Here Comes the Sun

By Ramzy Nasrallah on April 23, 2013 at 11:30a
The following year in State College no game was played. Nope. Never happened.Chico Nelson, Lorenzo Styles and Dennis Maag were part of a team that took a 16-game unbeaten streak to Ann Arbor.

Hey, remember when Ohio State went 12-0 last season?

Aside from being predictably exhilarating, that perfect outcome represented a fairly reasonable prediction. The Buckeyes were returning a whole bunch of seasoned players and had Urban Meyer, a manageable schedule and no title pressure all on their side.

Running the table wasn’t a given – it never is and never will be – but it also wasn’t terribly far-fetched to think of 12-0 as a strong possibility heading into last summer, even coming off of the forgettable 6-7 disaster that preceded it.  

Perfect record fantasies are generally ground into a fine hash and smoked in pipes, but if you’ve only recently been released into the wild from the comfortable sanctuary of college or your parents’ home, this is all your young life as a Buckeye fan has ever processed: Realistic title dreams.

That’s what you expect now. Every offseason, every year – even heading into that forgettable 6-7 disaster. “Tempered” expectations for the Buckeyes begin with double-digit wins regardless of the schedule or circumstances. You're not certifiably crazy to at least anticipate perfection anymore.

For you young Buckeyes who know of no other world: This padded room of ours turns 20 in 2013. It’s still a baby, just like you.

In 1993 Ohio State entered what would be the watershed season of the John Cooper era. It was the Year 15 anno domini for post-Hayesian Buckeye football, and it would turn out to be Year One in the reawakening of what had been once a signature American sports team.

Ohio State’s first powerhouse-caliber campaign since Woody established two new inescapable truths: The Buckeyes were back to national relevance after spending the 1980s decidedly on the periphery, and Cooper chiseled his epitaph to include an albatross wearing a winged helmet.

But this isn't about Coop's exasperating inability to beat Michigan. This is recognizing the importance of what his 1993 team still means in 2013.

To understand how vital that season is to the prevailing mentality around Ohio State's expectations, we must revisit the state of the program in 1988 when Cooper was hired: Ohio State football was a rapidly fading star. Woody had been out of coaching for 15 years, dead for six and yet was still presiding over the program which couldn’t get through a season without losing at least three games.

His teams had been accustomed to, at worst, flirting with perfection. Earle Bruce – despite being the winningest coach in the Big Ten during his tenure – lowered that ceiling, albeit while regularly winning second-tier bowl games and beating Michigan.

Cooper’s early teams lowered it further. Each of his first five years registered a full month’s worth of the regular season into the bad column. To make matters more desperate, there were no bowl victories. There were no Michigan victories either.

ULTRABACKTeam MVP Raymont Harris giving Northwestern "the usual."

The final Big Ten standings in each of those first five seasons prior to 1993 had Ohio State closer to Indiana than to a Big Ten title. Granted, IU football was still several years away from being cratered by its athletic department, but such circumstances were unheard of when Hayes was in charge.

Ohio State winning the Big Ten was a fading memory, and it wasn’t getting any easier: Not only was the Big Two of Woody and Bo halved with Ohio State’s decline, the Little Eight had grown up significantly.

Michigan was still rather beastly, finishing one of its finest runs going back to the days of Fielding Yost in accumulating an undefeated season, multiple Pasadena trips and zero losses to the Buckeyes. Making that era even more unpalatable, even Michigan's basketball team won a national title.

Back then Iowa was still formidable under Hayden Fry, Illinois ranged from thorny to annoying depending on the Saturday, Michigan State was just in its formative embryotic SpartyNO state having recently beaten Southern Cal in the Rose Bowl, Wisconsin had begun its own resurgence with Barry Alvarez and independent powerhouse Penn State just happened to be entering the conference that season.

