UPDATED: Ranking every Ohio State loss since 2002 by how mad it still makes me
MMMMMMM, FRESH PAIN!
(I always have to put this at the top: For the best reading experience, you should click "view online" if you're reading this on email.)
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Back in June, I wrote this article ranking all 37 Ohio State losses since 2002 by how mad they still make me, and it's by far the most popular thing I've ever posted. It even got to the point where other fanbases put together their own rankings! Since I have no shame in exploiting my own pain for extra clicks, I thought now would be a good time to update the rankings, given the two fresh Ohio State losses from 2022 we have to reflect on.
Also - people are stupid, so I have to point this out before we begin: This isn't ranking the worst Ohio State losses of the last 20 years. It's my own personal ranking of how these losses make me feel. There isn't a right or wrong, and there's nothing to argue about. If you have 2015 Michigan State or 2019 Clemson as your No. 1, great! The whole point of the article is to make you think about what your rankings would look like.
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39. Virginia Tech 35, Ohio State 21 (2014)
The most necessary and important Ohio State loss of the last twenty years.* Winning the national championship doesn't happen without this, and who knows what that alternate timeline looks like.
Shoutout to former Hokies Defensive Coordinator Bud Foster, and his infamous bear defense. I hope someone in Ohio State Football Operations sent him a ring, because he deserves one for his brilliant gameplan that night. His defensive strategy completely shifted the dynamic of Ohio State's offense that season. I celebrate this game like it's a win.
*We'll come back to this idea later.
38. Alabama 52, Ohio State 24 (2020 National Championship)
As far as I'm concerned, this isn't official Ohio State Football canon. It's Alabama fan-fiction more than anything else.
Ohio State had like 13 dudes out with COVID –Alabama somehow had none– then lost Trey Sermon on their first series. Justin Fields was playing with one functional side of ribs, and the defensive staff crafted the brilliant strategy of putting Tuf Borland in man coverage against a Heisman Trophy-winning wide receiver. I'm not taking anything away from Bama; they were amazing that year and deserved to be champs, but this loss wasn't worth a second thought while it was happening, and it isn't worth one now.
37. Florida 24, Ohio State 17 (2012 Gator Bowl)
I watched this with my buddy who's a Florida fan, and I don't think he's ever talked shit to me about it even once. That should tell you how meaningless it is.
36. Northwestern 33, Ohio State 27 (OT) (2004)
Putting aside the 2011 season that was blown up by the NCAA, 2004 is the last time Ohio State had a "bad" record. They went 8-4 after starting 3-3, and finished fifth in the Big Ten. The first of those losses was in overtime at Northwestern, and the only play I remember is Mike Nugent missing this kick:
35. Wisconsin 24, Ohio State 13 (2004)
The second loss from 2004. This one ended an 18-game home winning streak, and was the first time Jim Tressel lost back-to-back games at Ohio State.* I remember two things about this game:
- Ted Ginn's punt return touchdown:
2. Brent Musburger talking about the 2004 election:
*They lost again the next week, but Tressel never lost two in a row again.
34. Iowa 33, Ohio State 7 (2004)
Sensing a trend? This closed out the three-game losing streak, and it was a certified ass-kicking. Iowa outgained Ohio State 448-177, were up 30-0 at the start of the fourth quarter, and probably could've put up 50 if Kirk Ferentz wanted to. The offense was in a rough place in the middle part of 2004:
33. Purdue 24, Ohio State 17 (2004)
The final 2004 loss. I'm not even sure I watched this game, and this is basically the only available video:
Ohio State turned the ball over four times and lost to a Purdue team who was on a four-game losing streak. How the hell did they smack Michigan –who was 9-1 and undefeated in Big Ten play– by 16 points the next week?
