Editor’s note: No. 4 Ohio State (11-1) takes on No. 1 Georgia (13-0) on Saturday night in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl in the College Football Playoff semifinals at 8 p.m.
COLUMBUS — Which Ohio State football team shows up on Saturday night in Atlanta?
The one that rolled through the first 11 games of the regular season? Or the team that got rolled for a second year in a row in the season finale by No. 2 Michigan?
It’s the latest huge bowl game for the Buckeyes, a team with a history of playing on the biggest stages college football has to offer.
As Buckeye Nation prepares for the showdown against the favored and defending national champion Bulldogs, let’s spend today and tomorrow looking back at the Top 5 — joyous and most painful — bowl game performances in OSU history.
Today, we examine the worst. On Friday, we will look at the best.
You won’t see the 2006 nor 2007 national championship losses here. The simple reason is I thought both squads were wildly overrated at the time, and each proved it while getting thumped in their respective national championship games.
On the contrary, the teams listed below did earn the trust one invests in a special squad, hence the ensuing heartbreak.
Remember, this is just my list. You have have your own. Feel free to share if you do. There are no right or wrong answers. These are just mine.
Five Most Painful Bowl Games in OSU History
Dec. 28, 2019 Fiesta Bowl, a 29-23 loss to Clemson in the CFB semifinals
It was mind-numbing to watch Ohio State squander a 16-0 lead in a loss that was inexcusable given the Buckeyes’ talent.
Ohio State had quarterback Justin Fields and running back JK Dobbins in the backfield and Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson at WR. The defense featured Chase Young at defensive end and Jeff Okudah at cornerback — all but Dobbins were 1st-round NFL draft picks, and he went in the 2nd round.
OSU was No. 1 in November, beat three consecutive top-13 teams by double figures each to finish the regular season, and yet somehow dropped to No. 2 when the College Football Playoffs were announced.
ESPN’s influence knows no bounds. Clearly the drop occurred so an SEC team (broadcast rights owned by ESPN) wouldn’t have to face both Ohio State and Clemson in the playoffs leading to the easiest path to the title game. In this case, LSU was the beneficiary.
Meanwhile against Clemson, the Buckeyes absorbed a horrible call that wiped out an obvious fumble-6 TD, not to mention the loss of defensive back Sean Wade on a questionable targeting penalty.
Even with all that, coach Ryan Day needed to figure out his team’s red-zone issues that killed OSU in this game, and in fact plague him still in big games.
A Fields’ interception in the end zone was the final dagger in a game Ohio State absolutely should have won.
Could the Buckeyes have beaten Joe Burrow that year?
I don’t know, but I sure wanted to see Fields get that chance. To this day, he’s the best Ohio State quarterback I’ve seen.
1980 Rose Bowl, a 17-16 loss to USC
Of the five roughest results, this one was the easiest to stomach because USC clearly had the better personnel. Still, the Buckeyes were unbeaten and ranked No. 1 coming into Pasadena.
The Trojans’ roster featured offensive linemen Brad Budde, Bruce Matthews, Keith Van Horne and some injury-plagued guy named Anthony Munoz that was naturally healthy as a horse for this game. The running backs included Charles White and Marcus Allen, both of whom have Heisman Trophies on their mantles.
On defense, USC boasted Ronnie Lott and Joey Browner in the secondary. LB Chip Banks was the third overall NFL Draft pick by the Browns in 1982. LB Jack Del Rio and DB Jeff Fisher were future NFL coaches.
How Ohio State even stayed in this game, especially with their best defensive lineman (Luther Henson) out via injury, was a miracle.
Both squads had gallant goal-line stands, and both hit on big-play touchdowns.
The Buckeyes, in Earle Bruce’s first year, led 16-10 before game-MVP White scored the winning TD with 1:32 remaining for coach John Robinson and the Trojans. White rushed for 247 yards on 39 carries, but really didn’t hurt Ohio State until that final drive.
OSU QB Art Schlichter threw for 297 yards, including a 67-yard TD to Gary Williams. It wasn’t enough, but it was painfully close to it.
