Tuesday, January 5

The Buckeyes through the 2000's

The 2000's were, quite simply, a great time to be a fan of Ohio State Buckeyes football. Jim Tressel took the helm in 2001, and since the dawn of the new millennium, the Buckeyes have claimed six Big Ten championships, earned bids to seven BCS bowls, went 8-2 against the school up north (six straight and counting), and ran the table at 14-0 to earn the 2002 National Championship.

There's a lot of good stuff - let's rank these 10 memorable squads:

10) 2000
Record: 8-4
4th Place, Big Ten
michigan result: L 38-26
Bowl Result: Outback vs South Carolina, L 24-7
Team MVP: RB Derek Combs

This was the last of the John Cooper era, which explains the inevitable loss to michigan. You can tell that it wasn't a very successful year when Derek Combs was the MVP and I have no recollection of anyone by that name playing for Ohio St. The QB tandem was Steve Bellisari and Stanley Jackson, neither of them being very good. Reggie Germany and Ken-Yon Rambo were the receiving duo, and the only thing good about them was how awesome Rambo's name is. There were a few standouts from the 90's that carried over to this team like C LeCharles Bentley and CB Nate Clements, so it wasn't all bad. It was also the sophomore campaigns of safeties Mike Doss and Donnie Nickey, who would come to play much larger roles as time went on.

The Bowl game was a beat down at the hands of none other than Lou Holtz himself in the Outback. Not a very good ending to Cooper's career or a start to the decade, but as we all know, things got much better after that.

9) 2001
Record: 7-5
3rd Place, Big Ten
Michigan result: W 26-20
Bowl Result: Outback vs South Carolina, L 31-28
Team MVP: RB Jonathan Wells

Well, not too much better, as the '01 team wasn't much of an improvement from the previous year. It did, however, provide some optimism, as Jim Tressel took the reins and really got fans and players alike to buy into his philosophy, especially when in his first public appearance as head coach at an OSU basketball game he talked about wanting to beat michigan. Remember, this was right after we had to suffer through the Cooper years against michigan, when he once called it "just another game." Bellisari and Jackson were both back and continued splitting time behind center, but the RB position got an upgrade with Jonathan Wells. Other than those guys, the rest of the team was basically just a young and inexperienced version of the 2002 team that won the national championship. Michael Jenkins, Will Smith, Matt Wilhelm, Doss and Nickey all saw significant playing time but weren't quite ready to become stars yet.

The Bowl game was a thriller, as the Buckeyes traveled to the Outback to face Holtz and South Carolina for the second straight year. It looked like it was going to be another laugher, as Carolina had a 28-7 lead going into the 4th quarter. OSU scored the next 21 points to tie the game, only to watch the Gamecocks kick a last second field goal to prevail. Trust me this time, things definitely got better from here.

8) 2004
Record: 8-4
5th Place (tied), Big Ten
Michigan result: W 37-31
Bowl Result: Alamo vs Oklahoma St, W 33-7
Team MVP: K Mike Nugent

Going into the '04 season, expectations were pretty high in Columbus even though most of the starters from the previous season were gone. The reason for this optimism was the coming of freshman "sensation" quarterback Justin Zwick. After having an unbelievable high school career and being named Mr. Ohio, Zwick was expected to dominate at the collegiate level as well. Not so fast, my friend. Zwick had an awful first few games, and was eventually benched in favor of a fellow freshman that was not nearly as heavily recruited and much less publicized, Troy Smith. I wonder how things would have changed if Zwick had just been average for four seasons. Would we have even seen Smith?

DB's Chris Gamble and Dustin Fox were about the only stars that were back from the '02 title team, along with Mike Nugent. That explains the poor record, but it did provide an opportunity for younger players to step up, and many of them did. Sophomore WR Santonio Holmes and freshman RB Antonio Pittman both made their mark, as did freshman WR Ted Ginn, who had his breakout game in the Alamo Bowl. I'll never forget that play when he reversed his field and should have been tackled 10 times before breaking off a long run.

The season provided some exciting moments, like the triple overtime victory over Philip Rivers, Jerricho Cotchery and N.C. St. It also began the winning streak over michigan, which now stands at six games. The Bowl game was an interesting story. Troy Smith had a great season after taking over the QB spot, but he got suspended for the game (for a D.U.I. I believe, but not positive) and the Buckeyes had to go back to Zwick. He responded by having a great game, as OSU pounded Oklahoma St 33-7.

