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How do Ohio State’s recent defeats stack up to losses by Alabama and Clemson?

Bad losses: Not advised.

PlayStation Fiesta Bowl - Ohio State v Clemson Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

The 2006 and 2007 seasons’ national championship games damaged Ohio State’s national reputation not just because they were consecutive BCS Championship losses, but because Ohio State wasn’t particularly competitive in either contest.

The 2006 season loss to Florida (I don’t think I need to remind you of that score) was undoubtedly the worse of the two. It also kicked off a series of high-profile losses where Ohio State could seemingly dominate a down Big Ten, but fall short on the national stage. For instance, in 2008, Ohio State was beaten 35-3 at USC. Then Ohio State lost the Fiesta Bowl against Texas in a heartbreaker. 2009 saw another loss at home to Matt Barkley’s USC, then the infamous Purdue loss (which, while not a nationally-ranked game, still put a big dent in the average sports fan’s opinion of OSU). The Rose Bowl win over Oregon was cathartic.

Urban Meyer hasn’t had losses like those at Ohio State. Since the team’s undefeated 2012 season, Urban Meyer has lost just six times as Ohio State’s head coach. Until last year’s Playoff Semifinals 31-0 loss to Clemson, his worst loss was in the same year he picked up his third national championship — a 21-35 loss to Virginia Tech. Overall, Urban’s Ohio State losses include:

  1. 2013: 24-34 loss to Michigan State
  2. 2013: 35-40 loss to Clemson
  3. 2014: 21-35 loss to Virginia Tech
  4. 2015: 14-17 loss to Michigan State
  5. 2016: 21-24 loss to Penn State
  6. 2016: 0-31 loss to Clemson

That single blowout loss, especially compared to the 2006-2011 streak of bad losses, made me think about Ohio State’s two peers over the last four years — Alabama and Clemson. Did either of those teams have bad losses that compared to the 0-31?

To compare them, I looked only at 2012-present to account for the Urban Meyer era at all three schools. During that time, these three teams accounted for four of the five national championships. I also considered a blowout loss to be by three or more touchdowns:

Bad losses

Year Team S&P+ Rank Opponent S&P+ Opponent Rank Loss Margin
Year Team S&P+ Rank Opponent S&P+ Opponent Rank Loss Margin
2013 Clemson 16 Florida State 1 37
2014 Clemson 13 Georgia 4 24
2014 Clemson 13 Georgia Tech 16 22
2016 Ohio State 5 Clemson 2 31

Alabama has only lost seven times in that time span, but didn’t have one worse than their 14-point loss to Oklahoma in the 2013 Sugar Bowl. Besides that loss (where it was very clear Saban’s team wasn’t fully interested), their worst loss was by a touchdown to the Buckeyes in the 2014 Playoff Semifinal. Their lack of blowout losses is almost as impressive as their three national titles.

Clemson’s most recent two bad losses were during Deshaun Watson’s freshman season. The first, against Georgia, was the first game of the season and Watson only had four passing attempts as senior Cole Stoudt was the starter. The second bad loss of Watson’s freshman season, against Georgia Tech, was in his return to play after breaking his hand — but then he strained his LCL and only attempted six passes. So essentially, after Deshaun Watson took over as the starter and got healthy (and became a two-year national title contender), Clemson didn’t have any bad losses either.

That’s what makes Ohio State’s bad loss so surprising. It was a critically important game, no one was especially injured, and it wasn’t a case of the wrong guy starting — the Buckeyes just suffered a very bad loss at more-or-less full strength.

2017 will see a lot of changes for these three teams. You could argue that Alabama should be more or less where they were last year, but replacing Lane Kiffin as offensive coordinator is still a pretty big unknown. Clemson enters the post-Watson era, and it’s unclear if they will remain as one of the top three (really, top two) teams in college football, or slide back down to that second tier. And Ohio State replaced 34 of its secondary and its offensive coordinators. All of that is to say that while Ohio State showed it had the lowest floor out of the elite teams over the last two years, there’s been enough offseason change that the hierarchy could (and hopefully will) reset for 2017.