Ruin Championship-Caliber Buckeye Seasons? Spartans Will

2015 Michigan State Ohio State field goal

Michigan State doesn’t beat the Buckeyes all that often in football. But when they do, the Spartans really make it count.

OSU leads the all-time series 31-15, and five of Michigan State’s wins came in the first seven meetings.

Since 1967, it’s 29-10 Buckeyes, but half of those losses have been championship season-killers against unbeaten OSU teams in November or later.

For some reason, the Spartans seem to save their best for the moments when it will be most painful for OSU.

Depending on your age, you read the last couple paragraphs and probably thought “2015” or “1998” or “1974.” And in each case, you’re right.

Here’s a run through the five shocking Spartan upsets which ruined perfect OSU seasons.


It was Archie Griffin’s freshman season, and the Buckeyes were rolling into their November 11 game at Spartan Stadium.

They entered the MSU game 8-0 and ranked No. 5 in the nation.

Meanwhile, the Spartans were 3-4-1, having lost to No. 1 USC, No. 7 Notre Dame, and No. 5 Michigan in consecutive weeks by a combined score of 77-6.

This was not a team that should have challenged the Buckeyes.

But up in East Lansing, the Spartans completely outclassed Woody Hayes’ team.

They had 20 first downs to just 12 for OSU, and outrushed the Buckeyes 334-107 in a 19-12 win.

It would be the only regular season loss for Ohio State that season. The Buckeyes went to the Rose Bowl where they lost to national champion USC.


Before J.T. Barrett was part of a contentious spot in a big game between border rivals, it was Champ Henson.

The 1974 Buckeyes were ranked No. 1 in the country with an 8-0 record coming into their November 9 game in East Lansing.

Michigan State came in just 4-3-1, again having lost back-to-back-to-back games in humiliating fashion earlier in the year. This time it was UCLA, Notre Dame, and Michigan combining for a 96-35 drubbing.

Unlike two years earlier, the Buckeyes played well enough to win in this case. They were up 13-3 with less than 10 minutes left in the game before Michigan State roared back.

The Spartans scored a 44-yard passing touchdown with 5:30 left to cut the Buckeyes’ lead to 13-9.

Then, with 3:17 to play, MSU fullback Levi Jackson raced 88 yards off right tackle for a go-ahead touchdown. Just like that, the top-ranked Buckeyes were down 16-13.

But OSU had one last chance. They drove down inside the MSU 10 in the final minute. Fullback Champ Henson appeared to possibly score the winning touchdown with 29 seconds left, but the officials ruled he was down at the 1.

On the next play, they tried to ram it in from the 1, but were stonewalled.

Then, as MSU players held Buckeyes down to keep them from running another play, precious seconds ticked off the clock.

According to the official game report,

“The Buckeyes attempted to line up, as the final seconds ticked off, and did get a play started. The ball squirted between quarterback Cornelius Greene’s legs, was picked up by wingback Brian Baschnagel and carried well into the end zone.”

However, the officials ruled that the clock had run out before the snap. It took 46 minutes before Big Ten commissioner Wayne Duke, who was at the game, made the ruling official.

It was the only regular season loss for the Buckeyes that year. Just like two years earlier, they went to the Rose Bowl and lost to USC.

You can watch the final moments of the 1974 game below.


For the two decades after the controversial 1974 game, the Spartans only beat OSU twice, knocking off Earle Bruce’s lousy 1987 squad and John Cooper’s even worse 1988 team.

But in 1998, Nick Saban and Michigan State made up for lost time.

Just like 24 years earlier, the Buckeyes were 8-0 and ranked No. 1 in the nation. Their closest game all year had been a 17-point win at No. 10 West Virginia, and it was only that close because of a garbage-time score by the Mountaineers.

OSU was a 28-point favorite at home and seemed to be well on their way to another easy win. It was 17-3 Bucks at the end of the first quarter.

The Buckeyes took a 24-9 lead on Damon Moore’s 71-yard interception return with 9:51 to play in the third quarter.

On Michigan State’s next possession, they went three-and-out again and punted the ball back to OSU.

But when that punt came back down, it hit Buckeye cornerback Nate Clements. MSU fell on the live ball and took over at midfield.

To that point, MSU had managed only three field goals. But they made the most of the gift.

Ohio native Bill Burke led the Spartans down the field, throwing a 23-yard touchdown pass to cut it to 24-15.