7) 2003
Record: 11-2
2nd Place (tied), Big Ten
Michigan result: L 35-21
Bowl Result: Fiesta vs Kansas St, W 35-28
Team MVP: WR Michael Jenkins

I originally had this team ranked #5, but Andy talked me into moving the two most recent seasons ahead of it. Going by overall talent, this group should be higher, but it was a disappointing season, and the fact that they lost to michigan was the final decision maker in moving them down. They basically had the same group of guys that won it all in 2002, including Craig Krenzel, Mike Doss, and Chris Gamble, so expectations were super-high going into the season. Those expectations were crushed in mid-October when the Buckeyes took their 19-game winning streak into Madison, Wisconsin. With the game tied at 10 in the 4th quarter, OSU linebacker Robert Reynolds choked out Badger QB Jim Sorgi, literally. While on the bottom of the pile, you could actually see Reynolds' hands around Sorgi's neck. Sorgi had to be taken out of the game, because he physically couldn't talk loud enough to call the plays. Enter Matt Schabert, who ultimately throws the game-winning 80-yard touchdown pass to Lee Evans in the game's final minutes. Damn you, Reynolds.

Ohio St won their next few games up until the loss to that school up north, but ended the season on a high note by beating Kansas St in the Fiesta Bowl. The Buckeye defense did an excellent job containing Wildcat superstar running back Darren Sproles, freshman WR Santonio Holmes had his break out game, and the best senior class of the decade ended their incredible careers with a W.

6) 2009
Record: 10-2
1st Place, Big Ten
Michigan result: W 21-10
Bowl Result: Rose vs Oregon, W 26-17
Team MVP: S Kurt Coleman

This was a very up and down season, as Terrelle Pryor's inconsistency led us through a roller-coaster year filled with entertaining highs and devastating lows. We'll begin with the lows, as OSU's hopes for an undefeated season and National Championship were again put to a halt early on at the hands of USC. Unlike the previous season, Ohio St actually outplayed SC in this one, but Matt Barkley's last-minute drive buried the Buckeyes. By far the worst game of the season for Pryor and the Bucks came in West Lafayette with an eight-point loss to a bad Purdue team, where Pryor turned the ball over four times himself.

That being said, there were far more good moments of the season, headed by last week's Rose Bowl win over Oregon. Hopefully this shuts up some Big Ten bashers and people who insist Tressel "can't win the big one." There was also the dominating victory over Penn St in Happy Valley, and of course our annual stomping of the wolverines.

Senior captain Kurt Coleman led a devastating defense that was supposed to be on a down season for a group that lost some big playmakers. Ends Thaddeus Gibson and Cameron Heyward were spectacular, as were linebackers Brian Rolle and Ross Homan.

5) 2008
Record: 10-3
1st Place (tied), Big Ten
Michigan result: W 42-7
Bowl Result: Fiesta vs Texas, L 24-21
Team MVP: RB Beanie Wells

After they won the Rose Bowl, I considered swapping the '09 squad with this one, but decided to stay put due to the fact that this team had some things that the '09 one didn't, namely Beanie Wells, Malcolm Jenkins, and James Laurinaitis. All three of these guys were on my All-Decade team, so I had to put their team in the top half.
True freshman Terrelle Pryor was very inconsistent in this season as well, so the passing game never really took off. WR's Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline were coming off very productive junior seasons, but both had disappointing years. So OSU rode their horse, and Wells responded by having an unbelievable season, comparable to those of Buckeye legends Eddie George and Archie Griffin. The defense was top-notch as always, led by the aforementioned Jenkins and Laurinaitis, as well as LB Marcus Freeman, S Kurt Coleman, and DE Thaddeus Gibson.

The season started off very poorly, when the Buckeyes got manhandled in the Coliseum by USC. Later on, OSU dropped a nail-biter to Penn St but still got a share of the Big Ten title after a 35-point drubbing of michigan. The Fiesta Bowl was a thriller, but Colt McCoy's last minute TD pass to Quan Cosby ended the Buckeyes' season in defeat.

4) 2005
Record: 9-2
1st Place (tied), Big Ten
Michigan result: W 25-21
Bowl Result: Fiesta vs Notre Dame, W 34-20
Team MVP: LB A. J. Hawk

This might have been the decade's most complete team when you consider how balanced they were on offense, defense, and special teams. The offense was led by QB Troy Smith, who had an amazing season. RB Antonio Pittman was also very good, and Santonio Holmes, Ted Ginn, and Anthony Gonzalez made up the decade's best receiving corps, not just at Ohio St, but possibly the nation. This is starting to sound like a broken record, but the defense was amazing again, led by team MVP and Butkus award-winner A.J. Hawk.

