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Revisiting Ohio State’s exhilarating history with the Fiesta Bowl

The Buckeyes are getting set for their seventh Fiesta Bowl foray.

Ohio State fans enter Sun Devil Stadium Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

We’re less than a week away from what we’ve all been anxiously waiting for since The Spot Was Good.

Ohio State. Clemson. Fiesta Bowl.

Monday, the Buckeyes will arrive in Glendale, Arizona, to gland-hand the Yellow Blazer Brigade and commence final preparations for their College Football Playoff semifinal matchup. Next Saturday night will be Ohio State’s seventh Fiesta Bowl appearance, so what better time than now than to re-live the Buckeyes’ previous five encounters in the desert. Your boy wasn’t born yet when Ohio State competed in the 1980 (a 31-19 defeat by Penn State) or 1983 (a 28-23 win over Pittsburgh) Fiesta Bowls, so those two contests were omitted in this column.

Note: Florida’s romp over Ohio State in the 2007 BCS title game was played in Glendale but was not the actual Fiesta Bowl for the 2006-07 season — that honor went to Boise State and Oklahoma. The BCS increased from four games to five prior to that season, which provided the BCS sites with an additional BCS game once every five years. This is why the 2002-03 BCS title game between Ohio State and Miami was also a Fiesta Bowl game.

Got it? Good. Games were ranked by a combination of excitement and quality of play. Let’s go! (John Junker gift package sold separately.)

5. Jan. 1, 2016: Ohio State 44, Notre Dame 28

Some thought the defending national champs may not get up for this game after missing out on a chance to reach the College Football Playoff for the second year in a row. They postulated that a squad that would go on to have 11 of the first 102 players selected in the 2016 NFL Draft may not put forth maximum effort in what amounted to a playoff consolation game between two teams that finished seventh (Ohio State) and eighth (Notre Dame) in the final playoff rankings.

They thought wrong.

The Buckeyes smacked the Fighting Irish upside the head with a 2x4 for much of the game, gashing Brian Kelly’s group for 285 yards on the ground and 496 total yards. The game lost some of its shine in the first quarter due to Ohio State’s incredible start (the Buckeyes were ahead 14-0 barely halfway through the first quarter) and because of a pair of player departures. On the Buckeyes’ second TD drive, Notre Dame star linebacker Jaylon Smith suffered a serious left knee injury that he still hasn’t fully recovered from. A few minutes later, Ohio State defensive lineman Joey Bosa was ejected for targeting.

The Buckeyes led by as much as 28-7 before half, but the Irish recovered to score just before intermission and again on their first possession of the third quarter to close to within 28-21. But, Ezekiel Elliott’s 47-yard TD run on Ohio State’s next drive restored order as the Buckeyes would go on to tack on three additional field goals.

The win upped the record of Ohio State’s senior class to 50-4, which tied Boise State’s 2011 seniors for the best mark in a four-year window.

4. Jan. 2, 2004: Ohio State 35, Kansas State 28

No. 4 and No. 5 on this list are essentially interchangeable, as they featured Ohio State teams coming off national championships.

Things weren’t so rosy at the start for the Buckeyes opposite the Wildcats, as their first two drives culminated with a Craig Krenzel interception and a 3-and-out. But Ohio State’s defense held — the Silver Bullets forced the Wildcats to punt on their first six (!) possessions — and Ohio State’s offense eventually found its footing. Following John Hollins’ blocked punt return for a touchdown, Krenzel located Santonio Holmes and Michael Jenkins for a pair of TD passes before half.

Kansas State closed to 21-14 early in the third quarter, but Jenkins and Holmes reeled in TD passes to stretch the margin. The Wildcats actually recovered a late onside kick, but were whistled for a false start.

Other tidbits about this game: Kansas State QB Ell Roberson was permitted to play despite being accused of sexual assault by a woman earlier in the week. (Roberson was never charged.) ... Ohio State’s B.J. Sander punted seven times in the game, landing three inside the 20, which helped keep Darren Sproles (still in the NFL!) in check. Sproles was held to 10 yards on four punt returns, and also gained just 46 yards on 13 combined rushing and receiving touches. Sander would go to be a third round pick of the Green Bay Packers (lol). ... Jenkins moved ahead of David Boston for the program lead in receiving yards in this game, a record he still holds.

3. Jan. 2, 2006: Ohio State 34, Notre Dame 20

Each of Ohio State’s four touchdowns went for at least 56 yards as Troy Smith, Ted Ginn Jr., Santonio Holmes, and Antonio Pittman lit up the Tempe, Arizona, sky in Sun Devil Stadium’s Fiesta Bowl finale.

The Irish struck first on a 20-yard touchdown run by Darius Walker, but Buckeyes responded with three successive touchdowns: a 56-yard bomb to Ginn Jr.; a 68-yard run by Ginn Jr. off a reverse that Brent Musberger proclaimed a touchdown 40 yards before Ginn Jr. hit paydirt; and an 85-yard pass to Holmes, a play that was reminiscent of a Smith-to-Ginn Jr. connection in the 2006 Ohio State-Michigan game.

Ohio State, which finished with 617 yards of offense, kept Notre Dame in the game with two fumbles and a pair of missed field goals. The Irish crept to within 27-20 with five minutes and 27 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, but Smith’s shades-of-Michigan escape-and-completion to Anthony Gonzalez with two and a half minutes left led to Pittman’s game-clinching 60-yard TD sprint.

2. Jan. 2, 2009: Texas 24, Ohio State 21

After Boom Herron burst through the Longhorn line to push the Buckeyes ahead 21-17 with 2:05 left in the game, I turned to the Texas fan (a guy I had been chatting with all game) sitting next to me inside University of Phoenix Stadium and said, “They scored too fast.”

Less than two minutes later, Ohio State made me a prophet. Colt McCoy found Quan Cosby for their 14th connection of the game, a 26-yard catch-and-run that sent Ohio State to its third consecutive BCS setback. The Buckeyes yielded a very un-Silver-Bullets-like 468 yards, with McCoy finishing 41-of-58 for 414 yards.

Things looked very bleak for Ohio State as the third quarter ended. The Longhorns led 17-6 and the OSU offense had gone MIA. But, everything changed when Todd Boeckman found Brian Robiskie for 48 yards on 3rd-and-13 from the OSU 24 on the first play of the fourth frame. The Buckeyes settled for a field goal on that drive, but then added two straight touchdowns (with the Texas offense producing two punts), with the aforementioned score by Herron preceded by Boeckman’s TD toss to freshman QB Terrelle Pryor.

1. Jan. 3, 2003: Ohio State 31, Miami 24, 2OT

I own a VHS tape of this game, so if the apocalypse ever finds fruition, I only need a VCR, a television, and a working electrical outlet to re-watch this titanic struggle. Nearly 14 years after the game was played, it still stands as one of college football’s most exciting, holy-bleep-did-that-really-just-happen contests.

Ohio State’s disaster of a start on offense (three punts, an INT, a failed fake field goal on first five possessions). Maurice Clarett stripping Sean Taylor. Willis McGahee’s unsightly knee injury. Chris Gamble’s catch-to-potentially-ice-the-game-that-wasn’t. Todd Sievers’ kick to force overtime. Official Terry Porter’s late DPI flag in the first overtime. Cie Grant’s well-timed blitz to blow up Miami’s final chance.

As great a game as this was, the tilt wasn’t terribly well-played. Craig Krenzel completed just seven of 21 passes and threw a pair of picks, including one in the end zone. The Hurricanes turned the ball over five times. The Buckeyes logged nine penalties.