100 Teams in 100 Days: A Championship Season is Thwarted by Nick Saban and His Michigan State Spartans in 1998

By Matt Gutridge on August 16, 2016 at 11:40 am
The 1998 Ohio State University football team.
Ohio State University Archives

For the first time in program history, Ohio State saw no players selected in the NFL Draft. That meant a boatload of talent returned for the 1998 season.

18 days and counting.

A total of 17 starters returned for John Cooper's 11th team, which voters chose as the nation's No. 1 team in the preseason. David Boston, Joe Germaine, Andy Katzenmoyer, Dee Miller and Antoine Winfield all re-entered the lineup as key players.

Such a loaded squad expected to finish the season where it began: on top.

The 1998 Buckeyes
Record 11–1
B1G Record 7–1, 1st
Coach John Cooper (11th year, 97–33–4)
CaptainS Joe Germaine, Jerry Rudzinski,
Antoine Winfield

Games of Note

September 5th • #11 West Virginia • Mountaineer Field
Ohio State opened the season in Morgantown, West Virginia, with plenty of excitement surrounding the second-ever meeting between these schools since 1903. The Buckeyes were the top-ranked team for the first time since 1980 and many expected them to run the table. 

Don Nehlen's West Virginia team received the opening kick and finished the ensuing 48-yard drive with a field goal. The excitement felt by the home fans didn't last long as this was the only lead the Mountaineers had on the day. 

Ohio State answered with a Dan Stultz field goal on its first drive and Michael Wiley's 18-yard touchdown run gave the Buckeyes a 10-3 lead with 5:23 left in the first quarter. Early in the second, Germaine connected with Miller on a 14-yard touchdown, and Stultz's second field goal extended the lead to 20-3. The Mountaineers scored on a Marc Bulger touchdown pass with 20 seconds left in the half.

David Boston and true freshman Jonathan Wells scored Ohio State's final points. Germaine finished with 301 yards and a touchdown in the 34-17 dominating win on national television. Boston had seven receptions for 129 yards and Miller hauled in six for 110. 

The Silver Bullets shut down West Virginia running back Amos Zereoue. The much-hyped back runner tallied 80 yards in the first half but lost three yards on seven carries the rest of the way.

"Zereoue is a great football player," Cooper said after the victory. "We did a great job of stopping him in the second half. We took away his cutback runs and took away his great vision."

This contest represented the first time in 23 years and only the seventh time in program history the Buckeyes' season opener was a true road game.

1998 Schedule
      11–1, 430–144

September 12th • #21 Missouri • Ohio Stadium
In Week 2, No. 1 Ohio State played Toledo for the first time and blanked the Rockets 49-0.

The Buckeyes then hosted Missouri, marking the first matchup between the two schools in Ohio Stadium since 1976.

Devin West entered the contest as the nation's top rusher after he gained 319 yards the week before against Kansas. Ohio State's defense bottled up the Missouri star and held West to 86 yards. The Tiger offense as a whole only had 191 net yards. 

The Buckeyes also had a hot running back. Wiley recorded 291 rushing yards and two touchdowns in his team's first two games. Against Mizzou, he had his third straight career game and rushed for 209 yards and two touchdowns in the 35-14 victory. 

Though the Buckeyes won by three touchdowns, the Tigers led 14-13 at the half. Quarterback Corby Jones ran in from 10 yards out and Carlos Posey scooped and scored off of a Germaine fumble. The Buckeyes' defense made adjustments during the break and kept Missouri out of the end zone in the second half. Katzenmoyer had a career-high 12 tackles and was aided by the trio of Na'il Diggs, Damon Moore and Antoine Winfield. They combined for 28 total tackles.

October 3rd • #7 Penn State • Ohio Stadium 
On a rainy 60-degree day, No. 7 Penn State and the top-ranked Buckeyes prepared for a defensive slug-fest. The 1998 season marked the third straight year the teams entered their matchup undefeated. The game lived up to its billing as both teams failed to score in the first 22 minutes.

Travis Forney's 42-yard field goal gave the Nittany Lions a 3-0 lead with just over eight minutes remaining in the second quarter. Nearly four minutes later, Jerry Rudzinski shifted the momentum to Ohio State.  On 2nd-and-13 from the PSU 13-yard line, Rudzinski sacked Kevin Thompson and the linebacker forced a fumble. Rudzinski jumped on the ball in the end zone to make the score 7-3 in favor of the Buckeyes.

"That was the big play of the ballgame," Cooper said. "We had a blitz called and Jerry came unblocked. I thought that really woke us up. Defense wins championships."

Ohio State forced a punt on the Nittany Lions' next drive. With 1:48 left before half, Germaine engineered an 8-play, 51-yard drive that ended with a Wiley 20-yard touchdown catch. A key play in the series came when Germaine hit Miller on 4th-and-9 from the Penn State 33. The first half ended with Ohio State ahead 14-3.

