Picking the Greatest Ohio State Football Game of All Time: The G.O.A.T. Game Tournament, Regular Season Bracket

By D.J. Byrnes on August 16, 2017 at 12:15 pm
G.O.A.T. Game Tournament — Regular Season

The G.O.A.T. Game Tournament, Eleven Warriors' quest to crown the greatest game in Ohio State football lore, continues with the regular season bracket that spans victories from 1968 over No. 1 Purdue to 2014 over Penn State.

Let's meet the regular season bracket:

  • #1 Purdue 1968 vs. #8 LSU 1988: 13-point underdog Buckeyes upend No. 1 Boilermakers vs. a frantice last-minute comeback against No. 7 LSU in Columbus.
  • #4 Iowa 1985 vs. #5 Illinois 1984: Bucks beat No. 1 Hawks sans Keith Byars vs. Keith Byars eviscerating Illinois.
  • #3 Notre Dame 1995 vs. #6 Penn State 2014:  Local team beats Hayden Fry and No. 1 Iowa vs. Ohio State's come-from-ahead OT thriller win in Happy Valley.
  • #2 Purdue 2002 vs. #7 Purdue 2012: Holy Buckeye vs. Kenny Guiton's First Symphony.

Let's vote.

#1: 1968 — No. 1 purdue at no. 4 Ohio State

No. 2 Purdue waltzed into Ohio Stadium in 1967 and thumped Ohio State, 41-6. The Boilermakers rolled into town the following year as the No. 1 team in the land, fueled by a vaunted aerial attack led by Mike Phipps and halfback Leroy Keyes. 


  • The score: 13-0
  • J. Otis: 29 CAR, 144 YDS
  • R. Kern: 8-16, 79 YDS; 11 CAR, 45 YDS
  • J. Brockington: 10 CAR, 69 YDS

Oddsmakers listed Purdue as 13 point favorites, and Keyes openly boasted nobody could cover him one-on-one in space — a challenge Ohio State sophomore safety Jack Tatum took personally. 

The Buckeyes controlled the line of scrimmage from the jump, with only a series of penalties and special team mishaps keeping the local team off the scoreboard. The defensive struggle ended in a 0-0 halftime score.

Phipps made a critical error in the third quarter, when Buckeye defensive back Ted Provost jumped a route and returned an interception for a touchdown to make it 6-0 (the ensuing PAT was missed).

Later that quarter, quarterback Rex Kern was injured on the Purdue 14-yard line after sweeping QB keeper. Woody Hayes tapped senior Bill Long, whom he recently demoted to third-string, because he wanted experience in a pivotal moment.

It proved a masterstroke, as Long pulled down a drop back attempt on the next play and darted up the middle for a touchdown. This time, the Buckeyes converted the extra point to make it 13-0 in favor of the 13-point underdogs. It would be the final score of the game.

Afterwards, Woody Hayes called it the greatest defensive performance he had ever seen.

#8: 1988 — No. 7 LSU at no. 18 ohio state

John Cooper didn't see too many highlights during his first season in 1987 as his team lost six games, but he did help orchestrate one of the most improbable comebacks in Ohio State football history.


  • Score: 36-33
  • G. Frey: 24-37, 281 YDS, 2 TD
  • C. Snow: 21 CAR, 90 YDS, 1 TD
  • J. Ellis: 5 REC, 46 YDS

When LSU punctuated a 33-20 lead with 4 and a half minutes left in the game when Tiger wide receiver Alvin Lee took a tipped pass 55 yards to the house, thousands of the 90,584 fans headed for the exits. They weren't wearing purple and gold.

Undeterred, the local team clocked in. Running back Carlos Snow scored, and the Silver Bullets forced LSU into taking a safety on the next possession, making it 33-29.

Quarterback Greg Frey needed only three passes to move the ball 56 yards, finding receiver Bobby Olive in the end zone with 38 seconds left for the 36-33 victory.

What was the better game?
#1: 1968 – No. 1 Purdue at No. 4 Ohio State
#8: 1988 – No. 7 LSU at No. 18 Ohio State
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#4: 1985 — No. 1 Iowa at No. 8 ohio State

Iowa rolled into Columbus in 1985 as the top team in the country with Ohio State already having lost the fabled Illibuck to Illinois a month earlier. 


  • Score: 22-13
  • G. Cooper: 17 CAR, 104 YDS
  • J. Karsatos: 10-17, 151 YDS, 2 INT
  • M. Lanese: 4 REC, 63 YDS

Hayden Fry's team had dynamited their first seven opponents by a combined score of 282-87.

