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The good, the bad and the ugly from Ohio State’s last 30 years of non-conference football

From John Cooper to Urban Meyer, how have the Buckeyes’ done against ranked non-conference opponents?

NCAA Football: Ohio State at Oklahoma Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Buckeyes’ win over Oklahoma marked the first time an Urban Meyer coached Ohio State team had faced a ranked non-conference opponent. This was less a result of Meyer loading up on cupcake schools and more a consequence of scheduling opponents 10+ years in advance. California and Virginia Tech were both national powers in the 2000s, but by the time 2012 rolled around, things just weren’t the same.

Since John Cooper took over as the Ohio State coach in 1988, the Buckeyes have faced 24 non-conference opponents who were ranked in the AP poll at the time of the matchup. Ohio State has won 16 of these contests, but many of those games are remembered for more than just a win or a loss. Let’s take a look at some of Ohio State’s most memorable non-conference games since the Cooper-era.

1988: (#18) Ohio State 36 — (#7) LSU 33

In Cooper’s third game as a head coach he managed to take down the LSU Tigers in a 36-33 thriller at the Horseshoe. It took 19 4th-quarter-points to get the job done, but quarterback Greg Frey and running back Carlos Snow made enough plays to get the victory. The reason why this game is worth remembering is due to its impact 20 years later.

During the later Tressel years there was nothing more unbearable than hearing how the Buckeyes hadn’t beaten an SEC opponent in their last 10 or so matchups. Well, without this victory back in 1988, that stretch of losses would have gone all the way back into the 1930s. As someone who loves the fact that Notre Dame hasn’t beaten Ohio State since 1936, I can’t imagine the angles ESPN would have exploited to point out the Buckeyes’ hadn’t beaten an SEC opponent in 80 years. Thank you for saving Buckeye nation from this horrific fate, Frey and Snow.

1996: (#4) Ohio State 29 — (#5) Notre Dame 16

The Buckeyes waxed the Fighting Irish by 19 points in 1995, but the 1996 rematch would be held in South Bend. This didn’t make a difference, as Ohio State controlled the game from the start. Chicago Tribune writer Teddy Greenstein described the game perfectly:

“Fourth-ranked Ohio State strolled into South Bend and bench-pressed No. 5 Notre Dame all afternoon. The manhandling was cut short only by the sound of the gun.”

A strong effort from Stanley Jackson and Pepe Pearson led the way, but it was Terry Glenn who set the tone early with an electrifying 85-yard return on the opening kickoff:

Ohio State would go on to win 29 to 16 and secure the sweep of the Irish in their two-year series. These two powerhouses will meet up again in 2022 and 2023, though another Fiesta Bowl massacre matchup is always on the horizon.

2005: (#4) Ohio State 22 — (#2) Texas 25

The talent in this game was absolutely unbelievable. Vince Young and Jamaal Charles faced off against Troy Smith and A.J. Hawk, but it will always be remembered by Ryan f#!$-ing Hamby, who helped decide the game with a critical dropped touchdown in the third quarter. A strong performance from Santonio Holmes wasn’t enough to save the day for the Buckeyes and Young sealed the victory with a 24-yard touchdown pass with just two-and-a-half minutes remaining. Luckily, Ohio State didn’t have to wait long to return the favor...

2006: (#1) Ohio State 24 — (#2) Texas 7

It was a close game early on, but just when Texas was driving late in the first quarter and seemed poised to take their first lead of the game, James Laurinaitis introduced himself to Buckeye nation:

Anthony Gonzalez would catch a touchdown from Troy Smith six plays later and the Buckeyes never looked back on their way to a 17-point victory. Though the 2006 season didn’t end the way Ohio State fans hoped, the team was incredibly talented and showcased the most entertaining offense seen in years. Plus, there’s nothing better than getting revenge in one of very few “games of the century”.

2008: (#5) Ohio State 3 — (#1) USC 35

This game probably wasn’t even as close as the scoreboard indicated. It marked the last time Todd Boeckman could call himself Ohio State’s starting quarterback and officially ushered in the Terrelle Pryor era. The Buckeyes were without Chris Wells and were severely outplayed by a loaded Trojans team led by Mark Sanchez. Revenge still hasn’t been issued for this game, as the Trojans beat Ohio State in Columbus in 2009 as well, but it set the precedent for the type of talent Ohio State would need to deal with if they wished to return to the top of college football.

2016: (#3) Ohio State 45 — (#14) Oklahoma 24

The Buckeyes were robbed of a #2 versus #3 matchup thanks to Houston’s win over the Sooners in Week 1, but this victory showed that while Ohio State is young, they’re still one of the best teams in the country. Noah Brown had a big day, not only by getting a t-shirt made in his honor, but also by pulling down had a pretty decent touchdown catch:

The victory was Ohio State’s fifth-largest over a ranked opponent since 1988 and marked the moment the rest of the country realized that Urban Meyer doesn’t rebuild, he reloads.

Honorable Mention

1995: (#12) Ohio State 38 — (#22) Boston College 6 — Ohio State’s largest win over a ranked non-conference opponent since at least 1988.

1995: (#7) Ohio State 45 — (#15) Notre Dame 26 — Jump-started Eddie George’s Heisman season.

2003: (#2) Ohio State 28 — (#17) Washington 9 — Craig Krenzel looked like 2004 Madden Mike Vick and the Buckeyes’ chances at repeating looked great.