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The uncomfortable history of Michigan State cancelling Ohio State’s championship plans

Here are some of Ohio State’s most heartbreaking losses. Enjoy.

Michigan State v Ohio State Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

Michigan State has the reputation of being a pain in Ohio State’s you-know-what. If it weren’t for the Spartans, Ohio State would have played for the title in 1974, 1998, and 2013 and the College Football Playoffs in 2015. They steal our recruits, ruin our win-streaks, and keep Urban Meyer awake at night. As we approach Saturday’s game against the No. 25 Spartans, I felt it necessary to list some of the ways Michigan State has broken our hearts in the past. (To keep us humble, you know?)

“The Bizarre Bowl”

Ohio State may lead the series 32-15, but it didn’t start out that way. The Spartans won the first three games and eight of the first 15, including the infamous 1974 upset of the top-ranked Buckeyes.

Woody Hayes and his No. 1 Buckeyes went into what Sports Illustrated called “The Bizarre Bowl” confident as ever. They had won 19 consecutive regular-season games and were expected to wipe out MSU head coach Denny Stolz and his unranked Spartans by four touchdowns. Ohio State’s last Big Ten loss occurred the last time they were in East Lansing, when the Spartans beat them 19-12. Buckeye fans were certain Hayes wouldn’t allow that to happen again.

The game started off slow. They went into halftime tied at 3-3. The Buckeyes took the lead in the middle of the third after a 20-yard field goal and then a 1-yard run into the end zone for a touchdown.

The Spartans replied with a 44-yard touchdown pass and two-point conversion fail, making the score 13-9 with 5:30 remaining. MSU’s defense kept Ohio State from scoring on the next drive, Ohio State punted, and the Spartans got the ball again at their own 12. The next few minutes were...well...bizarre.

On the very next snap, Michigan State running back Levi Jackson made Spartan history. He took a handoff, found a hole, and next thing you know he’s at the bottom of a green dog-pile in the end zone. With just 3:17 remaining, the Spartans were up 16-13.

Ohio State was up to bat, and there was no way Hayes was going for the tie. Ohio State running back Archie Griffin returned the kickoff to their own 29. Two plays later, Griffin broke free again for 31 yards. Ohio State continued to chip away. They went 3 yards, then 5 yards, and then 9 yards for the first down. Less than two minutes on the clock and the Buckeyes were at the Spartans’ 23.

A few more plays, and the Buckeyes found themselves at the MSU 1 with zero timeouts and 29 seconds on the clock. Quarterback Cornelius Green handed the ball to fullback Champ Henson. He was met head on by the MSU defense. The officials didn’t signal a touchdown and the ball was marked at the half-yard line.

The ball was snapped and found its way to wide receiver Brian Baschnagel who landed on it in the end zone. One referee put both arms up, while two others claimed time had expired. The officials left the field and Spartans fans stormed the field. Bizarre, right?!

Big Ten commissioner Wayne Duke ordered teams to stay on the field while he looked for the officials who fled the scene. Hayes was livid on the sideline and made his players wait in the tunnel. Duke, brave as they come, came down and told the Ohio State head coach that MSU had, indeed, won the game.

Hayes went off, verbally at the commissioner and physically at an MSU fan rushing the field whom he back-handed.

Final score: Michigan State 16, No. 1 Ohio State 13.

MSU finished that season with a 7-3-1 record. The Buckeyes, after losing again in the Rose Bowl, finished the season 10-2.

To this day, everyone still has their theories on what happened in the end zone when the clock struck 0:00. Regardless, Michigan State took down No. 1 Ohio State, an event that would soon become an MSU tradition.


Don’t worry, Buckeye fans who weren’t old enough to remember 1974’s upset. MSU made sure to break 90s kids’ hearts too! How thoughtful...

Nov. 7, 1998 is a day that Buckeye fans try to forget. John Cooper’s No. 1 Ohio State team had been dominating all season, and were 28-point favorites against the Spartans, led by now Alabama head coach Nick Saban.