The Buckeyes received terrible news in the lead up to the game as running back Keith Byars was unable to play due to a foot injury that plagued him all season. (The Iowa City Press-Citizen that Friday ran a headline asking, "Without Byars, alibis for OSU?")

As it turned out, the Buckeyes would not need Byars' services to quell Hawkeyes.

During a torrential downpour, freshman linebacker (and future Lombardi Award winner) Chris Spielman introduced himself to America, going ballistic for 19 tackles, two interceptions, and a pass breakout as the talisman of the defense that stymied the Bill Snyder-coordinated offense all afternoon.

Running back John Woolridge scored on a 57-yard run and Vince Workman, the third-stringer-turned-starter, put the daggers into the gut of the Hawkeyes late in the third quarter.

"We thought we were going to pass the ball on them,'' Hawkeye right tackle Mike Haight told reporters after the game about Ohio State's four interceptions. ''They must have had a crystal ball or something. They seemed to know exactly where the ball was going."

#5: 1984 — Illinois at No. 8 Ohio State

Entering a Week 5 Big Ten tilt against Illinois, Earle Bruce's men, then the No. 2 team in the country, lost a 28-23 barnburner in West Lafayette to Purdue. 


  • Score: 45-38
  • K. Byars: 39 CAR, 274 YDS
  • M. Tomczak 16-26, 236 YDS, 1 TD, 1 INT
  • C. Carter: 7 REC, 134 YDS, 1 TD

The Buckeyes seemed to carry the hangover back to Columbus, as the Illini offense diced the Silver Bullets to a 24-0 lead. But Illinois didn't have a weapon like Keith Byars on the roster.

When the dust finally settled, the teams had compiled 83 points,1,073 yards. Byars accounted for a third of the points (on five touchdowns) and a quarter of the yards (274).

His most iconic run came midway through third quarter, with his team staked to a 28-27 lead, when he lost a shoe while galloping through the Illini defense for a 67-yard touchdown run that should have won him the Heisman.

The teams swapped a pair of touchdowns, but Byars put the game to rest by bulldozing three yards for a touchdown with 36 seconds left in the game.

"Keith Byars is just a great, great running back," Earle Bruce told reporters after the game.  "If we asked him to, he probably could've played another quarter. I think he can do more."

What was the better game?
#4: 1985 – No. 1 Iowa at No. 8 Ohio State
#5: 1984 – Illinois at No. 8 Ohio State
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#3: 1995 — No. 15 Notre Dame at No. 7 Ohio State

Despite a mere 250 miles separating the two traditional Midwest football powers, Ohio State and Notre Dame hadn't played since a home-and-home series in 1935 and 1936 — a series in which the Irish swept the Buckeyes.


  • Score: 45-26
  • E. George: 32 CAR, 207 YDS, 2 TD
  • B. Hoying: 14-22, 272 YDS, 4 TD
  • T. Glenn: 4 REC, 128 YDS, 2 TD

That drought ended 59 years later when the No. 15 Irish rolled into Columbus for a date with Orlando Pace, Eddie George, and the No. 7 Buckeyes.

Lou Holtz's team looked prime for the upset bid, too, as they jumped out to a 10-0 lead early in the second quarter. 

Buckeye quarterback Bobby Hoying quickly executed two touchdown drives culminating strikes to Terry Glenn and Dimitrious Stanley to claw back into the game, 17-14, at halftime. 

The Buckeyes exploded for 31 points in the second half. Hoying added two more touchdown passes, a 51 yard to Buster Tillman and an 82-yarder to Terry Glenn.

But it was Eddie George who won the day, rampaging his way to 207 yards and two touchdowns, including a 61-yard scamper that set up the Irish death knell and catapulted the Buckeye running back into Heisman favorite status. Not that it mattered to him.

"I really don’t know (about the Heisman),” George told reporters after the game. “All I know is I played the game today against Notre Dame and I did my job to the best of my ability. If I’m up for it, that’s great. If I’m not, we’ve got to play Penn State next week, then Wisconsin and Purdue and it just goes on and on.”

#6: 2014 — No. 13 Ohio State at penn State

Ohio State fans love to remember the Buckeyes' blaze of glory through the 2015 College Football playoffs, but it would have all been for nought had they succumbed to a furious second-half comeback against unranked Penn State during a Week 7 trip to Happy Valley. 


  • Score: 31-24
  • J.T. Barrett: 12-19, 74 YDS, 1 TD, 2 INT
  • E. Elliott: 26 CAR, 109 YDS, 1 TD
  • J. Heuerman: 3 REC, 19 YDS, 1 TD

Ohio State treated Penn State like Rutgers in the first half behind two scores from Ezekiel Elliott and Jeff Heuerman and a field goal from Sean Neurnberger. 