In what would become a trend later in the decade, the Buckeyes lost an early contest against a highly rated non-conference opponent. I attended this one, when Vince Young threw a touchdown pass to Limas Sweed in the game's final seconds to lead Texas to victory. They also lost a close one to Penn St, but ended the year on a seven game winning streak, including pounding Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. The 650+ yards that the Irish gave up was the most ever in the storied program's history.

3) 2007
Record: 11-2
1st Place, Big Ten
Michigan result: W 14-3
Bowl Result: National Championship vs LSU, L 38-24
Team MVP: RB Beanie Wells

Todd Boeckman stepped in at the quarterback position, attempting to fill the shoes of departed signal-caller and Heisman trophy-winner Troy Smith. He did an admiral job, being named to the All-Conference team and bringing his team to the National Title game. Beanie Wells was the feature of the offense, and was named team MVP for the first of what would be two consecutive years. Brians Robiskie and Hartline had big seasons before becoming afterthoughts as seniors. The defense was devastating, with DE Vernon Gholston breaking Mike Vrabel's single-season sack record, and linebackers James Laurinaitis and Marcus Freeman and corner Malcolm Jenkins becoming household names.

OSU won the first 10 games of the season, but suffered what appeared to be a season-ruining defeat at home against Illinois. After disposing of michigan (again), the college football gods were wearing scarlet and gray, as every team ahead of the Bucks lost in the final weeks of the season and the one-loss Buckeyes found themselves in the National Championship. This turned out to be a bad thing, as they were stomped by LSU.

2) 2006
Record: 12-1
1st Place, Big Ten
Michigan result: W 42-39
Bowl Result: National Championship vs Florida, L 41-14
Team MVP: QB Troy Smith

This was the most talented team of the 2000's, but are only ranked #2 due to the end result. Troy Smith won the Heisman trophy, Ted Ginn was, well, Ted Ginn, Anthony Gonzalez was as good of a #2 receiver as you will ever see, RB Antonio Pittman had a stellar season sharing carries with freshman Chris Wells, Quinn Pitcock was an All-American defensive tackle, and sophomores Vernon Gholston, Malcolm Jenkins, James Laurinaitis, and Marcus Freeman burst onto the defensive scene.
Ohio St ran the table in the regular season, going 12-0. The highlights came in Austin, Texas as the Bucks avenged the previous year's loss against the Longhorns by routing them 24-7, and in The Shoe when Ohio St edged michigan in what was being called "The Game of the Century." OSU and scUM entered the game as the top two ranked teams in the nation, and Ohio St's late interception sealed a 42-39 Ohio St victory.

Much controversy surrounded who the Buckeyes' opponent would be in the title game, as OSU was the only unbeaten team in the power conferences. Should we be forced to beat michigan again? Give undefeated, untested Boise St a shot? The BCS decided that Florida was the most deserving, and Ohio St went in as heavy favorites. The Buckeyes started the game the best way possible, as the human-highlight reel Ted Ginn took back the opening kickoff for a touchdown. Everything went downhill from there, hard and fast. Ginn was injured during the touchdown's celebration, and spent the conclusion of his college career on crutches. Florida went on a 41-7 run, embarrassing Ohio St and the Big Ten, and marking the beginning of my unbelievable hatred for Tim Tebow, which has grown every single day since.

1) 2002
Record: 14-0
1st Place (tied), Big Ten
Michigan result: W 14-9
Bowl Result: National Championship vs Miami, W 31-24 2OT
Team MVP: QB Craig Krenzel, WR/CB/Ret Chris Gamble

If a team wins one championship in the decade, is there really any question on who should be #1? This team will always hold a special place in my heart, as they were the first (and currently only, c'mon Cavs!) of my favorite teams to win a title. Craig Krenzel didn't have the strongest arm or quickest feet, but his accuracy, decision-making, and leadership led this team to a perfect season. Freshman sensation RB Maurice Clarett did most of the offensive work, and WR Michael Jenkins provided many big plays. C Alex Stepanovich and T Shane Olivea anchored the decade's best offensive line. This was a very good unit, but the strength of this team was definitely on the defensive side. The top secondary of the decade was made up of Chris Gamble, Dustin Fox, Will Allen, Donnie Nickey, and Mike Doss. Other standouts included DE Will Smith, DT Kenny Peterson, and LBs Matt Wilhelm and Cie Grant. They also had the nation's best kicker in the 2000's, fan favorite Mike Nugent.

