Starting Strong: Ranking Ohio State’s Most Anticipated Season-Opening Games Between Two Ranked Teams

By Matt Gutridge on July 30, 2022 at 10:10 am
Dee Miller vs. West Virginia in 1998
Ohio State Dept. of Athletics

In Ohio State's storied history, the Buckeyes have only started a season nine times in a game featuring two ranked teams.

The last time the Buckeyes started off against a ranked opponent? 2003. That drought will end this year when Ohio State hosts Notre Dame in its first game of the 2022 season.

In honor of the rarity of the mega-battle slated for Sept. 3, we’re taking a look back at the nine previous Ohio State season openers in which both the Buckeyes and their opponents were ranked. Factors that were considered in ranking the most anticipated games include the rankings of both teams entering the game, the opponent and the expectations for Ohio State's upcoming season.

9. #11 Ohio State vs. #10 SMU • Sept. 30, 1950

Between 1895 and 1949, Ohio State only lost one season opener. A crowd of 80,672 expected another season-opening OSU victory against No. 10 Southern Methodist in 1950.

Wes Fesler's team led 24-7 in the middle of the third quarter. With the Mustang offense struggling, SMU coach Rusty Russell inserted backup quarterback Fred Benners into the lineup. The personnel change resulted in success. 

For the remainder of the contest, Southern Methodist went into the spread offense and threw the ball all over the field. Hapless against the air raid, the 11th-ranked Buckeyes allowed Benner to throw for 325 yards and four touchdowns. Ohio State lost, 32-27.  

8. #9 Ohio State vs. #12 Miami • Aug. 29, 1999

Following the heartbreaking 1998 season, No. 9 Ohio State expected Austin Moherman, Reggie Germany and Ken-Yon Rambo to replace Joe Germaine, David Boston and Dee Miller. Although there was a massive talent drain, many fans expected another top 10 season because the Buckeyes always reload.

Miami entered this game ranked 12th in the country. The Hurricanes had struggled through mediocre seasons after being placed on probation. However, Butch Davis was on the verge of bringing the program back to dominance.  

The Buckeyes led 9-7 for most of the first half, but the Hurricanes scored 16 points in the final 3:14 of the second quarter. First, Kenny Kelly took a bootleg into the end zone from seven yards out. Then, with eight seconds left on the clock, Kelly hooked up with Santana Moss for a 67-yard strike to give Miami a 23-9 halftime lead. Moss' long touchdown represented the turning point in the game. 

A young Ohio State team could not find an offensive rhythm and only managed a Dan Stultz field goal in the final 30 minutes. Ohio State's 23-12 loss was its first opening-game defeat since 1986.

After the game, John Cooper stated the obvious: “We need a lot of work. You name it, we need to work on it. Sometimes, the other team is better, but I don't feel we played as well as we could today.”

Ohio State bounced back with three straight victories, but finished 1999 with a 6–6 record after losses to Michigan State, Illinois and Michigan to close the season. For only the third time since 1972, the Buckeyes would not play in a bowl game.

7. #1 Ohio State vs. #20 SMU • Sept. 27, 1958

The top-ranked Buckeyes were looking to win back-to-back national championships after winning it all in 1957. More than half of Ohio State's opponents in ’58 were ranked, including No. 20 SMU to start things off.

No. 1 Ohio State owned a 15-14 lead at halftime behind a successful two-point conversion after its first touchdown of the season. In 1958, college football adopted the option to go for two and Frank Kremblas connected with Dick LeBeau through the air for Ohio State's first-ever two-point conversion.

Don Meredith had a fine game, but his 213 passing yards weren't enough as the Buckeyes eked out a 23-20 victory. Don Clark posted a game-high 98 rushing yards and a touchdown in Ohio State's 10th straight win. 

6. #12 Ohio State vs. #22 Boston College • Aug. 27, 1995

With seven returning starters on offense and six on defense, John Cooper had Ohio State in position to contend for the Big Ten title and national championship.

Fans were excited to see the Buckeyes' offensive firepower. Bobby Hoying, Eddie George, Terry Glenn and Rickey Dudley were playmakers on offense. Orlando Pace anchored the offensive line to open holes for George and passing lanes for Hoying.

In the season opener, No. 12 Ohio State completely dominated the 22nd-ranked Eagles of Boston College in Kickoff Classic XIII. The Buckeyes scored in every quarter and showed superior talent on offense, defense and special teams.

Ohio State's first drive of the season went 80 yards in eight plays and ended with a 12-yard George touchdown run. The senior earned game MVP honors as he finished with 157 all-purpose yards (99 rushing) and two touchdowns.

Terry Glenn emerged as a big-play target for Hoying. The junior flanker caught passes of 46 and 47 yards and finished the first game with three receptions for 105 yards. 

The defense had three interceptions, three sacks, forced a fumble and stopped the Eagles on two fourth-down plays. The new starters on defense answered any questions as the Buckeyes held Boston College to 91 yards in the second half of Ohio State's 38-6 victory.

5. #2 Ohio State vs. #17 Washington • Aug. 30, 2003

Coming off of the program's first national championship in 34 years, the second-ranked Buckeyes looked to extend their 14-game winning streak to 15.

That task was a little bit tougher as there was a cloud of controversy surrounding the team. Instead of having the sensational Maurice Clarett in the backfield, the star running back was suspended and would never take the field again for the scarlet and gray.

Maurice Hall and Lydell Ross filled in for Clarett at running back and combined for 101 yards on 27 carries. With quarterback Craig Krenzel completing a then-career-high 15 passes for 203 yards, Ohio State's balanced offense put up 28 points on 17th-ranked Washington.