The Buckeyes kept the momentum going in the second half. The Nittany Lions were forced to punt after a 3-and-out and Percy King's special team talent emerged again. The Columbus native sprinted in and blocked Pat Pidgeon's punt, and Joe Cooper recovered the loose ball in the end zone. King's third block of his career made the score 21-3. 

Later in the third quarter, Germaine threw his first interception of the season. Two plays later, Mike Cerimele scored from a yard out and the Nittany Lions trailed 21-9 after an unsuccessful 2-point conversion attempt. Joe Montgomery finished the game's scoring with 3:08 left in the third quarter.

Ohio State's 28-9 victory was engineered by its defense. Penn State's offense did not gain a yard – or lost yards – on 34 of its 59 plays. The Silver Bullets accumulated 12 tackles for loss, forced 16 incompletions, forced a fumble and an interception. 

This was the sixth Big Ten game played between the programs and Ohio State now led the series 4–2 in conference play. 

November 7th • Michigan State • Ohio Stadium 
To this point, No. 1 Ohio State beat every opponent by double digits in its first eight games of the 1998 season. The team's average margin of victory was 38-9 and everyone expected a similar outcome against Michigan State, a heavy underdog. 

With 9:51 left in the third quarter, Ohio State appeared headed for a ninth straight double-digit win. Damon Moore intercepted Bill Burke's pass to tight end Chris Baker and proceeded to race 73 yards untouched for a touchdown. The pick-six gave the Buckeyes what looked like a comfortable 24-9 lead.

Ohio State held the Spartans to a 3-and-out on their ensuing drive. With the Buckeyes getting the ball back with a 15-point lead, the fans in the stadium relaxed and figured the game was in hand. That is when things began to unravel.

Craig Jarrett's punt hit an Ohio State player on the back as he ran down the field to block. Scott Ernsberger recovered the loose ball near the 50. Five plays later Burke threw a 21-yard touchdown pass to Lavaile Richardson. Michigan State missed the extra point and the Buckeyes led 24-15. 

After Matt Keller returned the kickoff 11 yards, Ohio State started its next drive on its own 35. On the second play, Wiley ran up the middle, but T.J. Turner forced a fumble and Pete Govens recovered for MSU at the Buckeyes' 34. OSU's defense held the Spartans to two yards, but Paul Edinger banged home a 49-yard field goal to cut the lead to 24-18.

Following two more field goals by Edinger Ohio State trailed 25-24. Both teams exchanged punts and Germaine took over at his own 46 with 12:06 left on the clock. On 3rd-and-3 from the Spartans' 47, the Nick Saban's defense sacked the Arizona native and he fumbled at his own 40. Michigan State's Josh Shaw recovered and ran it back to the Buckeyes' 18.

The Spartans lost seven yards, but Edinger made his fifth field goal to extend the lead to 28-24 with 9:26 remaining. 

Cooper turned to the ground game and fed Montgomery and Wiley for 11 straight plays. The strategy worked and Ohio State moved from its own 19 to the Spartans' 26-yard line. On 4th-and-1, Cooper called on Montgomery's number for the seventh time on the drive, but the Spartans stuffed him.

The defense forced Michigan State to punt, leaving the Buckeyes with one last chance with 1:39 left and 51 yards standing between them and the end zone.

In two plays, Germaine moved the team from his own 49 to the Spartans' 15-yard line with completions to Boston and John Lumpkin. Saban called a timeout as Ohio State traveled 36 yards in 10 seconds.

Germaine threw incomplete to Boston on first and second down. On third down, Germaine missed on an attempt to Miller. With the season on the line, Renaldo Hill intercepted Germaine's fourth down pass on the side of the end zone.

Ohio State's national championship hopes disappeared as quickly as the 24-9 lead. The Buckeyes fell to No. 7 after the devastating home loss.

MISSOURI W2 10–1–1
ILLINOIS W4 56–27–4
INDIANA W8 59–12–5
IOWA W5 39–13–3
MICHIGAN W1 35–54–6
TEXAS A&M W4 4–0

November 21st • Michigan • Ohio Stadium 
Two weeks after the Michigan State game, the Buckeyes and their fans still hurt from the loss to the Spartans. A defeat over the Wolverines would not take away the pain, but was needed to move forward. 

Details of the game from USA Today:

Germaine had his seventh 300-yard game of the season, completing 16-of-28 passes for 330 yards. His eight career 300-yard games are a school record and he is part of a senior class that won an Ohio State-record 42 games.

A year after mouthing off that his team would beat Michigan, Boston was quiet during the week and backed up last year's words with Charles Woodson now in the NFL. He caught 10 passes for a career-high 217 yards -- a record for a Michigan opponent -- and was generally unstoppable.

Boston's 74 receptions are one more than the single-season mark he established last season and he passed Cris Carter for second on the Buckeyes' all-time yardage list.

"We moved David around today," Cooper explained. "Obviously, we wanted David to get the football. David had his best ballgame today. We've had some great wide receivers come out of here and David Boston has broken all of their records. If he is not an All-American football player, I don't know who is."

Miller added four catches for 59 yards.

