The 12 Most Painful Ends To Ohio State Football Seasons

Most Devastating Ohio State Losses

The final moments of the 2019 Fiesta Bowl were an absolute gut-punch for the Ohio State Buckeyes and their fans.

After dominating a big chunk of the game, the Bucks fell behind, then battled back to put themselves in position for a dramatic last-second win.

But after marching down to the Clemson 23, a miscommunication led to an interception in the end zone. Just like that, the game and the season were over.

It was a shocking and sudden ending, and unquestionably one of the more crushing ends to an OSU season in recent memory – a game full of what-ifs that will be discussed in either hushed or angry tones in sports bars and around water coolers in the state of Ohio for decades to come.

But the Buckeyes have entered the offseason off tough defeats before. Here’s a look at 12 years that ended very badly for OSU, and where the 2019 season ranks on that list.

With one notable exception, this only includes seasons where Ohio State lost its final game, and where that game had an impact on the national championship. The closer they got to that title, the worse the sting.

12) 2016 Fiesta Bowl

The Stakes: No. 3 Buckeyes were a 3.5-point favorite over No. 2 Clemson, in what was widely considered an extremely even matchup. The winner would earn a spot in the national title game.

What Happened: Ohio State’s offense simply never got out of first gear. The Buckeye defense did its part, but the offense went: punt, missed field goal, missed field goal, punt, punt, punt, punt, end of half, fumble, punt, punt, interception, interception, downs, end of game.

The only times the Buckeyes seriously threatened were after an interception gave them the ball at the Clemson 33 (they went 3 yards and then missed a field goal), and after Curtis Samuel busted a 64-yard run with the score already 24-0 Tigers early in the fourth quarter. That drive ended with an interception.

Outside of that Samuel run, they had 22 carries for 24 yards on the night.

11) 1961 Faculty Council Vote

The Stakes: Ohio State ended its 1961 regular season with a record of 8-0-1, and was poised to go to the Rose Bowl.

What Happened: The OSU Faculty Council voted 28-25 against the trip, denying the Buckeyes the chance to play in Pasadena. Members felt that football was becoming too much of an emphasis at the school.

So three days after a dominating 50-20 win over Michigan in Ann Arbor that clinched a Big Ten title and seemingly a ticket to play UCLA in the Rose Bowl, their season ended unceremoniously inside the Faculty Club on campus.

The sting is lessened a little by the fact that the Buckeyes were voted national champions by the Football Writers’ Association, but Alabama was No. 1 in the AP and UPI polls. At the time, voting was done immediately after the regular season, so the Rose Bowl snub did not impact those results.

10) 2019 Fiesta Bowl

The Stakes: No. 2 Ohio State was widely considered one of – if not the – best teams in program history. They dominated opponents all season, crushing Michigan 56-27 and winning the Big Ten title. They drew No. 3 Clemson in the semifinals of the College Football Playoff. The Tigers entered as a 2-point favorite.

What Happened: The Buckeyes completely dominated the first half of the game, but settled for three field goals in three red zone trips to take a 16-0 lead.

A targeting penalty on junior corner Shaun Wade turned the tide, and Clemson quickly scored a pair of touchdowns to go to the locker room down just 16-14. Clemson took its first lead of the game at 21-16 in the third quarter.

A controversial replay decision overturned what appeared to be a fumble recovery for a touchdown that would have given OSU the lead again in the third quarter. The Buckeyes finally answered back with a gutsy pass call on 4th-and-2 to make it 23-21 early in the fourth quarter.

The teams exchanged punts before Clemson embarked on a 4-play, 94-yard drive to take a 29-23 lead with 1:49 to play. OSU raced back down the field, but a miscommunication between quarterback Justin Fields and wide receiver Chris Olave allowed Clemson to come up with a game-clinching interception in the end zone.

The ending was agonizing for Buckeye fans, but it’s not as high on the list as some other games because they would have still needed to win another game to win the title.

9) 1921 Rose Bowl

The Stakes: The 1920 Ohio State team entered its first-ever Rose Bowl game with a 7-0 record. They would face Cal’s famed “Wonder Team” which was 8-0 and had outscored its opponents 482-14, but the mighty Buckeyes were still considered the favorite. The sport was still very regionalized, and a Rose Bowl win almost certainly would have earned the Buckeyes at least a split national title, which would have been their first.

What Happened: Cal jumped out to a 21-0 halftime lead and defeated the Buckeyes, 28-0. The Bears shared the national title with Princeton.

