Ohio State's Best Non-BCS Bowl Appearances

By Michael Citro on January 2, 2014 at 4:30 pm
Ohio State was the first team to represent the B1G in the Cotton Bowl.

The Buckeyes are busy preparing for Friday night’s tilt with Clemson in the 2014 Orange Bowl. A win in this, the final year of the BCS, would give Ohio State a 7-3 record in BCS bowl games, heading into the College Football Playoff era.

That would, of course, give Ohio State a win in all of the major bowl games if the Buckeyes can solve the Tigers on Friday.

Since the BCS will soon be no more, it seems an opportune time to take a look back at Ohio State’s best non-BCS bowl wins over the years. For this exercise, I’m going to exclude the four games that are part of the current BCS — the Rose, Orange, Sugar and Fiesta bowls. This unfortunately will exclude a 28-23 win over Pittsburgh in 1984, when the Fiesta wasn’t really the big deal it is today.

Here are the top games the Buckeyes played in places other than Arizona, Pasadena, New Orleans or Miami.

1981 Liberty Bowl

The Buckeyes went 9-3 during the 1981 season, sharing the Big Ten title with the Iowa Hawkeyes. Both the Buckeyes and Iowa went 6-2 during the conference schedule, but the teams did not play each other that year. The tie gave the trip to the Rose Bowl to Iowa, because Ohio State had played in that game more recently of the two schools. It relegated the Buckeyes to the 1981 Liberty Bowl in Memphis, which seems a singularly harsh treatment of a conference co-champion.

Two days before Iowa would get waxed 28-0 in Pasadena at the hands of the Washington Huskies, the Buckeyes met Navy at Liberty Bowl Stadium. Ohio State was heavily favored, but there’s no quit in the Naval Academy, and an uninspiring bowl turned into an intriguing game.

Art Schlichter staked his Buckeyes to a 10-0 lead. Bob Atha connected on a 35-yard field goal and Schlichter hit Gary Williams on a 50-yard pass just over five minutes into the game.

Game over? Hardly. The extremely Italian Marco Pagnanelli threw a short TD pass to get Navy on the board, then his team sandwiched two field goals around a Jim Gale touchdown run.  The Buckeyes led only 17-13 at the break. The Midshipmen blocked a punt and returned it for a score to take a 20-17 lead early in the third.

Gayle added a second touchdown run late in the third to put the Buckeyes back in front. Schlichter hit Cedric Anderson for a nine-yard score, making it 31-20 early in the fourth. Pagnanelli wasn’t done. He hit Greg Papajohn for a one-yard touchdown with eight seconds to play and then the duo connected for a two-point conversion.

Ohio State squashed the miracle comeback attempt by recovering the onside kick, winning 31-28. Navy finished 7-4-1. Ohio State closed the year at 9-3.

1993 Holiday Bowl

The 1993 Buckeyes were 6-0-1 in Big Ten play and 9-0-1 overall and on track for a Rose Bowl berth. Then John Cooper took his annual beating at Michigan (28-0, to a mediocre Wolverines squad) and everything was terrible and no one smiled very much. It left Ohio State in a tie with Wisconsin for the B1G title, with a 14-14 draw at Camp Randall Stadium in the head-to-head matchup.

He's like an older chunkier John Cooper.The Buckeyes beat BYU legend LaVell Edwards in '82 & '93.

It was Wisconsin’s turn to go to Pasadena and the Buckeyes shipped out to San Diego to meet WAC champion Brigham Young in the 1993 Holiday Bowl on Dec. 30. 

Ohio State broke out on top early, with Tim Patillo blocking and running back an Alan Boardman punt after BYU’s first possession. Sophomore quarterback John Walsh brought the Cougars back on the next drive, hitting running back Jamal Willis for a 27-yard score to tie the game.

Back came the Buckeyes with a nice drive highlighted by a long Butler By’not’e run. Raymont Harris punched it in from the two to restore the lead. The Quiet Storm added another two-yard run in the third quarter to extend the lead to 21-7. But the Buckeyes couldn’t hold Walsh tossed TD passes to tight end Chad Lewis and Bryce Doman to tie the game by halftime.

The crazy scoring pace did not continue in the second half, with Harris scoring the lone touchdown from a yard out. But BYU had four shots from inside the OSU 10 in the final half minute. Tim Nawatzke’s drop in the end zone on third down and a pass just out of reach to Eric Drage on fourth down sealed the win.

