The 1986 season was one of hope for Ohio State fans. The team was coming off a victory in the Citrus Bowl, and quarterback Jim Karsatos returned for his senior season after showing steady leadership the previous season. The running back situation was unsettled, but promising youngsters Jaymes Bryant and Vince Workman teamed to supplement senior John Wooldridge's consistent production. Best of all, stud WR Cris Carter returned for his junior season, flanked by senior Nate Harris on the other side. The defense was led by junior linebacker Chris Spielman and a host of young players waiting for their turn to shine.
However, the mood turned sour very quickly as the Buckeyes fell flat in a 16-10 loss to Alabama in the Kickoff Classic game in the Meadowlands, NJ. This was followed by a 40-7 blowout at Washington. Coach Earle Bruce came under fire once again, and the fans were hardly mollified by a lackluster 13-10 home victory against Colorado. However, the offense broke out the next week against Utah to the tune of 715 yards and OSU pounded the Utes 64-6. Bryant started at RB and racked up 145 rushing yards, while Workman exploded for 168 yards in a relief role. The team then reeled off 4 straight wins to begin the Big Ten season 4-0 and bring their record to a more respectable 6-2. But a road trip to Iowa loomed the following week.
Kinnick Stadium has stood as the home of Iowa's football team since its opening in 1929 as "Iowa Stadium". Holding a capacity of 70,585 people, it is the 27th largest college football stadium in the country, although only the 6th largest in the Big Ten. The name was changed in 1972 to honor former player and World War II hero Nile Kinnick, the 1939 Heisman Trophy winner. When it is filled to capacity and the crowd is into the game, it can be one of the loudest stadiums in the country.
Another interesting feature of the stadium is the famous pink visitors' locker room. According to legend, former coach Hayden Fry had the visitors' locker room painted pink in order to make the opposing team feel like they were, how shall we say, less masculine. Some have said that this is just a myth, saying that the school ran out of other colors of paint and had to use pink. I don't buy it, because trying to upset the mood of an opposing team is just the sort of thing that Fry would do. This tactic irritated former Michigan coach Bo Schembechler, who reportedly brought Michigan-themed wallpaper with him to games at Iowa and attempted to cover up the walls with it. This was somewhat ineffective, as Schembechler went 2-2-1 at Kinnick after that.
However, despite the crowd noise and the less-than-desirable locker theme, Ohio State has mostly prospered at Kinnick, going 11-2-1 there since the name change in 1972. And 1986 was no exception. The Buckeyes went into Iowa City ranked #17 in the nation and leading the Big Ten in scoring and total offense. Iowa was ranked #11 and their fans were ready for the showdown. The Hawkeyes had lost legendary players Chuck Long and Ronnie Harmon to the NFL, but Chuck Hartlieb had stepped into the QB role nicely and he had developed a good rapport with TE Marv Cook and WR Quinn Early.
The Hawkeyes jumped out to an early 7-0 lead, but it was short-lived. In the 2nd quarter, Ohio State tied it up when Karsatos hit Carter with a 72-yard TD pass. On the play, Carter took the ball away from an Iowa defender and fought him off for 20 yards before breaking away down the right sideline for the touchdown. On their next possession, OSU got the ball on the Iowa 48 and scored 4 plays later as fullback George Cooper carried the last 9 yards for the TD. Iowa got the ball back, but quickly turned it over on a fumble. OSU CB Greg Rogan picked the ball up and took it 31 yards to the house to put the Buckeyes up 21-7.
Ohio State controlled the 2nd half, holding Iowa to only a field goal. For the game, the Hawkeyes had only 192 yards of offense as Spielman racked up 18 tackles in a stellar defensive effort. On offense, Karsatos hit reserve WR Everett Ross with a 38-yard TD pass and Matt Frantz hit a 37-yard field goal to close out the scoring. The Buckeyes left Iowa City with a resounding 31-10 victory and Hawkeye fans left the stadium scratching their heads over how OSU had bested their team at Kinnick yet again.
OSU finished the 1986 season with a disappointing home loss to Michigan, but rebounded to dominate Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl. In that game, coach Earle Bruce emerged from the locker room wearing a brand new pinstriped suit and fedora, as if he was interviewing for a job. A few weeks later, reports circulated that Bruce was indeed talking to the AD over at Arizona about the head coaching job there. However, he eventually decided that he was a Buckeye and could not be anything else, and so he remained at OSU for one more season. Bruce would be fired by Ohio State University president Edward Jennings during the 1987 season after losing at home to Iowa. The team rallied around Bruce for his last game at Michigan, and they pulled out a hard-fought 23-20 win against the Wolverines to send Bruce out with a victory.