Ohio St had probably the most exciting season that I will ever witness, in any sport. It started with a shoot out win over Texas Tech, then blowouts over Kent St and Washington St. The first of many nail-biters came against Cincinnati, when Will Allen intercepted a pass in the endzone with 30 seconds left to complete a four-point win. Chris Gamble was used on defense for the first time in this game, and had an interception which made Tressel think that maybe this could be a good idea. After crushing Indiana to start conference play, OSU had another surprisingly close victory against a 2-3 Northwestern team.

Trailing Wisconsin in the 4th quarter, the Buckeyes needed a 50 yard pass to Jenkins and a late INT in the end zone by Gamble to win this one, 19-14. In Happy Valley, Gamble started on both offense and defense for the first time, and had a pick-six to help the Bucks beat PSU, 13-7. Ohio St finally had an easy one the following week when they pounded Minnesota 34-3.

Up next was a trip to Purdue in the infamous "Holy Buckeye" game. Trailing 6-3 with two minutes to go, Tressel made a rare bold call when he went for it on 4th and 1 instead of letting Nugent attempt a 50+ yard field goal. In an even more bold move, Krenzel went deep to Jenkins and completed a 40 yard touchdown pass to win it, a play which prompted Brent Musburger to exclaim, "Holy Buckeye!" Chris Gamble ended another comeback attempt by intercepting Kyle Orton in the final minute.

It took overtime for OSU to beat Illinois the following week, with Maurice Hall, filling in for an injured Clarett, scoring the winning touchdown. In the final week of the regular season, Ohio St defeated michigan, 14-9. Will Allen picked off John Navarre at the goal line in the game's final play to clinch an undefeated regular season.

Ohio St came into the National Championship game as big-time underdogs, facing a Miami team that was riding an absurd 34-game winning streak. The Buckeyes came out inspired and focused, and surprised everyone by leading 14-7 at halftime. In the third quarter, Ohio St had the ball inside the 10 yard line, when Krenzel was picked off by Sean Taylor. In the play of the game, Maurice Clarett stripped Taylor on his return to keep the ball in OSU's possession. Later in the same quarter, Will Allen put on hit on Willis McGahee, appearing to rip his leg in half, and Willis was done for the day. Miami kicked a late field goal to tie the game and send it to over time.

Trailing by seven, Ohio St seemingly missed a 4th down, and the celebration began for the Hurricanes. On what would become known as "The Call," a late flag came in and Miami was called for pass interference. With new life, the Buckeyes brought the game into double OT, where they won it with a Mo Clarett touchdown and a goal line stand on the two yard line. The game will forever go down as one of the greatest upsets in college football history, and my favorite game of all time. I still watch it at least once a year.

All-Decade Team

This was a lot easier to pick than I had expected. There was a few guys that I had to leave off that I would have liked to have put on there, but I didn't have too much trouble for the most part. Obviously there are a lot of guys from the '02 team that I ranked as the #1 squad.

QB Troy Smith ('04-'06)
RB Beanie Wells ('06-'08), Antonio Pittman ('05-'06)
WR Michael Jenkins ('00-'04)), Ted Ginn ('04-'06)
TE Ben Hartsock ('01-'03)
C LeCharles Bentley ('98-'01)
OG Alex Stepanovch ('01-'03), Nick Mangold ('04-'06)
OT Alex Boone ('05-'07), Shane Olivea ('00-'03)
DE Will Smith ('00-'03) Vernon Gholston ('05-'07)
DT Kenny Peterson ('99-'02), Quinn Pitcock ('02-'06)
LB Matt Wilhelm ('00-'04), A.J. Hawk ('02-'06), James Laurinaitis ('05-'08)
CB Chris Gamble ('02-'06), Malcolm Jenkins ('04-'08)
S Donnie Nickey ('00-'03), Mike Doss ('00-'03)
K Mike Nugent ('02-'06)
P A.J. Trapasso ('04-'08)

Honorable Mention: QB Craig Krenzel ('00-'03), RB Maurice Clarett ('02), Santonio Holmes ('02-'05), Anthony Gonzalez ('03-'06), OT Kirk Barton('04-'07), DE Thaddeus Gibson ('07-Pres.), DT Cameron Heyward ('07-Pres.), LB Marcus Freeman ('05-'08), CB Dustin Fox ('02-'05), S Donte Whitner ('03-'06), S Kurt Coleman ('06-Pres.)