Michael Wiley scored on a 53-yard burst up the middle 2:40 into the game to give Ohio State the lead for good before special teams helped the Buckeyes build the lead to 18 points. Wiley picked up 120 yards on just 12 carries for his sixth 100-yard game of the season.

A bad snap on a punt attempt led to Germaine's 16-yard scoring pass to Dee Miller that made it 14-0 just 5:16 into the contest. Jason Vinson could not corral the high snap and the ball went out of bounds at the 16.

After Jay Feely's 27-yard kick following a fumble by Boston got Michigan on the board 45 seconds into the second quarter, Vinson had his punt blocked by Derek Ross, setting up Germaine's 30-yard scoring strike to Boston that built the cushion to 21-3 with 4:03 before halftime.

Ohio State won 31-16 to push Cooper record against the Wolverines to 2–8–1 and send the Buckeyes to the Sugar Bowl. A celebrated victory, but thoughts of what should have been lingered for years. 

January 1st • #8 Texas A&M • Sugar Bowl
No. 3 Ohio State faced eighth-ranked Texas A&M in New Orleans for the first time since the 1987 Cotton Bowl.

A quick summary of the game from the 2015 Ohio State Team Guide:

Ohio State capped off an 11-1 season with a convincing win over Texas A&M. 

The Buckeyes took control early, jumping to a 21-7 first-quarter lead.The Aggies scored on their first possession, driving 59 yards with Dante Hall going in from 9 yards out.

Joe Germaine then engineered an eight-play, 71-yard scoring drive. Following a defensive stop, the Buckeyes marched down the field again, using six plays to go 71 yards with Joe
Montgomery’s 10-yard touchdown run for a 14-7 lead.

Another defensive stop followed by a huge special teams play gave OSU a 21-7 advantage with just 1:59 to go in the first quarter. After Derek Ross streaked in to literally “take” the football off A&M punter Shane Leckler’s foot, Kevin Griffin picked up the loose ball and went untouched into the end zone.

Following the win, Ohio State had to root for Florida State to defeat Tennessee in a sloppy Fiesta Bowl. That did not happen as the Vols won and closed the door on the Buckeyes' national championship hopes. For the first time during Cooper's tenure, Ohio State defeated Michigan and won a bowl game in the same season. 

1998 Recap

  • No. 1 Ohio State played in its first true road game to start a season in 23 years and defeated West Virginia 34-17.
  • In the inaugural game between the Buckeyes and Toledo, Ohio State won its 20th consecutive home-opener with a 49-0 victory.
  • Michael Wiley earned Big Ten's Offensive Player of the Week honors after rushing for a career-high 209 yards in the 35-14 win over Missouri.
  • Jerry Rudzinski recovered a fumble for a touchdown and Percy King blocked a punt that Joe Cooper scored on as Ohio State beat Penn State 28-9.
  • The top-ranked Buckeyes had six plays of 30 yards or more in the 41-0 victory over Illinois. 
  • In the 45-15 defeat of Minnesota, David Boston had a career-high 191 yards receiving and Joe Germaine set a school record with his fourth passing game of over 300 yards.
  • Ohio State won its 21st straight game against Northwestern.
  • Germaine threw for over 300 yards for the fourth straight game in the 38-7 win over Indiana. Boston and Miller each broke the century mark in receiving. 
  • Nick Saban's Spartans upset No. 1 Ohio State 28-24 with the help of five Buckeye turnovers. Bill Burke threw for 323 yards and Plaxico Burress caught four passes for 125 yards. 
  • The Silver Bullets tallied a record 11 sacks in the 45-14 win over Iowa.
  • No. 7 Ohio State took years of frustration out on Michigan during the 31-16 victory. The senior class won a then-program record 42nd overall game.
  • Texas A&M was overwhelmed by the Buckeyes' high-powered offense and stifling defense. 
  • David Boston, Damon Moore, Rob Murphy and Antoine Winfield were named All-Americans. This was the second honor for Boston and Winfield.
  • David Boston, Antoine Winfield, Andy Katzenmoyer, Joe Montgomery, Joe Germaine, Damon Moore, Brent Bartholomew and Dee Miller were selected in the NFL Draft. 
  • Ohio State started the season ranked No.1, fell to seventh but finished second.

For the first time during Cooper's tenure, Ohio State defeated Michigan and won a bowl game in the same season. The 1998 team defeated every opponent by at least 10 points except for Michigan State. The Buckeyes notched their fourth straight 10-win season and went 5–0 against teams ranked in the Top 25.

The 1998 team entered the record books averaging most total yards of offense per game in program history (497.6), had the most 500-yard games in a season (eight), most sacks (47) and most tackles for loss (113). David Boston finished his career with six records and Joe Germaine had 11.

Antoine Winfield won the Thorpe Award while Germaine received the Big Ten's Most Valuable Player and took home the Silver Football. 

The immediate future for the Buckeyes appeared uncertain because the program lost so many talented players and did not have an established quarterback on deck. However, Cooper proved in the recent past that Ohio State did not rebuild, it reloaded. What was certain to many was that Ohio State's 1998 squad should have finished undefeated.

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