The Buckeyes’ defense was without five defensive starters from the undefeated national championship squad of 2002, but Mark Dantonio's unit didn't miss a beat. Head coach Keith Gilbertson's 17th-ranked Huskies were stymied most of the night and didn't get the ball into the end zone until there was only 3:27 remaining in the fourth quarter. Ohio State won, 28-9.

The 2003 Buckeyes faced eight ranked opponents and defeated six of them. Although the team did not repeat as national champs and lost to Michigan for the first and only time under Jim Tressel's watch, the season ended on a high note with a Fiesta Bowl win against No. 10 Kansas State.

4. #9 Ohio State vs. #5 Alabama • Aug. 27, 1986

For the first time since it lost to Akron at the Ohio State Fairgrounds in 1894, Ohio State started the season at a neutral site in 1986 when it faced No. 5 Alabama in the Kickoff Classic.

Although the team lost several players to injuries during the offseason, Earle Bruce's team had plenty of returning firepower. On offense, the Buckeyes had senior quarterback Jim Karsatos in a backfield that also included Vince Workman, John Wooldridge and George Cooper. Add in standout wide receiver Cris Carter and tight end Ed Taggart, and the offense was not short on talent.

Chris Spielman, Eric Kumerow and Sonny Gordon anchored the defense. Even with the talent, Bruce and the fans were wary of the injury bug that prevented Keith Byars from playing a full season one year earlier. 

Trailing by six with 55 seconds remaining, Karsatos and the offense had to go 79 yards for a game-winning touchdown. After four plays, the Buckeyes advanced to the Alabama 48 with a mere eight seconds left on the clock.

On the potential last play of the game, Karsatos dropped back and threw toward Carter and even though the ball fell short, officials whistled Derrick Thomas for interference.

Given a second chance, now from the 33-yard line, Karsatos dropped back for an untimed down and again looked for Carter. This time, the star receiver caught the ball, but Thomas tackled him at the 18. However, there was a flag on the play, and the officials got Thomas yet again for interference.

Given a third chance, Karsatos dropped back and yet again threw for Carter. The third time proved to be the charm for Alabama as Britton Cooper and Chris Goode knocked down the pass to clinch a 16-10 victory. It was the Buckeyes’ first season opener loss since 1978. 

3. #1 Ohio State at #11 West Virginia • Sept. 5, 1998

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 were all key players on a talented roster that had the Buckeyes as the top-ranked team entering the season for the first time since 1980.

Don Nehlen's 11th-ranked 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 West Virginia's three points with a Dan Stultz field goal on its first drive, and an 18-yard touchdown run by Michael Wiley gave the Buckeyes a 10-3 lead with 5:23 left in the first quarter.

Early in the second quarter, 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, Boston had seven receptions for 129 yards and Miller hauled in six for 110. The Silver Bullets did their part in the 34-17 win by shutting down West Virginia running back Amos Zereoue. The much-hyped running back tallied 80 yards in the first half but lost three yards on seven carries the rest of the way.

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

2. #6 Ohio State vs. #5 Penn State • Sept. 16, 1978

Woody Hayes' last opening game with Ohio State was against No. 5 Penn State in Ohio Stadium. Leading into the contest there was much speculation as to who would be guiding the Buckeyes against Joe Paterno's Nittany Lions. Would it be senior Rod Gerald or hotshot Art Schlichter?

Hayes did not reveal his decision until the sixth-ranked Buckeyes took the opening kick. With both Gerald and Schlichter standing beside him on the sideline, Hayes sent them both in to start the game. As the team broke the huddle, Schlichter went to quarterback and Gerald lined up at split end.

Schlichter opened the drive with a 6-yard pass to Doug Donley. The 88,203 in attendance on this overcast 80-degree day cheered in agreement to the call and personnel. The drive continued with a mix of runs and passes before Ohio State faced 3rd-and-8 at Penn State's 39-yard line. Schlichter threw deep to Donley down the right sideline, but Pete Harris intercepted the pass at the 21-yard line and returned it 33 yards to the Buckeyes' 46.

Penn State turned the interception into three points when Matt Bahr kicked a 33-yard field goal. That proved to be a pattern, as Schlichter threw five interceptions that led to four Bahr field goals in Penn State's 19-0 victory.

The Nittany Lions improved their all-time record against Ohio State to 5–2 and became the first team to defeat the Buckeyes in a season opener since Arizona accomplished the feat in 1967.

1. #3 Ohio State at #11 Michigan State • Sept. 13, 1975

The third-ranked Buckeyes started the season on the road in East Lansing, the scene of a controversial and devastating loss for Ohio State in 1974.

The much-anticipated rematch started slowly. No. 11 Michigan State's first-half drives ended with three punts and three turnovers. Ohio State didn't do much better and started with four consecutive punts.

After the Buckeyes' fifth drive concluded with a missed field goal, Ohio State finally broke through when Pete Johnson powered through with a 5-yard touchdown with 1:16 left in the first half.

The scarlet and gray scored again on their first drive of the second half. On 3rd-and-9 at his own 36, Cornelius Green found Lenny Willis for a 64-yard touchdown strike. Willis bobbled the ball near the 25, then sped past a Spartan defender for the score. 

Johnson scored the third and final touchdown of the day four seconds into the start of the fourth quarter with a 9-yard touchdown run. Archie Griffin finished the day with 108 yards and extended his streak of 100-yard games to 22.

The play of Ohio State's rebuilt defense excited Woody Hayes the most from the game. In a 21-0 shutout, the Buckeyes forced five turnovers. Cornerback Craig Cassady intercepted Charlie Baggett three times and Bob Brudzinksi and Nick Buonamici each recovered a fumble. 

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