Maybe I was just disconnected from following the team in 2004, but none of these losses get to me. My point in grouping them together isn't that they didn't matter; it's just that looking back, what did anyone expect that season? They basically had to replace everyone of note from the stacked 2002-03 teams, and Tressel couldn't decide between two inexperienced QBs in Troy Smith and Justin Zwick. Stars like Nugent, AJ Hawk, Bobby Carpenter, and Nick Mangold made sure things didn't go off the rails, but this was a team built to have growing pains, then make championship runs in 2005 and beyond.
32. Iowa 55, Ohio State 24 (2017)
This one is much lower for me than it is for 98% of you, and I don't give a shit. I'm not sure any team in college football beats Iowa that day. They played a flawless game, and the atmosphere in Kinnick made it one of those days. In hindsight, it wasn't that surprising. Ohio State was coming off the high of the ridiculous Penn State win, and it was a prime let-down spot against a team hungry for an upset.
I remember watching the replay of Josh Jackson picking off JT Barrett with one hand and just laughing out loud. Not in anger or disgust; Just pure amusement at how poorly everything was going:
Sometimes a team plays damn near perfect and there's nothing you can do about it. This was was one of those times. I'm convinced that there's no scenario or alternate universe where Ohio State wins, and that's why it lives so low on my rankings.
31. Miami (FL) 24, Ohio State 6 (2011)
The only reason it's this high is because I won't ever forget the feeling of reality setting in that 2011 was going to be ugly. Not a single receiver caught a pass that day:
30. Illinois 28, Ohio State 21 (2007)
My take here is simple: Stupid game, didn't matter in the long run. This loss felt like the end of the world as it happened, but two weeks later Ohio State was still headed to the national championship. The only thing that still gets me heated is watching Illinois eat the last 8 minutes of clock:
29. Penn State 24, Ohio State 21 (2016)
The same rationale as 2007 Illinois. Blowing a 21-7 fourth quarter lead was awful. Losing on a blocked field goal return where Urban Meyer could've just called timeout to reset things made it even worse. In reality: it didn't mean anything. Ohio State made the playoff, getting in over Penn State despite losing to them, and Penn State winning the Big Ten Championship. That's still pretty funny to think about, and it's why this loss doesn't bother me.
28. Wisconsin 17, Ohio State 10 (2003)
The 2003 team was going to drop a game eventually, and it's hard for me to be that pissed about a 19-game win streak ending at the hands of a top-25 Wisconsin team in Camp Randall at night. It's just that losing to that particular Wisconsin team didn't age well, because they dropped five of their next six and finished with a 7-6 record. On the flipside, Ohio State deserved to lose after the bullshit Robert Reynolds pulled on Jim Sorgi. I don't blame you if you still have nightmares about Lee Evans, though:
27. Penn State 20, Ohio State 14 (2011)
The loss doesn't bother me as much as the talk surrounding everything that was happening off the field at that time does. This was Penn State's first win after firing Joe Paterno, and it was pretty nasty watching people around the sport put what happened with Tressel at Ohio State in the same sentence as what happened at Penn State.
26. Penn State 17, Ohio State 10 (2005)
Everyone talks about Ryan Hamby dropping the pass against Texas, but here's a reminder that he also blew the block that got Troy Smith crushed by Tamba Hali, effectively ending this game:
This one stung –and still does– because of how close it was, but it also belongs in the same category as 2014 Virginia Tech: A loss the team needed in order to grow into the best version of itself. Smith and the offense hit their stride afterwards, winning their final seven games. They didn't lose again until the 2006 National Championship vs. Florida.
25. Clemson 40, Ohio State 35 (2013 Orange Bowl)
I'm still peeved that the 2013 team didn't get a shot at the BCS title, mostly because of how bad the defense was. I'm even more peeved that Vonn Bell did this after the defensive staff invented new excuses each week to not give him a bigger role. This loss compounded with the Big Ten Championship loss to Michigan State was a tough way to head into the offseason, especially given that just a month earlier it looked like they'd play for the national championship.
