ALL IS RIGHT WITH THE WORLD
The 2009 Ohio State football season is in the books now, and the dust has settled after a very gratifying Rose Bowl victory. I was watching the game again the other day (ah, the magic of the DVR) and I was thinking of how well this year's team stacks up against teams from the past. At the beginning of each season, OSU fans often find themselves searching for similarities to the great 2002 National Championship squad (inexperienced offensive line, new starter at QB, tough defense, etc.). But now that we know exactly how this year's team fared against real competition, there are at least three teams that the 2009 Buckeyes remind me of.
The 1986 Ohio State team finished the season with a record of 10-3 and a final AP ranking of #7. One of their 2 out-of-conference losses was to a PAC-10 team and they lost once in the conference. After a shaky start, the defense became stellar as they gave up only 123 points in their last 11 games. And they finished with a bang by upsetting 8th ranked Texas A&M 28-12 in the Cotton Bowl.
But that is where the similarities end. 1986 was kind of an odd season schedule-wise, as Ohio State played their first two games away from home. They started by losing 16-10 against Alabama in the now-defunct Kickoff Classic, and followed that with a 40-7 blowout loss at Washington. But they righted the ship after that and were cruising for a Big Ten championship until the last game of the season against Michigan. Despite a remarkable 29-tackle performance from linebacker Chris Spielman, the defense gave up 529 yards to the Wolverines en route to a 26-24 loss.
In 1993, Ohio State got off to a much better start, marching to 8 straight victories before settling for a tie at Wisconsin. A win at Michigan would have given the Buckeyes an undefeated season and possibly have gotten them into the national title picture. The team defeated BYU in the Holiday Bowl and finished ranked #11 in the AP poll. They compiled a 10-1-1 final record despite breaking in a new sophomore starter at QB.
But again, the comparison falls short due to the loss at Michigan. The 1993 Buckeyes came out flat against their arch-enemies, fading out to the tune of a 28-0 loss. As a result, they dropped like a lead balloon in the polls, and missed out on all of the New Year's Day bowl games. To their credit, they did rebound with a victory in the Holiday Bowl, although not without a considerable scare at the end. Finally, the defense was not particularly strong, giving up over 20 points five times during the season, including the last two games.
For my money, the team that the 2009 Buckeyes most resemble is the 2005 version. That team had an excellent defense, led by linebackers A.J. Hawk, Bobby Carpenter, and Anthony Schlegel. The offense was led by QB Troy Smith, who had taken over as starter the previous season in relief of Justin Zwick. Smith took some criticism early in the season, especially after a conference loss on the road at Penn State. But Coach Tressel stuck with him and it paid off. Smith led the team to a resounding victory in the Fiesta Bowl and that win set the program up for a serious run at the national title in 2006.
Unlike the 1986 and 1993 teams, the 2005 Buckeyes took care of business in the season finale, dispatching the Wolverines in Ann Arbor by a score of 25-21. They finished 11-2, and ended the season at #4 in the final BCS rankings. The two teams that beat them finished #1 and #3. And they began the next season ranked #1.
So what do you think? Is the 2009 team comparable to that great 2005 team? Does the Rose Bowl victory set the team up well for a title run in 2010? Is there another team from the past that this team reminds you of?