On the Buckeyes’ next possession, running back Michael Wiley fumbled the ball away at his own 34. That set up a Spartan field goal that made it 24-18.

After another empty OSU drive, the Spartans went 92 yards in just 8 plays to take a 25-24 lead.

The teams traded punts, and then quarterback Joe Germaine was hit and fumbled away yet another Buckeye turnover. This one set up a field goal that made it 28-24 Spartans.

The Buckeyes drove methodically down the field, but got stuffed on 4th-and-1 at the MSU 26.

They had one final chance in the closing minutes, moving the ball back down to the Spartan 15, but Renaldo Hill picked off Germaine’s pass in the end zone to seal the upset.

The Buckeyes narrowly missed out on playing in the first-ever BCS National Championship Game, settling for a Sugar Bowl win over Texas A&M instead.

Michigan State finished 6-6 and missed a bowl, but their head coach later went on to an NFL job for a few seasons.


A full 15 years after the Spartans spoiled the Buckeyes’ chances to play in the first BCS title game, they did it again in the last year of the BCS.

Urban Meyer’s 2013 team won its division with a perfect 12-0 record and was riding a school-record 24-game win streak coming into the Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis.

Unlike most of the other games on this list, this one at least featured a good Michigan State team. The Spartans went 11-1 in the regular season, losing 17-13 at Notre Dame.

This game was just a series of runs. MSU started by jumping out to a 17-0 lead in the second quarter.

The Buckeyes responded with 24 consecutive points to grab a 24-17 lead with 5:36 left in the third.

At that point, with a touchdown advantage and all the momentum in the world, it seemed the Buckeyes were on their way to the national title game.

MSU answered with a field goal to cut it to 24-20 at the end of the third quarter, then took a 27-24 lead early in the fourth.

The teams traded punts before OSU took over near midfield with 7:36 left in the game.

Three plays later, they were facing a 4th-and-1 at the MSU 39. Quarterback Braxton Miller ran a sweep, but was stopped for no gain.

MSU got the ball back and drove for a game-clinching touchdown.

The Spartans won 34-24 and went on to beat Stanford in the Rose Bowl. The Buckeyes got pizza and then went on to lose the Orange Bowl to Clemson.


The 2015 Buckeyes were an immensely talented collection of individuals who didn’t totally put it all together until it was too late.

Even so, they were 10-0 and ranked No. 3 in the nation when Michigan State came to town on November 21.

This was another very good Spartan team, ranked 9th in the nation and with a 9-1 record.

On a cold, rainy late afternoon, the two teams slugged it out in a low-scoring affair.

OSU jumped out in front in the second quarter, taking advantage of a MSU fumble to score on a 32-yard touchdown drive.

The Spartans tied it up before halftime, but the Buckeyes went back in front in the third quarter thanks to another Spartan mistake.

This time it was a fumble on a punt return that set OSU up with a 1-play, 6-yard touchdown drive.

MSU tied it back up on a 13-play, 75-yard drive.

After that, the Buckeyes had no answer. The offense was completely punchless all game long, producing a drive chart so grim it could have been directed by Werner Herzog.

3 plays, punt

6 plays, punt

10 plays, touchdown

3 plays, punt

3 plays, punt

3 plays, punt

3 plays, punt

4 plays, punt

1 play, touchdown

6 plays, punt

3 plays, punt

After that final punt, MSU got the ball back at the OSU 48, went 25 yards in 9 plays, and then thrust in the dagger with a game-winning field goal as the clock hit zero.

The Spartans went on to beat Iowa and earn a spot in the College Football Playoff. OSU throttled Michigan the following week, and then drubbed Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl.


4 Responses

  1. This is a mediocre Buckeye team that shouldn’t be in the top ten. I think MSU will beat them and Michigan will kill them!

  2. Okay. No fumbles, fewer penalties, no linebacker coverage of wide outs and maybe just one creative play from OSU would make for a great Buckeye victory.

  3. I don’t consider this year to even remotely to those other upsets. For starters, this isn’t a championship-caliber team, and the Buckeyes are only favored by 3 as well. I certainly wouldn’t consider an MSU win to be an

    1. Yeah, despite their record defining it as an ‘upset’ it sure doesn’t FEEL like one going in.
      I remember all of ’em from ’72 onward.

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