Picking the Greatest Ohio State Football Game of All Time: Bowl Bracket

By D.J. Byrnes on August 15, 2017 at 11:00 am
The G.O.A.T. Game Tournament: Bowl Bracket

The G.O.A.T. Game Tournament, Eleven Warriors' quest to crown the greatest game in Ohio State football lore, continues with the bowl bracket that spans postseason victories from the 1969 Rose Bowl to the 2014 CFP championship.

Let's meet the bowl bracket:

  • #1 2003 Fiesta vs. #8 1974 Rose: An all-time upset vs. a revenge thrashing of USC.
  • #4 1955 Rose vs. #5 2015 Sugar: Woody Hayes' first national title goes against Ohio State's comeback thriller over Alabama.
  • #2 1969 Rose vs. #7 2010 Rose: The Super Sophomores' national title faces a Jim Tressel masterpiece.
  • #3 CFP Championship vs. #6 1997 Rose: Urban Meyer's first championship at Ohio State takes on the Joe Germaine fourth-quarter two minute drill.

Let's vote.

#1: 2003 fiesta bowl — No. 2 ohio state vs. no. 1 miami

Jim Tressel's Ohio State team entered the 2003 Fiesta Bowl ranked No. 2 in the country over heart-pounding wins over Purdue, Illinois, and Michigan to close the regular season at 13-0 for the first time in school history.


  • SCORE: 31-24
  • C. Krenzel: 7-21, 2 RUSH TD
  • M. Clarett: 23 CAR, 47 YDS, 2 TD
  • M. Doss: Defensive MVP, 1 INT

The Buckeyes faced their tallest task in the title game against defending national champion Miami, an undefeated team that had outscored opponents 503-217 and featured future NFL standbys like running back Willis McGahee, wide receiver Andre Johnson, tight end Kellen Winslow II, linebacker Jonathan Vilma, cornerback Antrel Rolle, and safety Sean Taylor.

Despite the disadvantage in future pros, the Buckeyes battled the Hurricanes to a 14-7 halftime lead behind two touchdown rushes from Craig Krenzel and Maurice Clarett. 

Krenzel promptly lead the Buckeyes on a march to the six-yard line to begin the second half. After faking a handoff to Clarett, Krenzel threw a rope to tight end Ben Hartsock in the end zone.

Sean Taylor, however, intercepted it and dashed the other way. Taylor may have scored, too, if Clarett hadn't hawked him down at the 22-yard line to strip the ball back from Taylor in what may have been the play of the game.

With the Hurricanes trailing 17-14 and McGahee sidelined by a Will Allen tackle, kicker Todd Sievers boomed a 40-yard field goal as time ran out to to send the a national championship game into overtime for the first time ever.

Dorsey found Winslow for a seven-yard touchdown pass on the ensuing drive to draw first blood. After a controversial (but ultimately correct) pass interference call extended the Buckeyes' rebuttal drive, Krenzel dove into the endzone to tie the game at 24.

Clarett's five-yard dash gave the Buckeyes a 31-24 lead on the next possession, which became the final score when defensive end Will Smith threw Dorsey to the turf on 4th down after a goal line stand by the Silver Bullets.

It was Ohio State's first national championship since 1970 despite being outgained 267 yards to 369. The Hurricanes have not returned to prominence since.

#8: 1974 rose bowl — No. 7 usc vs. no. 4 Ohio State

The 1974 Rose Bowl between USC and Ohio State was a rematch of the 1973 Rose Bowl, in which John McKay's Trojans routed Woody Hayes' Buckeyes, 42-17. 


  • Score: 42-21.
  • A. Griffin: 149 YDS, 1 TD
  • P. Johnson: 97 YDS, 3 TD

This USC team featured many names from the team that bulldozed the Buckeyes in the previous matchup: Quarterback Pat Haden, running back Anthony Davis, and wide receiver Lynn Swann, just to name a few.

But Ohio State still had Archie Griffin.

It became evident early that this would not be the same lopsided result as the previous year, with the Buckeyes battling the Trojans to a 14-14 halftime score.

In the second half, however, Hayes' lads got it going by outscoring the Trojans 28-7 as they pounded the Trojans on the goal line with their coach's vaunted "Robust" T package featuring two running backs and a full back. 

A 47-yard touchdown run from Griffin late in the fourth quarter sealed Ohio State's revenge.