Raymont was named the game’s MVP for his 235 rushing yards on 39 carries. It was Cooper’s first bowl win at Ohio State, making him 1-4 in the postseason overall. The Buckeyes finished with a very nice 10-1-1 record, while the Cougars fell to 6-6.

1982 Holiday Bowl

Eleven years earlier, the Buckeyes and Cougars had met in the 1982 Holiday Bowl. Ohio State completed the Big Ten schedule with a 7-1 mark. In a strange scheduling quirk, Michigan played an additional conference game that year and went 8-1. The Buckeyes didn’t face Iowa but the Wolverines played everyone. It didn’t matter that Ohio State beat Michigan 24-14. The Wolverines had a slightly better league mark with the extra win.

So, off to San Diego went the Buckeyes to face the WAC champs on Dec. 17. Ohio State was on a roll with six straight wins after a three-game losing streak early in the year threatened to derail the season.

Freshman kicker Rich Spangler opened the scoring with the only points of the first quarter, connecting on a 47-yard field goal. BYU took a 7-3 lead in the second quarter, when Steve Young (Yes, that Steve Young) found Neil Balholm for a seven-yard touchdown.

The Buckeyes grabbed the lead back when Tim Spencer busted up the middle for a 61-yard score. Quarterback Mike Tomczak extended the lead with a three-yard touchdown on a naked bootleg, but BYU added a field goal before the half to make it 17-10.

Ohio State took control in the decisive third quarter, with touchdown runs by Vaughn Broadnax and Spencer, and another Spangler kick. Jim Gayle sandwiched two more touchdown runs around another Young scoring pass for the final margin, 47-17.

The Buckeyes ended the year 9-3. BYU finished 8-4.

2004 Alamo Bowl

This one’s probably a little fresher in your mind. Ohio State struggled through a tough 4-4 Big Ten season and was 7-4 overall, resulting in a date with Les Miles’ Oklahoma State Cowboys in the 2004 Alamo Bowl in San Antonio, without the suspended Troy Smith.

The Buckeyes jumped on the Cowboys early, with Justin Zwick hitting Anthony Gonzalez for a 23-yard touchdown strike and the Nuge added two first-quarter field goals. Lydell Ross added a one-yard plunge and Mike Nugent added a third field goal before the half, staking Ohio State to a 23-0 halftime lead.

Ted Ginn Jr. added a five-yard TD run in the third and Nugent kicked a fourth field goal in the final period before Oklahoma State got on the board with a late touchdown. Ohio State won easily, 33-7, to finish at 8-4. Oklahoma State ended the season at 7-5.

1987 Cotton Bowl

The 1986 season started a bit rocky for the Buckeyes, who lost a close one to Alabama in the Kickoff Classic, then fell hard at Washington in Week 2. Then Ohio State romped for nine straight victories before losing a heartbreaker at home to No. 6 Michigan, 26-24. The Buckeyes, the B1G’s co-champs with Michigan, missed a game-winning field goal and a berth in the Rose Bowl along with it.

Ohio State’s consolation was a trip to Dallas to face Southwest Conference champion Texas A&M in the 1987 Cotton Bowl. In those days, the Cotton Bowl was a lot more prestigious than it is today. It was a New Year’s Day game and had quite yet been replaced by the Fiesta as one of the “big four” bowls. The Buckeyes became the first Big Ten team to appear in the Cotton Bowl.

Ohio State’s defense, led by linebacker Chris Spielman, led the charge with five interceptions, including two for scores. But it was the Aggies who got on the board first with a first quarter field goal. Beefy OSU quarterback Jim Karsatos scored on a three-yard run to put Ohio State out front in the second quarter, with Texas A&M pulling within 7-6 with another field goal.

Spielman stepped in front of a Kevin Murray pass on the first possession of the second half and returned it for a touchdown to extend the lead to 14-6. Vince Workman added an eight-yard scoring run in the third.

Roger Vick’s two-yard run pulled the Aggies within 21-12 (a two-point try failed), and Michael Kee added a 49-yard interception return for the final margin, 28-12. Earle Bruce and his sweet, sweet fedora finished 10-3, while the Aggies dropped to 9-3.

So there they are, the best of the (mostly) pre-New Year’s Day bowl games in OSU history. While we can hope to only play in the biggest games from now on, chances are we’ll find ourselves watching our beloved Scarlet and Gray in a lesser bowl again someday. May it be a long wait, and for all the right reasons.

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