The entire second half belonged to the Nittany Lions, with defensive end Anthony Zettel returning a J.T. Barrett pass 40 yards for a touchdown and receiver Saeed Blacknail looking like Randy Moss on a 24-yard touchdown catch to start the fourth quarter.

Kicker Sam Ficken nailed a 31-yard field goal to send the game into overtime.

Penn State scored on the opening possession of the first extra period, putting the ball back in the hands Barrett. Its national championship hopes on the line, offensive coordinator Tom Herman needed only three plays to tie the game at 24.

His players repeated the feat to open the second period, effectively flipping the script on PSU.

Blood in the water, the Silver Bullets held the Lions to -3 yards on the game-ending possession. On 4th and 5, PSU running back Akeel Lynch attempted to block OSU defensive end Joey Bosa, who went through him like a bowl of Skyline chili blitzing a trucker's intestinal tract and used him like a battering ram to sack Christian Hackenberg for the win.

What was the better game?
#3: 1995 – No. 15 Notre Dame at No. 7 Ohio State
#6: 2014 – No. 13 Ohio State at Penn State

#2: 2002 — No. 3 Ohio State at Purdue

The 2002 national championship team made a calling card of thrilling victories and improbable comebacks.


  • Score: 17-13
  • C. Krenzel: 13-20, 173, 1 TD, 1 INT
  • M. Clarett: 14 CAR, 52 YDS
  • M. Jenkins: 5 REC, 87 YDS, 1 TD

After three wins against Wisconsin, No. 17 Penn State, and No. 23 Minnesota, Ohio State appeared to entire softer two-week stretch of trips to unranked Purdue and unranked Illinois ahead of its annual knuckleduster with Michigan in Columbus.

But the Boilermakers didn't get the memo. The game devolved into a battle of field goals, usually a recipe of success for Jim Tressel. But things took a turn for the worst when Purdue used his own weapon against him midway through the fourth quarter to take a 6-3 lead.

With 1:52 left in the game, the anemic Buckeye offense faced 4th and 1 on Purdue's 37-yard line. Tressel threw his nature to the wind and dialed up King Right 64 Y Shallow Swap.

Craig Krenzel linked up with Michael Jenkins for the game's only touchdown with a play-by-play call from ABC announcer Brent Musberger that will live forever. 

"They're going to show the I-Back behind the Fullback on Fourth down. It could be up to the Offensive Line... no, Krenzel's going to throw for it! Gotta get it off! They go for the ballgame... touchdown! Touchdown! Michael Jenkins! On fourth and one! Would you believe it!? Craig Krenzel strikes with a minute and a half left! Holy Buckeye!"

#7: 2012 — Purdue at No. 7 Ohio State

Ohio State went undefeated during Urban Meyer's first season in 2012, and it was a handful of plays away from losing three or four times. 


  • Score: 29-22
  • K. Guiton: 6-11, 77 YDS, 1 TD
  • C. Hyde: 19 CAR, 91 YDS, 2 TD
  • C. Fields: 3 REC, 44 YDS, 1 TD

Entering Week 8 against Purdue, Ohio State was coming off a 52-49 way-too-close-for-comfort win over Indiana. The Buckeyes looked to return to form on the defensive side of the ball when the unranked Boilermakers came to Columbus.

But it was the OSU's offense unable to get anything started as local fans looked up and found their team down 20-14 entering the fourth quarter.

Two minutes later, an illegal block in the end zone by guard Andrew Norwell resulted in a safety, moving the lead to 22-14.

Things somehow got worse when offensive catalyst Braxton Miller suffered an injury late in the fourth quarter. With Miller en route to the hospital, previously unheralded backup quarterback Kenny Guiton, who threw an interception on his first possession, took the reins of the moribund offense with 47 seconds on the clock.

He marched the Buckeyes straight down the field, needing only seven plays to move 61 yards for a touchdown to Chris Fields with three seconds left in the game. A play later, he found tight end Jeff Heuerman for the crucial two-point conversion on a gadget play to send the game to overtime.

Guiton wasn't done. With a suddenly electrified crowd of 105,290, he led the Buckeyes to the 1-yard line before handing the ball to Carlos Hyde for a one-yard touchdown.

Four plays later, Caleb TerBush's pass to Crosby Wright fell incomplete and instantaneously throwing "Kenny G" into the echoes of Buckeye history.

What was the better game?
#2: 2002 – No. 3 Ohio State at Purdue
#7: 2012 – Purdue at No. 7 Ohio State
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