What was the better game?
#1: 2003 Fiesta Bowl – No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 1 Miami
#8: 1974 Rose Bowl – No. 7 USC vs. No. 4 Ohio State

#4: 1955 rose bowl — no. 17 usc vs. no 1. ohio state

1955 Rose Bowl Action Shot

Woody Hayes did not start off as a legend at Ohio State as his teams went 16-6-2 in his first three years in Columbus as some fans openly wondered if the former Miami University coach was up for the job while others wished for the return of national champion Paul Brown.


  • Score: 20. 7
  • H. Cassady: 94 YDS
  • D. Legget: 130 TOT YDS, 2 TD

Hayes erased those doubts during the 1954 season as his team climbed unranked to begin the season to No. 1 after a goal line stand and 99-yard drive felled the No. 12 Wolverines in the Horseshoe.

The Buckeyes drew Southern California in the Rose Bowl and crossed the country to take on the Trojans in their hometown during a monsoon-like rain storm and terrible field conditions in front of 89,000 fans. 

The Buckeyes only needed 304 total yards on the day (295 of that in rushing), led by Hopalong Cassady's 95 yards on the ground. Quarterback Dave Leggett added 63 yards rushing, 67 yards passing, and two touchdowns to the mix.

The 20-7 whipping on in front of a nationally televised audience gave Hayes his first national championship—the school's first since 1942.

#5: 2015 sugar bowl — No. 4 Ohio State vs. No. 1 alabama

The 2014 Ohio State football season was thought to be sunk when the Buckeyes lost two-time Silver Football winner Braxton Miller to a preseason shoulder injury.


  • Score: 42-35
  • E. Elliott: 20 CAR, 230 YDS, 2 TD
  • D. Smith: 2 REC, 87 YDS, 1 TD

Those concerns were compounded when unranked Virginia Tech overwhelmed the new quarterback J.T. Barrett and Ohio State during a Week 2 loss in Columbus. 

But the Buckeyes rose from the ashes, winning their next ten games while also losing Barrett in the fourth quarter of the Michigan game. 

Third-stringer Cardale Jones erased all doubt about his ability in the 2014 Big Ten title game to help lead Ohio State to a 55-0 win over Wisconsin. Still, facing No. 1 Alabama in New Orleans in the first ever College Football Playoff semifinal would be a different beast entirely.

And for awhile, it looked like the Buckeyes weren't up for it as the Crimson Tide rolled to a 21-6 lead in the second quarter. But the Buckeyes battled back behind a three-yard Ezekiel Elliott touchdown run and a 13-yard Michael Thomas tightrope touchdown catch on a gadget play pass from Michael Thomas to take a 21-20 score into halftime.

The moment carried over halftime, too, as the Bucks continued their unanswered points streak behind a 47-yard touchdown catch by Devin Smith and a 41-yard touchdown returned for an interception by defensive end Steve Miller. 

When Alabama scored late in the second quarter to make it 34-28, Elliott erased any notion of an Alabama comeback with an 85-yard dagger through the heart of the Alabama defense.

The win sent Ohio State to face Oregon for the national championship.

What was the better game?
#4: 1955 Rose Bowl – No. 17 USC vs. No. 1 Ohio State
#5: 2015 Sugar Bowl – No. 4 Ohio State vs. No. 1 Alabama

#2: 1969 rose bowl — no. 2 usc vs. no. 1 ohio state

Woody Hayes' 1968 team entered the season ranked No. 11, and the Buckeyes and their Super Sophomores quickly showed how underrated they were by compiling a 10-0 regular season record (including wins over No. 1 Purdue, No. 16 Michigan State, and No. 4 Michigan in Columbus) by a combined score of 296-134.  


  • Score: 27-16
  • R. Kern: 2 TD
  • J. Otis: 1 TD

The faced their toughest test in No. 2 USC and Heisman Trophy winner O.J. Simpson, though the Trojans tied Notre Dame, 21-21, at the Coliseum in their regular season finale. Media billed the game as Hollywood vs. The Heartland.

USC looked prime for the upset in the second quarter when, leading 3-0, Simpson eviscerated Jack Tatum and the Silver Bullets on an 80-yard touchdown run. The Buckeyes rebutted with a Jim Otis touchdown run and a field goal from center (yes, you read that right) Jim Roman tied the game with 3 seconds left in the half.

“When I got to the locker room,” Ohio State secondary coach Lou Holtz recalled years later during an ESPN segment. "Woody came right at me and strategically placed his left hand on my jugular vein and squeezed my eyes about that big.

"Now you really gotta understand Coach Hayes, he really meant me no physical harm. He just wanted to make sure he had my undivided attention. And he hollered, ‘Why’d O.J. go 80 yards?’ I said, ‘Coach, that’s all he needed. If the ball was on the 10, he would’ve gone 90.’”