24. Florida 41, Ohio State 14 (2006 National Championship)
If you went back to 2007 and asked 16-year old me where this game ranks, it'd be No. 1. 17 years later, it lives here. Too low for you? That's fine, but the 2006 team was overrated and this game proved it. They could've played 100 games against Florida, and I'm convinced they'd get blasted in 80 of them. But, it's a national title loss, so there's still a lot that bugs me:
- Whose plan was it to not run the ball? It was clear early on that Florida's pass rush was going to whip the offensive line's ass all night, but Ohio State actually ran the ball well before the score got out of hand. Antonio Pittman was rolling, and it looked like they had some life when his 18-yard TD in the second quarter cut it to 21-14. Things were looking even better when Florida punted on their next drive. Here's what the offense did in response:
This might've been the worst offensive gameplan of the Tressel era, and that's saying something.
- To my earlier point about the 2006 team being overrated: It's not right that they got a title shot over the 2005 group. 2005 Ohio State beats 2006 Ohio State as bad as Florida did.
- We can't even enjoy the one awesome moment from this game, because it was instantly ruined by a guy jumping on his teammate's back and injuring him.
23. Wisconsin 31, Ohio State 18 (2010)
Speaking of game-opening kickoff returns for TDs.
I'm not going tell you a loss that wrecked Ohio State's national title hopes while they were ranked No. 1 doesn't make me mad, but it's not the first emotion I felt when it happened, and it isn't now.
I've gone back and watched it a few times since, and the first thing that comes to my mind is how hard Ohio State fought to get back into this game. Those dudes never quit, despite the opening kickoff TD and falling behind 21-0. I've always admired their resolve to keep chipping away more than I get angry about the result. The 19-play, 94-yard touchdown drive to make it 21-18 is one of my favorite 'fuck you and your defense,' drives in Ohio State history. They gave everything they had to get back into that game; it just wasn't enough. These guys were the antithesis of a Ryan Day team.
It's a shame they didn't get the chance to play Auburn for the national title. They were the most complete team of the Tressel-era, with a dominant defense finally complemented by a dynamic offense who didn't feel like they were just there to score 17 points and play for field position. Matching that up against Cam Newton would've been epic. Unfortunately for them, Wisconsin –and JJ Watt, in particular– had other ideas.
22. Michigan State 10, Ohio State 7 (2011)
Arguably the worst 60 minutes of football I've ever watched. I'm not even sure how to describe this game if you didn't see it live. Ohio State had 178 total yards, and 62 came on the final garbage-time drive where Evan Spencer scored with 10 seconds left to avoid the shutout.
The only reason it's this high is because I'm pissed that I can't find the broadcast version of it anywhere. I've been looking high and low for eight years, and it just doesn't exist. I need to go back and truly experience how putrid this game was again, but the CFB gods won't let me. If you or anyone you know has a copy, please send it to me.
21. Michigan 35, Ohio State 21 (2003)
I could copy/paste what I wrote about 2010 Wisconsin and it'd apply here. Ohio State fell too far behind against a great team on the road, and a strong comeback effort wasn't enough.
Here's the stuff that makes my blood boil:
1) Losing to Michigan
2) What happens if Craig Krenzel was healthy enough to come back with 13 minutes left in the fourth quarter? The 2003 team was so much closer to possibly playing for back-to-back national titles than we ever talk about.
20. Clemson 31, Ohio State 0 (2016 CFB Playoff)
I'd have this in the 30s if the offense hanging the defense out to dry didn't piss me off as much as it still does. The defense held their own against a dynamite Clemson offense, and forced two more turnovers than the offense had points. I'll never forgive Urban Meyer, Tim Beck, and the offense itself for the massive dump they took that night.
19. Purdue 26, Ohio State 18 (2009)
The OG Purdue Harbor is the most shocking Ohio State loss of the last 20 years, but it's also one I've mellowed on a bit as time has gone by. It's still mind-boggling how bad they played against 1-5 Purdue, but it also might've been the wakeup call they needed to close out the season en route to the Rose Bowl win over Oregon.
