a pass. Eddie was magnificent, but plenty of credit should go to Ohio State's blocking. I've watched a lot of Buckeye football over the last twenty-five years, but I've never seen as dominant an offensive line performance, against a quality defense, as the one put on by the Buckeyes on this day. With a lot of help from his friends, Eddie George was on his way to the Heisman- and the Horseshoe was emphatically, no longer "their house."
9.) November 20, 2004: Ohio State 37, Michigan 21- Ohio State went into the annual showdown against the Wolverines with a modest 6-4 record and a decided underdog status. The Buckeyes had struggled all year, losing three in a row at one point (including their first loss to Northwestern since 1971) while Michigan, behind freshman sensations Chad Henne and Mike Hart, was 9-1 and on its way to the Rose Bowl. Ohio State's misfiring offense wasn't expected to make much headway against the rugged Michigan defense, and the young Buckeyes were expected to roll over for the Pasadena-bound Wolverines.
The expectations were way off on both counts, thanks in large part to quarterback Troy Smith. The red-shirt sophomore stunned the Wolverines on the game's third play when he scrambled away from pressure and hit freshman Anthony Gonzalez with a 68-yard touchdown bomb. After Michigan fought back to take a 14-7 lead, Troy led the way to 27 unanswered Buckeye points, shredding the Wolverine defense with his arm and legs. Meanwhile Ohio State's defense, led by A.J. Hawk, Bobby Carpenter, and an opportunistic secondary, was shutting down Henne, Hart, Braylon Edwards, and the rest of the Michigan offense. Freshman lightning bolt Ted Ginn broke the game open in the third quarter with a spectacular 82-yard punt return for a touchdown, and from there it was academic. With Smith rolling up 386 combined yards running and passing, the Buckeyes took it going away.
Going into the 2004 edition of the Game, Jim Tressell had a 2-1 record against the School up North. It was a nice mark, certainly a welcome change from the John Cooper era, but it wasn't proof of ownership, especially since the Wolverines had defeated the Buckeyes the previous year. Ohio State's unexpected offensive explosion made it official- the man in the sweater vest held the deed on all things maize and blue. Five years later, he still holds it. And after a rocky season, all was well in Columbus.
8.) November 2, 1985: Ohio State 22, Iowa 13- Ah yes, the first great Buckeye victory I can remember. Iowa went into this game number-one ranked, at the top of the polls for five consecutive weeks. The Horseshoe had been a house of horrors for the Hawkeyes, but that was supposed to change this time around. Eighth-ranked Ohio State had problems on defense, particularly against the pass: the Buckeyes had already been roasted by Jack Trudeau of Illinois and Jim Everett of Purdue, and observers believed the same would happen at the hands of Iowa's Heisman-candidate quarterback Chuck Long.
But it didn't happen. On a gloomy, rain-soaked afternoon in Columbus, Ohio State's maligned defenders rose up to annihilate the detractors- and Iowa. They hounded Chuck Long all day, holding him to 169 yards through the air and intercepting him four times. A Rich Spangler field goal, a blocked punt for a safety, and a 57-yard touchdown burst by John Wooldridge gave Ohio State a 12-0 first-half lead, and from there, the Buckeyes were in command.
Particularly brilliant among Ohio State's defense was- who else- Chris Spielman. The sophomore linebacker from Massillon snared two interceptions and personally accounted for a critical fourth-down stop inside the Buckeye 15-yard line, when he invaded the backfield and stood up Iowa's Ronnie Harmon well short of the marker. Iowa's reign at the top of the land was over- and a young Buckeye fan had found an idol. To this day, Chris Spielman is my all-time favorite Ohio State player.
7.) November 9, 2002: Ohio State 10, Purdue 6- My buddy P-Phunk and I had a ritual that we adhered to strictly throughout the 2002 Ohio State season. We would convene before game-time in the living room of the house in Kent in which we lived with two other guys, take the edge off with a nice pipe at kickoff and at halftime, and watch Buckeye football. Simple, consistent, and effective, just like the team itself.
Whether it was the pipe or the course of the games themselves, we usually weren't the most animated of Buckeye fans, but we were even quieter than usual as the meeting with Purdue unfolded in wind-swept Ross-Ade Stadium. We watched in almost total silence as the Buckeyes and Boilermakers locked horns and cracked pads in a classic, slobber-knocking Big Ten battle. Midway through the fourth quarter, Purdue kicker Berin Lacevic gave his team a 6-3 lead, and at that point I turned to P-Phunk and uttered the first words either of us had said in about an hour: "The Buckeyes are in a spot of trouble." And they were. Maurice Clarett was out of action with a shoulder stinger, Craig Krenzel had been off-target all afternoon, and the wind was in Ohio State's face. The Buckeye offense hadn't done a damned thing the entire game. That 6-3 deficit looked like 26-3. Our silence was anything but golden.
Then, with less than two minutes left, on fourth-and-one from the Purdue 37, Krenzel stepped up under a heavy rush, saw his primary receiver Ben Hartsock covered underneath, and lofted a deep pass that arced through the wind and settled into the arms of Michael Jenkins in the end zone. The resultant explosion ripped through the state of Ohio and everywhere else in Buckeye Country, setting off bars, dorms, restaurants and living rooms, including that of a certain house in Kent, where silence no longer reigned supreme. Replacing it was shrieking, joyful disbelief at what we'd just seen. Another roommate of ours was upstairs. He didn't see the play, didn't hear it, but when he felt the floor shake, he knew something big had happened.
6.) September 30, 1995: Ohio State 45, Notre Dame 26- The first meeting between the two schools since 1936, Ohio State-Notre Dame was the non-conference event of the season. Still coached by Lou Holtz, the Irish were just two years removed from a second-place finish in the polls (and what should have been a National Championship) and still considered an elite power in college football. Nowadays we've come to think of Notre Dame as almost a punch line, cannon fodder for any team with a pulse. Not so in 1995. Back then, there was still magic in the Irish name.
The much-anticipated showdown lived up to the hype. Notre Dame controlled the tempo in the first half, jumping to a quick 10-0 lead, and led 17-14 at the intermission. Midway through the third period, the Buckeyes trailed 20-14 when the course of events suddenly changed. Notre Dame return man Emmett Mosley muffed a punt, Ohio State recovered, and a few plays later Bob Hoying hit Rickey Dudley with a touchdown pass that put the Buckeyes in front to stay. Moments later, after a Shawn Springs interception, Hoying hit Terry Glenn on a short curl route, and Glenn outran the Irish secondary for an 83-yard touchdown that would have blown the roof off the Horseshoe, had a roof existed. On Notre Dame's next possession, Irish quarterback Ron "Two Heisman" Powlus fumbled away a snap, and when Eddie George rambled into the end zone, the Buckeyes had three touchdowns within five minutes and eleven seconds.
From then on, it was all Eddie George. The big tailback dominated the fourth quarter, setting up Ohio State's final touchdown with a 61-yard burst, and finished with 207 yards on 32 carries, jump-starting his Heisman campaign. The lopsided final score didn't do justice to the closeness of the game, but no matter- after the two bitter defeats to the Irish back during the Depression, Ohio State was halfway to exacting revenge. And John Cooper had his first signature win as Buckeye head coach.