The second half belonged to the Buckeyes, as Rex Kern threw two touchdown passes and Roman added another field goal while the defense held Simpson to 34 yards on 10 second-half carries.

The win earned the Buckeyes their first national title since 1961.

#7: 2010 rose bowl — no. 7 ohio state vs. no 8. OREGON

Jim Tressel earned a reputation as a coach by suffocating opponents into making game-deciding mistakes. His Sistine Chapel may very well be the 2010 Rose Bowl against the Oregon Ducks. 


  • Score: 26-17
  • T. Pryor: 338 TOT YDS, 2 TDs
  • D. Posey: 8 REC, 100 YDS, 1 TD
  • B. Saine: 14 CAR, 45 YDS

Many analysts in the lead up to the game questioned if the Buckeyes could contend with the Ducks' breakneck speed. In the end, Oregon proved unable to deal with OSU quarterback Terrelle Pryor and the Silver Bullets. 

Pryor found running back Brandon Saine for a 13-yard strike to open scoring, and the Buckeyes wouldn't surrender the lead again until the beginning of the third quarter when a Jeremiah Masoli touchdown run and Morgan Flint extra point gave the Ducks a 17-16 lead.

Devin Barclay captured the lead back for the good guys five minutes later with a 38-yard field goal. The Buckeyes never trailed again. Pryor linked up with DeVier Posey for a 17-yard score that ultimately put Chip Kelly and the Ducks to rest.

Ohio State almost doubled Oregon's yardage output on the day, running 89 plays for 419 yards compared to Oregon's 53 for 260.

What was the better game?
#2: 1969 Rose Bowl – No. 2 USC vs. No. 1 Ohio State
#7: 2010 Rose Bowl – No. 7 Ohio State vs. No. 8 Oregon
Poll Maker

#3: 2015 cfp championship — no. 3 oregon vs. no. 4 ohio state

As cathartic as dumping SEC kingpin Alabama in the 2015 Sugar Bowl was for Ohio State fans, their team still needed to defeat Oregon — a team that lambasted Florida State in the Rose Bowl semifinal — to win the national championship. 


  • Score: 42-20
  • C. Jones: 16-23, 242 YDS, 1 TD
  • E. Elliott: 36 CAR, 246 YDS, 4 TD
  • C. Smith: 2 REC, 76 YDS

Despite the miraculous run through the postseason, the Buckeyes entered the game as seven-point underdogs, a ranking that looked about right as Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota diced the Silver Bullets for a touchdown on the game's first possession.

The Buckeyes retaliated later that quarter, when Ezekiel Elliott bulldozed the undersized Duck defense on a 33-yard touchdown run. Three minutes later, Cardale Jones found tight end Nick Vannett in the endzone to help give Ohio State a 14-7 lead.

When the Ducks compiled 13 unanswered points to pull to the score to 21-20, Urban Meyer turned to his warhorse running back. Elliott pounded the Ducks for three consecutive touchdown runs to seal Meyer's first national championship at Ohio State despite losing the turnover battle four to one.

#6: 1997 Rose bowl — no. 4 ohio state vs. no. 2 arizona state

The 1997 Ohio State football team saw its national championship hopes spoiled by No. 21 Michigan in Columbus, but still earned the right to play Pac-12 champion Arizona State in the 1997 Rose Bowl.


  • Score: 20-17
  • J. Germaine: 9-17, 131 YDS, 2 TD
  • P. Pearson: 13 CAR, 114 YDS
  • D. Stanley: 5 REC, 124 YDS, 1 TD

After a sluggish first half that resulted in a 7-7 halftime score, Joe Germaine found Dimitrious Stanley for a 72-yard touchdown strike midway through the third quarter to make it 14-10, Buckeyes.

Given how the Silver Bullets had performed, it looked like that would be enough to seal the game. That was until Jake "The Snake" Plummer led the Sun Devils on a fourth-quarter drive that culminated with him slicing his way to an 11-yard touchdown run that helped give Arizona State a 17-14 lead with 1:40 left in the game.

The onus then shifted to Germaine, who had played high school and JUCO football in Arizona, and he promptly led the Buckeyes on a miraculous drive that ended when he found wide receiver David Boston in the end zone for a five-yard touchdown game.

“Maybe now you guys will quit writing about us not being able to win the big games,” head coach John Cooper told reporters after becoming the only coach in history to win the Rose Bowl with a Pac-10 and Big Ten team.

What was the better game?
#3: 2015 CFP Championship – No. 3 Oregon vs. No. 4 Ohio State
#6: 1997 Rose Bowl – No. 4 Ohio State vs. No. 2 Arizona State
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