But if you're looking for things that are still infuriating, here you go:
- Ray Small's muffed punt
- Heinous offensive line play
- Terrelle Pryor's four very bad turnovers
- Tressel opting to kick an 18-yard field goal down 16 points with 12 minutes left
18. Michigan State 17, Ohio State 14 (2015)
Before you angrily tweet me some bullshit that I'm definitely gonna mute you for: Are you still mad about this game, or are you just mad about the 2015 season?
How can you be that mad they lost this when the whole year was a mess from the start? Meyer completely botched the QB competition, and hiring Tim Beck to coach them made it even worse. The Beck/Ed Warinner co-offensive coordinator arrangement was a disaster. They had no idea how to use Braxton Miller outside of the Virginia Tech game, which multiple big-time players were suspended for. Even the team mantra was terrible. Outside of the great defense and Zeke Elliott/Michael Thomas thriving, that whole season was fucked from the jump.
I'm supposed to be mad that Ohio State lost to a 10-1 Michigan State team when they could barely move the ball on 3-10 Hawaii? They might've lost to Northern Illinois if not for Darron Lee's pick six! It took everything they had to beat teams like Indiana, Maryland, and Minnesota. Even the complaints about not running Zeke enough are revisionist, given that he was in the hospital for three days that week. 2015 Ohio State was a ticking time bomb, and the Michigan State game was the explosion.
I've mentioned the idea of certain Ohio State teams needing a loss to reach the best version of themselves, and no team needed a loss more than they did. Do you think it's a coincidence they blasted Michigan the next week? That doesn't happen without this loss. My biggest beef is that it didn't happen sooner. I'm convinced that if they would've lost to Indiana, it would've been the wake up call they needed. It would've given them enough time to get closer to becoming the team they had the potential to be. (And losing to IU wouldn't have cost them the Big Ten East.)
Here are actual things from this game that still fire me up:
- Joey Bosa jumping offsides
- Losing to Michigan State's backup QB
- Letting said backup QB engineer this drive
- Arguably the most incredible group of players in school history losing their last game in The Shoe
So no, I'm not as mad as you are about this game. Not even close. What happened that day was just a product of the 10 months that led up to it. A brutal loss, but a loss that Ohio State brought on itself.
17. Michigan State 34, Ohio State 24 (2013 Big Ten Championship)
One thing we as sports fans don't do enough is give the other team "some fuckin' credit." I'm here to give Michigan State their credit. They were better than Ohio State in 2013, and they proved it that night. That's one of the best defenses I've ever seen, and their offense was just good enough to hold up their end of the bargain. Michigan State deserved that win. That said, I'm not just gonna type "Sparty better" and brush off a loss as big as this one that easily.
The Braxton Miller sweep call on fourth down. The leaky defense from all season that finally bit them in the ass. Having a 24-17 second half lead after trailing 17-0. It all sucked, but it's still more of a gut punch than something that gets me angry. We all wanted to believe Ohio State would win the national championship, but this game was confirmation that they were too flawed to do it. Miller and his receivers weren't consistent enough to compliment a legendary run game, and even though the defense had some serious young talent, it was talent lacking direction.
I think about the 2013 team a lot. They were young and erratic, but fun as hell. Games like Northwestern, Iowa, and (especially) Michigan were exhausting and agonizing, but also exhilarating. The run game is still my favorite group to watch in Ohio State history. They were a beautiful disaster, and they were so close to playing for a national championship. In the Big Ten title, they ran into a team who was just better. When it was time to make a play to win the game, the better team made it.
If I were ranking the most painful Ohio State losses for me, this would be top three.