Odds were stacked against the Buckeyes breaking away from its usual four-loss mediocrity. Recent national champion Washington, Penn State, Michigan State, Wisconsin and defending Rose Bowl champ Michigan were the most obvious land mines on the 1993 schedule. Trips to Pittsburgh and Illinois looked dicey, and even Indiana was – yes – loaded.

Another forgettable season seemed likely. The sole ten-win campaign for the Buckeyes from 1979 until then had been a 10-3 effort in 1986 (remember when Jim Tressel’s 2008 team went 10-3 and lost to Texas in the Fiesta Bowl? Remember how that season felt...disappointing?)

This was still the pre-gimmicky jersey era before Nike, Adidas and Under Armor made Saturdays a gaudy marketing spectacle, and the university had what was then considered to be a bold plan to quietly celebrate the 1968 team's 25th anniversary: Home jerseys that season would carry the black, block collegiate numbers unique to the '68 uniform over the piping on the shoulders.

The last guys to wear sleeves like that were named Kern, Tatum, Sensibaugh, Stillwagon, Otis and Zelina. Legends wore those jerseys. The ’93 Buckeyes would take the field reminding everyone of just how dominant Ohio State football was...25 years ago.

That silent celebration transformed each of the games played in Ohio Stadium into reenactments of the national title team that had humiliated Michigan and shut down OJ Simpson’s Trojans in the Rose Bowl to complete – in painstaking detail that is still revered to this day – what a perfect Buckeye football season looks like.

Those anniversary-celebrating Buckeyes of 1993, widely believed to be heading toward an inevitable 14th-consecutive season with at least three losses, instead went 10-1-1. Their 16-game unbeaten streak ended grotesquely in Ann Arbor, but the ceiling which had been lowered twice post-Hayes was finally obliterated.

Since then, Ohio State has piled up 14 seasons of double-digit wins. The Buckeyes win the Big Ten regularly, and we expect them to – when they're eligible, anyway. Those annually lofty expectations, this fun padded room and all of this optimism essentially began 20 years ago with that team.

It was the turning point, both for Cooper and for Ohio State, in 1993. That season transformed our expectations into what they are still today: A perfect fantasy.


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Bucksfan's picture

"If there's one thing the history of Buckeye football has taught us is that it cannot be contained.  Buckeyes break free, they expand to new territories, and crash through barriers, painfully, maybe even dangerously, but, uh...well, there it is." - Ian Malcom ca. 1993.
Or something like that.


Dougger's picture

haha great movie. So awesome in 3D!
The year one Mike Vrabel came on board.. I like it.

I like football

thatlillefty's picture

Hard to imagine a life in which the buckeyes were not the dominant team of the midwest.

cinserious's picture

OSU's rise back to relevancy coinsided with Notre Dame's desent to irrelevancy. Thanks to one Urban Meyer, we intend to keep it that way. What say we make ND our new 'rival' and pretend meatchicken doesn't exist?

One day I will valiantly become a political prisoner of 11W jail.

Hovenaut's picture

I was in the service at the time, but kept up (via telefax!) with college football and Ohio State. I remember thinking Cooper had finally brought the program back to being a legitimate power.

Besides being a Buckeye fan, I played high school ball against Lorenzo Styles, and remember trying to keep tabs on him.

The tie with Wisconsin was a little frustrating, and set the tone for Barry A and his ascension to demi-god status in Madtown.

While the Rose Bowl wasn't in the cards, the Holiday Bowl win over BYU behind the "Quiet Storm" Raymont Harris was great.

Good team, set the table for some better ones down the line.

German Buckeye's picture

Is it unhealthy to continue to think (believe) that OSU will every year, produce 12-0, 11-1 or 10-2 teams?  I understand high standards and all, but I think the pressure to perform at that level can be overwhelming. 

