Now, bear with me a little on this but the more I have thought of what is going on this season (aside from the suspensions and looming NCAA pain), I kept being drawn back to the 1994 season and its similarities.
It was a year that didn't begin with many expectations and fanfare. We had come off a season in 1993 where we didn't get into the bowl we wanted because of a poor game in Madison that ended in a tie, ultimately sending the Badgers to the Rose Bowl. We ended the year on a high note, beating Brigham Young 28-21 in the Holiday Bowl, but entered the 1994 season looking to replace a quarterback, running back and three out of four defensive linemen among other positions.
Sound familiar yet? Well, the parallels between the 1994 and 2011 seasons go deeper than that, so let's revisit the days of Nirvana, flannel shirts and OJ's slow drive in a white Bronco.
The season started out with an easy 34-10 win over an outmatched Fresno State in the Pigskin Classic in Anaheim.
The first major test came in a much anticipated roadie in week two against an out of conference opponent, Washington, who we had beaten soundly in Columbus the year before (although most of the hype from the 1993 tilt was due to the fact that it was the first night game in Ohio Stadium history). This game would turn out badly for the Buckeyes as an anemic offense, coupled with a defense that was perhaps a bit outmatched on the talent side surrendered 208 rushing yards to Huskie standout Napoleon Kaufman and we'd go on to lose the game 25-16.
After rebounding against Pittsburgh, Houston and Northwestern to move to 4-1, the Buckeyes would get embarrassed by a conference opponent, Illinois, who would come into the 'Shoe and dominate Ohio State 24-10.
Again, the team rebounded, posting wins over Michigan State in East Lansing (23-7) and Purdue at home (48-14). Feeling a little better, we got on the plane and hit the road to one of the most unfriendly environments in all of college football: Beaver Stadium. The Nittany Lions, led by Kerry Collins, Ki-Jana Carter, Kyle Brady and Bobby Engram, were a juggernaut and entered the game unbeaten and ranked #1 in the country.
Penn State led just 7-0 after the first quarter, but the wheels soon came off and the Buckeyes surrendered 28 unanswered points in the second to go into the locker room down 35-0. If only that were the end of it. The Nittany Lions would put up 28 more points in the second half, thoroughly embarassing us 63-14. A young Buckeye team that had shown progress was suddenly staring into the abyss.
After , it seems the Bucks have finally found their stride and have put the past behind them.....then it all goes horribly wrong. The OSU defense is in total disarray the entire
second half. An opponent play that only gains 5-6 yards feels like a victory. Before the other team even scores the last 2 touchdowns you know they are as inevitable as the tides. A team which showed promise suddenly has no prospects.
Instead of folding, we sacked up and won our final three games of the regular season, including getting a measure of revenge against the Badgers and handing Coach Cooper his first victory over Michigan, effectively saving his job. Sure, there were some lumps along the way, but we fought and finished with a 9-3 regular season record. The team featured five sophomore starters on the defense alone and would serve as the foundation for the great teams to come in 1995 and 1996.
While we hopefully won't see any 63-14 thrashings this year, nor can we expect a bowl matchup with the Crimson Tide again, but the 2011 Buckeye still have plenty to play for, both this season and laying the foundation for years to come.