16. Purdue 26, Ohio State 23 (OT) (2011)
Dumb game in a lost year. So why is it this high? Because one play was a microcosm of the whole season. Braxton Miller had a lot of great moments, but him scrambling around on fourth down with the game on the line, jumping over his own lineman, then finding Jordan Hall on the other side of the field for what would've been the game-winning touchdown is one of my favorites:
Unfortunately, it's forever tainted in my mind because they couldn't make a fucking extra point:
15. Texas 24, Ohio State 21 (2008 Fiesta Bowl)
I'm going to reference this a few times over the rest of the article, but this game came at a time when Ohio State really needed a win against a good non-conference opponent, just to shut everyone up. I thought they outplayed a Texas team that was basically a play away from making the national title. I'm still upset about the final drive. This game is less important than others it's above, but I've got extra hate in my heart for Texas because my brother went there.
14. Clemson 29, Ohio State 23 (2019 CFB Playoff)
I have a completely different view on this game than everyone else. It makes me more heartbroken than mad. I love the 2019 team so much, and them losing the way they did hurt. There were the missed opportunities in the redzone. The defense being one stop away. Justin Fields and Chris Olave not being on the same page at the end. I said the 2013 Michigan State loss would be in my top three if I were ranking the most painful Ohio State losses; This would obviously be No. 1.
Here's why the two moments Ohio State fans never shut up about don't piss me off enough for it to be higher:
- The Shaun Wade targeting: Bad rule, right call. It stinks, but they're calling that 10 times out of 10. It shouldn't have been an ejection, but unfortunately the rules don't leave any wiggle room for intent. The thing that makes me most mad about this play is Trevor Lawrence not even having to go through some sort of concussion protocol after he was lying on the turf like this.
- The reversed fumble: I can't believe they overturned it, and it's still awful. So awful that at one point in 2020 I said something about it and got a phone call from a certain television network telling me to delete it. (That's a story for another day.) As shitty as it was, that call alone didn't cost Ohio State the game. Clemson punted the next play, and the great field position they got was negated by a bad Fields interception. If that call happened in the fourth quarter, I'd be in the same boat as y'all who still whine about it, but it didn't.
Ohio State had too many self-inflicted wounds for me to be angry at the officiating. That's something I said right after the game, not just with the hindsight we have now. Because of those mistakes, we'll always have to wonder what would've happened if the best team in Ohio State history got a shot to cement their legacy in the national championship. That makes me sad more than anything else.
13. USC 35, Ohio State 3 (2008)
The program's on-field reputation was already on thin ice after the back-to-back national title losses, but this game was irrefutable evidence that they didn't belong with the big boys anymore. It's the second-most embarrassing game on this list, and it's highlighted by Marcus Freeman getting toasted by a fullback:
12. Michigan 40, Ohio State 34 (2011)
The worst Ohio State team of the last half century –with an interim, first-time head coach and an offense whose leading receiver had 14 catches on the season– was thisclose to going into Michigan Stadium, putting up 40-plus points, and beating a 9-2 UM team for the 8th straight year:
Imagine how well this win would've aged. It bugs the shit out of me to think about.
11. Texas 25, Ohio State 22 (2005)
The X's on the above graphic represent the EIGHT POSSESSIONS Ohio State had that started at their 40 yard line or better. They scored zero touchdowns on those eight drives. The three possessions that started inside Texas' 40 all ended in field goals. We can yell all we want about Tressel flip-flopping QB's, or the Ryan Hamby drop, but neither would've mattered if they just scored a touchdown on even one of those drives. I've never seen an offense consistently waste great field position the way they did. Credit to an awesome Texas team and Vince Young for finding a way, but Tressel and the offense threw away an incredible performance by AJ Hawk and the defense in what what would've been an all-time win.
10. Purdue 49, Ohio State 20 (2018)
9. Oregon 35, Ohio State 28 (2021)
I was cautiously optimistic heading into 2021 that the defense would improve enough to not be a complete disaster....Then they gave 31 points to Minnesota in the opener, despite PJ Fleck actively trying to kill the clock from the very first play. It was a warning sign in retrospect. The next week vs. Oregon was a full-on catastrophe.