NW Buckeye's picture

We have all grown to expect excellence from our beloved Buckeyes.  And, many will expect nothing less than undefeated regular seasons.  Although I love to see the buckeyes win during the regular season and beyond, I just don't think the average Buckeye fan clamoring for an undefeated season realizes just how difficult a task that is.  We all know various teams that have strived to be the best at what they do, yet fall short of lofty expectations.  Probably the best example of this is the Yankees - they have the best team money can buy, yet, as we have all seen, that does not guarantee them a WS ring every year. 
Going undefeated in the regular season of college football is a very difficult task.  Take a look at Bama in recent years.  They have found a way to lose games that they should have won.  It is easy for a team to slip up and not perform to their capabilities (Purdue game from this last year).  Most often, the undefeated season is more good luck than absolute stellar performances all the way through (ND could have easily lost 3 or 4 games to far inferior teams last year only to have luck save the day for them). 
In answer to your question I don't know if it is necessarily unhealthy for the team to have such high expectations, but the fan base can be a different matter.  I am sure there are many of us who would cheer on our Buckeyes, win or lose.    But, I know lofty expectations by some fans can surely ruin their day, week, month, year.... when the Buckeyes lose.  Heck, there are many fans who think Matta is a terrible coach because he has not won the NCAA tourney, despite his over all record at OSU being the best the school has ever had.  So, yes, it probably is unhealthy for some fans to expect nothing less than perfection, but we/they will do it anyway because that is the way some fans act (they are fanatics after all)!!!!!! 

Oldschoolbuck's picture

Actually, we SHOULD expect greatness!
Of course it won't always happen, but setting the bar too low is more unhealthy than setting it too high IMO.

footballohiost's picture

Interesting title for the column in view of who passed today......"Richie Havens, Folk Singer Who Riveted Woodstock, Dies at 72"............. and one of his hit songs was,....????????

Ramzy Nasrallah's picture

Writing about something that occurred 20 years ago put Sgt. Pepper in my head, from which I bridged to the title you see here. Credit George; assist to John.

Michael Citro's picture

Well, obviously this story is being for the benefit of Mr. Kite. And 11W readers here, there and everywhere (different album).

Unky Buck's picture

I've probably read the title at least 10 times, whether through actually reading the article itself or passing by it while scrolling through the main page at various times throughout the day and each and every time, in my head, I would say "do do do do" just seems like the right thing to do.

Rock over London; Rock on Chicago. Timex: It takes a lickin' but keeps on tickin'

Earle's picture

I say, "It's all right".

Have you tried Not Your Father's Root Beer?  It tastes just like the real thing, but it packs a punch (5.9%ABV).  It's a little sweet for me though.  Two is my limit.

M Man's picture

Can the Buckeyes go 12-0 again next year?  Sure.  If you're lucky.  Lucky like you were in '12.
That's a pretty provocative opener, isn't it?
Look; the Buckeyes were a very good team last year and you'll be good again next year.  Urban Meyer said "great," and I am fine with that.  The 2012 Buckeyes were a great team.
Here's the thing.  You were lucky, that Braxton Miller didn't get hurt the way that Denard Robinson got hurt.  You were lucky, that Kenny Guiton was able to come in and pull out the Purdue game for you.  You were lucky that Sparty missed a FG in a one-point OSU victory.  You got Michigan at home.  You were fortunate, in a lot of ways and maybe more than I can count.
This is not to diminish a perfect regular season.  All perfect seasons, for all teams, involve a bit of good fortune.  It almost always includes the good health of key players and in the case of OSU, you actually overcame a lot -- John Simon's 50% health, the Posey suspension, the rotation at LB for a variety of reasons, etc.  Michigan was lucky, and blessed with unusual good health, in our perfect 1997 season.
Your perfect regular season, in Urban Meyer's first season in Columbus is rather amazing to me.  There are always hitches in a new administration.  Urban Meyer didn't allow any of them to interfere with winning.  That is remarkable.
My fervent hope is that both Michigan and Ohio State are healthy by the time we get to November this year.  That will be good.  Better even for Michigan, than OSU.  And Michigan will need to be lucky in that regard because of the very bad luck this spring with two critical losses in LB Jake Ryan and backup QB Russell Bellomy.  Think of what your summertime prayers might be if you knew that Kenny Guiton and Ryan Shazier were gone from your fall roster.  You'd be praying for a healthy Brax and a lot of help on defense.