8) 1973 Rose Bowl

The Stakes: The 1972 Ohio State team entered the Rose Bowl with a 9-1 record and ranked No. 3 in the nation. Their opponent was No. 1 USC. The No. 2 team in the nation, Oklahoma, had already beaten Penn State in the Sugar Bowl, but the Buckeyes still had a good claim to the national title if they won.

What Happened: Prior to the game, Woody Hayes shoved a camera into a photographer’s face, earning himself a three-game suspension. The teams played to a 7-7 tie at halftime before the roof fell in.

The Trojans scored touchdowns on each of their first five drives in the second half, turning that 7-7 halftime score into a 42-17 blowout. USC running back Sam Cunningham rushed it 11 times for 38 yards, but scored four touchdowns. The Trojans were voted unanimous No. 1.

7) 2008 Sugar Bowl

The Stakes: One of the most bizarre college football seasons of all-time saw the Buckeyes lose to Illinois in the penultimate week of the season, and then vault all the way back to No. 1 thanks to an incredible string of upsets. They would face No. 2 LSU in the BCS title game in the Sugar Bowl.

What Happened: The Buckeyes exploded out of the gate with a 65-yard touchdown run by Chris “Beanie” Wells to take an early 7-0 lead. On their next possession, they quickly reached the red zone again, and had a 2nd-and-5 at the LSU 10 before a false start penalty derailed the drive and they had to settle for a field goal.

After that, it was all LSU. The Tigers went field goal, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown on their next five drives (excluding a kneel-down before the half) to take a 31-10 lead. The last drive was extended by a roughing the center penalty that negated an LSU punt and gave the ball back to the Tigers.

OSU never got within striking distance after that, losing 38-24.

6) 2007 Fiesta Bowl

The Stakes: The 2006 Buckeyes rolled through the regular season, crushing Texas 24-7 in a 1 vs. 2 matchup, and then beating Michigan, 42-39 in another. There was talk of giving the Wolverines a rematch with Ohio State in the national championship game, but Florida and its head coach Urban Meyer finished No. 2 in the BCS instead.

What Happened: OSU’s Ted Ginn ran back the opening kickoff for a touchdown, but injured his foot during the ensuing celebration. It was all downhill from there.

The Gators exploded for 21 straight points before OSU answered with an Antonio Pittman touchdown to make it 21-14 early in the second quarter. Florida tacked on a couple field goals, and then scored a dagger of a touchdown just 23 seconds before the half to make it 34-14.

The Gators’ pass rush simply overwhelmed the OSU offensive line and limited Heisman winner Troy Smith to just 4-for-14 passing for 35 yards. Florida won, 41-14.

5) 1971 Rose Bowl

The Stakes: One year after blowing a chance at back-to-back national titles in a season-ending loss to Michigan, the Buckeyes were again one win from a perfect season. They had already dispatched with the Wolverines, and entered bowl season ranked No. 2, behind only Texas. When the Longhorns lost the Cotton Bowl on New Year’s Day, the Buckeyes just needed to beat Stanford to claim the national title.

What Happened: Stanford jumped out to a 10-0 lead before the Buckeyes roared back. They cut it to 10-7 after the first quarter and took a 14-10 lead into halftime. The teams traded field goals in the third quarter, making the score 17-13 Buckeyes entering the fourth.

Needing just 15 more minutes to claim the title, Ohio State couldn’t hang on. Heisman winner Jim Plunkett led a pair of touchdown drives that gave Stanford a 27-17 win.

Nebraska, which entered New Year’s Day ranked No. 3 won the title instead. OSU still claims this as a title due to the National Football Foundation voting them No. 1 before the bowls.

4) 1976 Rose Bowl

The Stakes: Ohio State was No. 1 in both polls entering the Rose Bowl. Their opponent was No. 11 UCLA, a team the Buckeyes had crushed, 41-20 in the same stadium earlier in the season. All they had to do was do it again and they would almost certainly win a consensus national championship.

What Happened: The Buckeyes absolutely dominated the Bruins in the first half, rolling up 11 first downs to just 2 for UCLA. They had a 174-48 advantage in total yardage, but only had a 3-0 lead at halftime.

After the break, the game swung completely. UCLA kicked a field goal to tie, then scored on a 16-yard pass to take a 9-3 lead less than six minutes into the third quarter. Then, with under two minutes to play in the third, the Bruins struck again, this time on a 67-yard touchdown pass to make it 16-3.