Oregon didn't even do anything that outside the box, and they still ate Kerry Coombs alive. They scored on essentially the same weakside run three times, while Ohio State's back seven continuously looked out of position on the most basic of looks. It was dreadful, but it wasn't just limited to the defense.
The offense shredded Oregon through the air, but couldn't convert in two key short yardage/red zone situations. This was glaring problem in 2021, and one that Ryan Day's offenses have had almost every season. They couldn't consistently generate a push up front, despite Oregon not having Kayvon Thibodeaux in the lineup. We're all focused on the defense, but this is a huge issue that Day needs to address heading into 2022. (Editor's note: It was a huge issue again!)
Lastly: Does the Ohio Stadium crowd ever make noise? The atmosphere for this game –outside of Oregon's last drive– was pathetic, as it usually is for any non-Michigan/primetime Penn State game. I get that noon kicks suck, and the lower bowl is full of people who were in the student section during Woody Hayes' first season, but we can't possibly get some more juice? If the NCAA '24 video game brings back the crowd noise meter, Ohio Stadium's needs to constantly sit around 45 decibels. That's how mad I am about this game; I'm writing about the fucking crowd noise!
8. Nebraska 34, Ohio State 27 (2011)
I grew up going to Colorado games in the Big 12-era, so I've got less than no love for Nebraska. When they bolted for the Big Ten, I was looking forward to watching Ohio State stomp them in a way that CU rarely did, and that's pretty much what's happened since. It looked like their first matchup as conference opponents was heading that way when Ohio State had a 27-6 third quarter lead. Then Braxton Miller got hurt. You know what happened next:
This game means nothing to you 12 years later, but I hate Nebraska too much to not have it in my top 10.
7. Penn State 13, Ohio State 6 (2008)
6. LSU 38, Ohio State 24 (2007 National Championship)
Every time I think about this game I come back to what a missed opportunity it was. 2007 was such a stupid season, and there was no way Ohio State should've been in the BCS Title Game. Yet there they were, up 10-0 early on LSU in New Orleans, looking like they might sneak away with the crystal football. Three quarters later, we were talking about another double-digit title loss to an SEC team.
LSU was better, but this loss was defined by mental mistakes, and Ohio State not making plays in big moments. Brian Robiskie's endzone drop and Austin Spitler mindlessly roughing the punter on a 4th and 23 stand out the most. 2007 Ohio State probably would've been the worst national champion of the last 30 years, and it makes me sick that we can't brag about that.
5. Georgia 42, Ohio State 41 (2022 CFB Playoff)
Every time I think about this game I come back to what a missed opportunity it was. 2022 was such a stupid season, and there was no way Ohio State should've been playing for a chance at the national championship. Yet there they were, up 38-24 at the start of the fourth quarter on Georgia in Atlanta, looking like they might sneak away with a playoff win and a possible national title. 30 minutes later, we were talking about Ryan Day blowing another double-digit lead in the College Football Playoff.
The Marvin Harrison Jr. injury was a gamechanger, but this was a game Ohio State should've won, and they let it slip through their fingers. My ire focuses on the defense, but it also goes to Day. He called a (mostly) great game offensively, but as much as people for some reason don't want to accept this, he's responsible for the defense as the head coach, whether he's actively involved with it or not. I'm fine if you want to trash Jim Knowles for what happened, but we're at three straight seasons under Day where the defense has let them down. At what point is that on him as the Head Coach? Also, he big-brained two fourth downs, and took the ball out of CJ Stroud's hands with everything on the line.
I despise the word "should've," but it's the perfect word to describe Ohio State right now. CJ Stroud put on the greatest QB performance in program history against Georgia. His scramble to put them in field goal position on the final drive should've been his John Elway 'helicopter run' moment. It should've been the performance that melted away our feelings about the two Michigan losses, the back and forth sniping between him and the fanbase, and every other thinkpicee about his time at Ohio State. It should've been the 'fuck you' type of win Day could shove in the face of idiots like me. It should've been the win that alleviated all of the angst about the program right now, and propelled the team to a national title. To me, that word, what it means, and this game are exactly what will define the Ryan Day era at Ohio State - things that should've happened, and never actually did.