I will love Krenzel until the day I die, and I still haven't forgiven Smith for his BCS performance, but the QB position was still a no-brainer. Smith was the only Heisman winner in the decade, and simply an incredible player. Beanie was an obvious choice for RB1. I thought about Clarett for the second one, but he only played one year and was just such a mess. Pittman was a really good back for a couple of years. WR was the toughest because I had the most trouble leaving Holmes and Gonzalez off, but I don't think you could go away from Jenkins and Ginn. Ohio St has just been loaded with stud receivers, dating back to Cris Carter in the '80s then on to Terry Glenn, David Boston, and Joey Galloway in the '90s to these guys in the 2000s. The tight end position has mainly served as an extra lineman for the Buckeyes, as they spend the majority of their time blocking with a few catches sprinkled in. That being said, Hartsock definitely did the most damage catching passes out of any other TE in this decade, plus he has a ring. I had to do some tinkering with the o-line, because the three best guys (Bentley, Stepanovich, Mangold) all played the majority of their time at center. So Stepanovich and Mangold went to the guard spots, where they both played occasionally throughout their careers. Although Barton was pretty good, Olivea and Boone were obvious choices at the tackles.

On the defensive side of the ball, I found it to be just as easy. Gibson and Heyward have been good, but are hurt by the fact that their senior seasons won't be a part of this decade, so the line had the easy selections of Smith and Peterson from the championship team to go along with Pitcock and single season sack record holder Gholston. The linebackers were the easiest choices on the team. When I was doing some research for this article, I found several sources that had Hawk and Laurinaitis on their All-Decade team for the nation, so clearly they're deserving of spots on the OSU squad. Wilhelm wasn't nearly as good as those two, but still a great player and leader on the championship defense. The secondary was a lot tougher, with standouts like Coleman and Whitner not making the cut. Doss and Jenkins were easy picks, but going with Nickey and Gamble was a more difficult decision. The deciding factor was that they each won a championship and the other guys didn't. Kicker was the most obvious choice on the board, as Nugent was everyone's choice for kicker of the decade throughout the entire nation. I debated between Trapasso and Andy Groom at punter, but ultimately decided to go with Trap.

We should all consider ourselves to be incredibly lucky to be fans during this time period. The talent level of players and teams that we have witnessed over the last ten years will be very difficult to match. Here's to hoping we can have another stretch like this over the next decade.



Figgs said...

Anyone think the order of teams should be different? Changes to the all decade team? I spent multiple hours for several days on this, any comments at all?

Andy said...

You better believe I have comments:

The Top 3 are indisputable, and I think you ordered the 2006/2007 squads correctly.

I still think you've undervalued the 2009 club. I'd jump them over the 2008 squad, by virtue of a Bowl victory. I think BCS games are very important, and so are Michigan games. Plus, this year's edition won the Big Ten outright. I'll keep them just under 2005, but that's almost a 4/4a for me.

Hawkins: "is there a 'lost to Purdue' in there? In other news, he's banned from the site.

8-4 was our worst team of the decade. Let that sink in. 8-4. No Browns team this decade had that good of a win %.

I've got 8-10 the same on my scorecard as you. So to recap: I'm the same as you except I'd bump up 2009 a spot. Nice work.

I attended the Michigan games in 2002, 2004, 2006. Awesome. I went to a few others too. I was undefeated, like 10-0 or something. It rules. Triple-overtime against Phil Rivers? Check. Michigan games? Check. Two wins over PSU? Check. I love Ohio.

What a shock you put Ginn on your All-Decade team!! Did you also put Jay-Z on your all-rap team?

I'd bump Jenkins for Holmes. Did you ever see the thing he did on the JumboTron where he'd hold a football and pretend to try to shake it off, only he couldn't because his hands were so sticky? Awesome. Don't let his steeler career tarnish things.

Which DT is staying, Heyward or Gibson? Heyward? He can pass Peterson with another solid year.

Bob Reynolds was a tough LB too - the choking thing should keep him off the club.

Who was your coach of the decade? Cooper or Tressel? Or maybe Lloyd Carr, for all that he did for us?

Figgs said...

The '08 and '09 teams are a tough call. You make a good point about the Bowl win, I just loved Beanie and Jenkins so much. I wouldn't mind flipping them at all.

Holmes was great, but Jenkins did break just about all of Terry Glenn's OSU receiving records, until Ginn broke his. That was the toughest call for me on the team, and again could surely see your point if you went with Santonio instead.

Gibson is going pro, Heyward is staying. But his senior season wouldn't have relevance on this team, right? I don't know where Gibson is projected to go now, but I could see his stock skyrocket during the combine, because this guy is a physical freak. Remember Vernon Gholston? The same thing will happen with Thaddeus.