1975 Rose Bowl, an 18-17 loss to USC
This one cost OSU a national title in Archie Griffin’s junior year. The Buckeyes were probably the better team, but they were sloppy and didn’t finish the affair when they had the chance. OSU needed just one more stop and simply couldn’t get it.
Instead, USC QB Pat Haden connected with high school teammate, WR John McKay Jr., on a 38-yard TD pass with 2:03 remaining to draw the Trojans within 17-16.
USC coach John McKay Sr. chose to go for two. Haden rolled to his right and under heavy pressure tossed a pass toward a diving Shelton Diggs for the game-winning points.
It was revenge for the Trojans, who were blown out 42-21 by the Buckeyes in the 1974 Rose Bowl. Diggs’ dive gave USC the UPI national crown — instead of Woody Hayes and Ohio State. It was that close.
1971 Rose Bowl, a 27-17 loss to Stanford
Woody Hayes switched to a wishbone offense to get John Brockington and Leo Hayden (both first-round NFL Draft picks) in this game at the same time. It worked to the tune of 364 yards rushing.
Quarterback Rex Kern ran for 136 yards. Brockington added 101. Ohio State led in first downs (22-21) rushing yardage (364 to 143), total yards (439-408), and the turnover battle (+2). It should’ve been a convincing win.
Instead, the Buckeyes nursed a 17-14 lead into the fourth quarter and were driving for the kill shot when Brockington was stopped on a 4th-and-1 at the Stanford 20.
The game immediately turned.
QB Jim Plunkett, the Heisman winner, led two touchdown drives in the final quarter and OSU couldn’t respond.
This game cost Ohio State a perfect season and yet another national crown.
This was the final game for the Super Sophs who won a unanimous national championship in 1968. That was a painful walk-off for Brockington, Hayden, Kern, Jack Tatum, Mount Vernon’s Jim Stillwagon, Jan White, Tim Anderson and Mike Sensibaugh, all of them either All-Americans or 1st-round NFL draft picks, or both.
This class went 27-2 and played in three national championship games. Unfortunately, they lost two of them.
1976 Rose Bowl, a 23-10 loss to UCLA
This one hurt. A lot. And still does.
Coach Woody Hayes led his No. 1-ranked Buckeyes to an 11-0 record after a thrilling 21-14 comeback win at undefeated Michigan in the regular-season finale. The No. 11 Bruins (8-2-1) were 15-point underdogs, led by coach Dick Vermeil.
The Buckeyes had already pounded UCLA at Los Angeles, 41-20, in Week Four. The stage was set for an OSU coronation.
Archie Griffin became college football’s only two-time Heisman trophy winner. He won four Big Ten Conference titles and became the first player ever to start in four Rose Bowls. But he broke his hand on the first series of this game and was limited to 93 yards on 17 carries.
A dream backfield of Griffin, fullback Pete Johnson, quarterback Cornelius Greene and wingback Brian Baschnagel fueled the offense. The defense was young, but Bob Brudzinski, Tom Cousineau, Ray Griffin and Tim Fox were the standouts.
OSU dominated the first half, but led just 3-0. The second half was a nightmare. UCLA gutted the Buckeyes with more than 350 yards of offense and 23 points.
With all that, Ohio State still had a chance, trailing 16-10 late in the fourth quarter, Greene tossed an interception deep in UCLA territory. The Bruins got a long TD run by Wendel Tyler on their ensuing possession and that was that.
It was Woody’s 25th season at Ohio State and Archie’s final game. The rumor was Hayes would’ve retired right then had OSU won. It would have been a perfect finale to both of their careers.
Instead, Hayes was fired in disgrace three years later after punching an opposing player.
The sting of that Rose Bowl loss has had no end.
If one wonders why Buckeye fans are so jaded, this is Exhibit A.
Ohio State needed only a victory in its final game to secure a national championship an incredible 11 times over the past 54 years: 1968, 1969, 1970, 1974, 1975, 1979, 2002, 2006, 2007, 2014 and 2020.
Yet OSU has gone just 3-8 in those games, including four of the outings mentioned above.
(Buckeye fans, don’t despair. Tomorrow, we will look at the five most joyous OSU bowl games. Hint: They are all connected to national crowns.)