4. Oklahoma 31, Ohio State 16 (2017)
What I'm not mad about: Baker Mayfield planting the flag at mid-field. I love when players do that shit, and I had no problem with it after he and Oklahoma stunted on Ohio State in their own building.
What I'm mad about: Everything else. This was an absolute tour de force of incompetence from Urban Meyer/the coaching staff, highlighted by JK Dobbins' 13 carries to JT Barrett's 18. Dobbins toasted OU's defense in the third quarter, but for some reason they just stopped giving him the ball. It's at the top of my shit list for all-time in-game Ohio State complaints. Elsewhere on offense:
The defense had no clue how to slow down Mayfield, and the secondary committed at least two egregious, game-changingly bad pass interference penalties. This loss embodies everything that was frustrating about Ohio State from 2015-2018.
3. Michigan 42, Ohio State 27 (2021)
Here's what I wrote in the original article in June 2022: I said that the 2014 Virginia Tech loss was, "The most necessary and important Ohio State loss of the last twenty years.*" The asterisk and accompanying, "We'll come back to this idea later" was for this game.
Depending on how the 2022 season goes, this could either move into the top-two, or replace Virginia Tech at the top of the list. Let me explain:
If Ohio State wins the 2022-23 national championship, I'm going to credit this game. I think losing to Michigan the way they did was the only thing that was going force the program to refocus and get to the next level. Getting wrecked by Alabama in 2020 clearly wasn't enough to do it, and neither was the Oregon loss. Do you think we see the degree of overhaul and change that Ryan Day's made the past five months if they beat Michigan, but then lose to Georgia in the playoff?
Is it dumb to say that losing to Michigan might've been the best thing to happen to the program going forward? Maybe, but I think it was necessary. If they go all the way, I'll remember this game the same way I do 2014 Virginia Tech. How's that for a galaxy brain take?
On the flipside: If they go 9-3 then this baby shoots right to the top of the rankings and I burn everything down. Guess we'll find out in a few months!
Here's how I feel about it now: So much for losing to Michigan being the best thing for the program going forward. I have no problem accepting that UM was better in 2021. They deserved to win, and they dominated an extremely flawed Ohio State team. I also still think this loss was the main catalyst for Day bringing in Jim Knowles, plus some of the other changes we saw this season. For the most part, these were steps in the right direction. The loss itself doesn't make me nearly as heated as the question I keep coming back to when I think about it: What did they actually learn from it, outside of "the defense is so glaringly bad that we have to fix it"?
That's a genuine question for you to try and answer, because I can't think of anything. Day and the team spent all off-season talking about how it was fueling them, the importance of beating Michigan, gaining a renewed understanding of what The Game means, and how this year was going to be different. We all saw how that turned out.
The only true loss in life is when you lose and don't learn from it. Ohio State didn't learn shit from the 2021 Michigan game.
2. USC 18, Ohio State 15 (2009)
A loss I've never gotten over, and I'm not sure I ever will. By far the maddest I've been after a game. It lives in a class by itself, and it would take a monumental fuck-up for anything to surpass it. (Editor's note: There was a monumental fuck-up this season that surpassed it!)
I mentioned it earlier, but this was a time when the program desperately needed a marquee win. The blowout title game losses to Florida and LSU put the "Ohio State slow" meme on the map –and it was true, they were slow– and began the SEC's reign of dominance. It got even worse when the 2008 season started with USC running them out of the Coliseum, and ended with another high-profile bowl game loss, albeit a close one to Texas. By 2009, the big game mystique around the program had worn off, and Ohio State was a punching bag nationally. A primetime week two rematch at home versus No. 3 USC presented the perfect opportunity to shift the conversation.