M Man's picture

Shorter version; your 12-0 should have, but didn't, earn you the pleasure of facing Alabama in a bowl game.
What's that?  You wanted Notre Dame?  Then you reeeaally would have been lucky...

Bucksfan's picture

Lucky?  "'A real man makes his own luck" Billy Zane, Titanic.'" - Dwight.

BuckeyeInOrlando's picture

You were lucky, that Braxton Miller didn't get hurt the way that Denard Robinson got hurt.

BRAXTON > denard. Don't ever make that silly comparison again.

Michigan will need to be lucky in that regard because of the very bad luck this spring with two critical losses in LB Jake Ryan and backup QB Russell Bellomy.  Think of what your summertime prayers might be if you knew that Kenny Guiton and Ryan Shazier were gone from your fall roster.

Kenny Guiton > Russell Bellomy
Ryan Shazier > Jake Ryan
ttun will be LUCKY  to win 9 games this year.

Jimmy's picture

Totally true, M Man. It takes a lot of luck to go undefeated.  There was so much luck in the 2002 season.  It's really hard to win that many games in a row.  It's true, but it doesn't make it any less amazing.

MN Buckeye's picture

This is all very true, M.  We were very, very lucky, surprisingly so.  One critical play here, one turnover there, one more injury.  However, I think the early part of the season was fairly soft and allowed the team to mature.  Once everyone 'bought in' to Urban's system and actually believed in it and with the unusual leadership that emerged, it became something special, albeit heart attack inducing, at times.
UM has enough talent that they should have a good year despite the injuries to Ryan and Bellomy. There is no reason you should not be 9-3 minimum.  I too hope for a great game in November, and I am not naive enough to think that home-field advantage is insignificant.  Anything can happen on any given Saturday.  
I am hoping that we can repeat the magic in a new way, and that requires a new group of leaders, players and coaches 'all in' with the system, playmakers making plays, and of course, luck.

M Man's picture

D'oh!  Wrong year; sooo sorry.

Mike Honcho's picture

Do you honestly in your heart think Russell Bellomy would have went into a game this season if something were to happen to Gardner? He was SO bad last year. Not saying Shane would do much better as a true freshman but at least it would be building to their future.

Torpedo Vegas's picture

No worries M Man, your point is still valid. Very rarely does a team storm through their schedule without a few close shaves. I'd argue that "luck" is largely a function of preparation, discipline, and skill. Therefore as long as Urban Meyer is the coach, it seems safe to assume there will be a lot of lucky Buckeye teams.

45has2's picture

We were lucky Braxton didn't get hurt and we were lucky that we had Kenny Guiton available to come in and win a game for us when Brax did get hurt. Nice circle logic there, weasel. I say the weasels were lucky that velcro did get hurt and you could start an actual QB at the QB position because your hokey HC can't judge talent. Luck is where preparation meets opportunity. Urb is smart enough and prepared enough to have a quality back up ready to step in. Jabba The Hoke was lucky that he had a guy playing WR to switch back to QB when his INT machine went down.

"I don't like nice people. I like tough, honest people." -W.W. Hayes

Patriot4098's picture

Luck is certainly a factor.  No denying that.  I don't even mind you stating it, but I still wanna' hurl various objects at my laptop every time I see your winged helmet avatar.  No offense.  It's just my natural reaction.
With that said.  LOVE this article.  Never really experienced the era prior to the '93 season.  The most I knew was a few legendary names of Buckeye lore.  I was 13 at the time, and the '93 team was my first truly anticipated and watched version of the Buckeyes.  It was a great season to start paying attention to tOSU football.  Brings back some good memories.

"Evil shenanigans!"     - Mac