OSU came back with a Pete Johnson touchdown run to cut it to 16-10 early in the fourth, but couldn’t complete the comeback. UCLA sealed it with a 54-yard touchdown run with 3:42 left to seal the stunning upset.

3) 1980 Rose Bowl

The Stakes: The 1979 Buckeyes were led by first-year head coach Earle Bruce. They were ranked No. 1 in the AP poll and No. 3 by the coaches, so a win would likely give them at least a share of the national title. USC was 10-0-1, ranked No. 3 in the AP and No. 2 by the coaches.

What Happened: USC jumped out to a 10-0 lead in the second quarter, but OSU battled back with a field goal and then a 67-yard touchdown pass from Art Schlichter to Gary Williams to tie it at 10.

OSU tacked on field goals in the third and fourth quarters and held a 17-16 lead when USC took over at its own 17 with 5:21 to play.

Trojans RB Charles White took a handoff on the first play for 32 yards, and on the second for 28 more. Just like that USC was at the Buckeyes’ 23. Five plays later, White scored. The PAT made it 17-16 Trojans.

OSU had one last chance, with 1:32 to play, but Schlichter threw four straight incomplete passes and the Buckeyes lost the game and the national title by a single point.

2) 1975 Rose Bowl

The Stakes: The 1974 Buckeye team was ranked No. 2 by the UPI and No. 3 by the AP coming into the Rose Bowl against No. 5 USC. Oklahoma was the top-ranked team in the AP poll, but was ineligible for the UPI because they were on probation. Alabama, the other team ahead of the Buckeyes in both polls would go on to lose the Orange Bowl, so a Rose Bowl win would have given the Buckeyes at least a split title.

What Happened: This is considered one of the greatest games in Rose Bowl history. But it took a little while to get going. Ohio State led it just 7-3 after three quarters, but USC scored a touchdown to make it 10-7 Trojans early in the fourth.

OSU would answer with a touchdown and field goal to take a 17-10 lead with just 6:38 to go. But USC went right down the field and scored on a 38-yard touchdown pass with 3:03 left to make it 17-16 Buckeyes. The Trojans opted to go for two, and took an 18-17 lead.

OSU mounted a desperate final drive, but Tom Skladaney’s 62-yard field goal attempt at the gun was short. USC ended up vaulting all the way from No. 5 to No. 1 to claim the UPI national title.

1) 1969 Michigan

The Stakes: The Buckeyes had gone unbeaten in 1968 and won the Rose Bowl. The Big Ten had a “no-repeat” rule in place at the time that meant that OSU could not go back to Pasadena in 1969. So the No. 1 Buckeyes just had to beat Michigan in Ann Arbor to wrap up their second straight national championship.

What Happened: No one had managed to stay within three touchdowns of the Bucks all season long, but first-year Michigan coach Bo Schembechler had his team ready. OSU jumped out to leads of 6-0 and 12-7, but was shut out for the last 44 minutes of the game.

Michigan, meanwhile, scored 17 consecutive points to close the first half. The Wolverines intercepted six OSU passes on the day, and the 24-12 halftime score was also the final.

When the clock hit zero, the Buckeyes’ season was over and they had blown their shot at back-to-back titles.

5 Responses

  1. This last game is #1, 1969 loss to Michigan not even in top 5 anymore, we got revenge the next year, there is no revenge for this game. Record vs south is pathetic, for those of us living in south this was the worst, coaches should have gone for it at least once 4th and goal, refs as corrupt as the ate had nothing to to with it.

  2. I know it doesn’t meet your criteria but awful hard to overlook all three MSU losses in 1998, 2013, and 2015 because in my opinion all three of these cost the Buckeyes a shot at the title.

    1. While 2013 and 2015 losses were painful, it doesn’t compare to 1998. The 2013 and 2015 teams had issues and even if they advanced to the playoffs, they weren’t going anywhere. The 1998 team had everything going for it and could have played and even beaten everyone. That ’98 loss in was a fluke game, that began with a botched PR into a fumble to a Saban coached team that knew how to steal some huge wins. .

  3. Actually, your contention about the Faculty causing the 1961 Buckeyes to not win the national championship is wrong. Prior to 1968 the champions were named at the conclusion of the regular season schedule. Bowl games were considered “exposition games” outside of normal order of college football. Indeed, the individual and team statistics were not even included with the season’s statistics at all; none of them. So, yes, the faculty vote did stop the Buckeyes from going to the Rose Bowl; it did not have anything to do with the championship, which was actually decided in the polls prior to the faculty voting.

    1. You’re right – I updated the article to correct that. Thanks.

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