Instead, we got one of the most conservative, play-not-to-lose games in program history. After kicking an 18-yard field goal to go up 10-7 with 14:56 left in the second quarter, Ohio State gained 85 total yards on 7 possessions the rest of the game. The offense that we all thought would open up in Terrelle Pryor's first full year as the starter looked like the same one from the Penn State debacle the year before. Luckily, the defense –with help from a safety by the punt unit– came to play, and Ohio State led 15-10 with 7:15 left. Then a true freshman QB drove 86 yards on them:
I've never been as stunned as I was after that game. I was done with Tressel. Sure, I had thought that in frustration before, but this was the first time I actually meant it. I remember reading this article over and over, and agreeing with every word. I ripped the Ohio Stadium crowd earlier, but they were electric that night. Instead of playing into that advantage, Tressel managed the game like it was a September noon kick vs. Akron. Ohio State had an amazing opportunity to quiet all the negative talk, and I thought Tressel single-handedly punted that chance away.
That all seems pretty dramatic in hindsight, right? They won 10 of their next 11 games, then beat Oregon in the Rose Bowl. It was a great season, and it set the table for an even better 2010. (On the field, at least.) I ended up loving the 2009 team, but I still feel the same way about this game 14 years later. They had no business losing, and it was the final sign (to me) that Tressel had to adapt for Ohio State to stay relevant nationally. What happened in 2011 prevented us from ever seeing what that would've looked like long-term. Regardless, I still detest this game with all of my soul.
1. Michigan 45, Ohio State 23 (2022)
From the moment Cornelius Johnson broke away from Cam Brown on Michigan's first touchdown, until the last second of the game clock ran out, you could feel how terrified Ohio State was. Listen to Joel Klatt:
He knew it. Everyone in the crowd knew it. You and I knew it watching at home. It was obvious to anyone with a pulse how scared and tight Ohio State was.
This one is still so fresh that I don't even know where to start. The defense gave up six back-breaking plays that accounted for almost all of Michigan's offense. Ryan Day packed his worst gameplan and management skills for the biggest game of his life. CJ Stroud played OK (I guess?), but then said in postgame that LOSING THE MICHIGAN GAME for the second straight year wasn't something that would define the team. A backup tight end took a 15-yard penalty in the most crucial moment of the game because he decided to headbutt a Michigan defender out of bounds 40 yards downfield. Parker Fleming's special teams units had another disastrous day, highlighted by failing to execute a fake punt that had Michigan dead to rights:
This game is No. 1 for all of those reasons, but none of them are what makes me the most mad about it. It's here because Ohio State spent a full year telling us how prepared they were, and how things would be different this timeTM. When push came to shove? Not only did they get smacked even worse, but they kinda just quit midway through the fourth quarter. So much for everything that was done in the darkness coming to light, huh?
And that's the difference between this and every other loss on the list. I'm sure you can think of moments from other Ohio State blowout losses where the team gave up, but I can't ever remember feeling like any other group in program history made the conscious effort to tap out the way the 2022 team did, much less to Michigan at home.
The way they battled against Georgia took some of the heat off what happened here for a section of the fanbase, but I'm not buying it. It's the most embarrassing Ohio State performance I've seen in my 20 years watching the team, solely because of how fragile and scared they looked. I can accept that you're going to have bad days, but it was truly pathetic watching these guys quit after a full year of crying about how mean Michigan was to them. The personal attacks on social media towards the players and coaches afterwards were obviously way out of line, but everyone in the program deserves every fair bit of criticism and shit they took –and are still taking– for how they lost.
This game makes me sick, and it's a damning indictment on Ryan Day and the soft-ass program he runs. 2023 should be his last chance to find a way off third base, and at the very least take back control of the rivalry that he's fumbled out of Ohio State's grasp. And if he can't do that, it's time to find someone else who can.