The Buckeyes had the upper hand for most of the game. They were 17-3 in the first half and 24-9 in the third quarter. Then, in the final 23 minutes of the game, began a series of unfortunate events.

There was eight minutes left in the third, Michigan State punted from their own goal line. The ball hit Ohio State defensive back Nate Clements and the Spartans recovered at the 49-yard line. Five plays later, the Spartans scored off a 23-yard pass from quarterback Bill Burke and missed their extra point, making the score 24-15.

After that, Ohio State fell a part. They fumbled on their next possession— one of its five turnovers in the game— leading to a Michigan State field goal to make it 24-18.

The Spartans had momentum, and they weren’t letting it get away. They put together a 92-yard drive, capping it off with a 3-yard touchdown run by running back Sedrick Irvin. They finally took the lead 25-24 early in the fourth.

Ohio State did NOT want the football back. So, they fumbled again and Michigan State hit another field goal.

A couple possessions later, Ohio State found themselves at the 49-yard line after David Boston’s 26-yard punt return. Quarterback Joe Germaine made two straight completions, putting Ohio State at the MSU 15-yard line with only a few seconds left. The No. 1 Ohio State Buckeyes were going to leave victorious (is what should have happened).

The Spartan defense made three consecutive stops before Michigan State safety Renaldo Hill intercepted Germaine’s fourth-down pass. The game was over.

Ohio State’s 24-9 lead became a 24-28 loss. Michigan State ripped up yet another BCS Championship invitation addressed to the Buckeyes.

Urban Meyer’s Kryptonite

Even YOU get a MSU upset to remember, millennials!

The early years of the Urban Meyer Era were a whole new level of painful when it comes to MSU upsets. The Spartans ruined Ohio State’s plans to play for the national championship twice... in three years.

First, it was the 2013 Big Ten Championship game—No. 2 Ohio State versus No. 10 Michigan State. Urban Meyer and his Buckeyes were on the nation’s longest winning streak ever recorded—24-0.

You wouldn’t know it after watching this game, though. The Buckeyes offense couldn’t produce much of anything early on. The first quarter ended with Michigan State leading 3-0.

After a lot of back and forth, with two minutes left to play, Ohio State was down 27-24. The Buckeyes were on their 47 yard line, fourth and one. Meyer said to go for it— a call that resulted in Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller getting stuffed just short of the first down.

Soon after, Michigan State running back Jeremy Langford rushed 26 yards for a touchdown, putting the Spartans up by 10. OSU turned the ball over on its next possession and the Spartans ran out the clock. Final score: Michigan State 34, Ohio State 24.

Ohio State’s BCS Championship hopes were crushed, yet again. They would later go on to play Clemson in the Orange Bowl where they lost 35-40.

Then there’s 2015. Ohio State won the very first College Football National Championship in 2014 and were returning almost every player from that year. Players like Ezekiel Elliott, Michael Thomas, Joey Bosa, Eli Apple, Cardale Jones, Joshua Perry, Taylor Decker, Vonn Bell— I can continue for another paragraph, if you’d like.

The former CFB Champs were No. 2 in the nation, undefeated, and playing at home. So, they were favorited to beat the No. 9 Spartans, who were without their starting quarterback Connor Cook due to injury, by two touchdowns.

Quarterback Tyler O’Connor played in Cook’s place and went 7-for-12 for 89 yards and one touchdown. Still, somehow, because it’s Michigan State, this was enough to lead the Spartans to a victory.

Ohio State’s highly ranked defense never showed up. Instead, we got a defense who gave up 294 total yards and only forced one turnover from Michigan State’s backup quarterback.

That turnover came from a Bosa-sack and a Sam Hubbard-forced fumble. The Buckeyes recovered and Elliott ran it in for a 1-yard touchdown. Late in the third quarter, a muffed punt reception by Michigan State’s Macgarrett Kings Jr. led to Ohio State’s second and last score of the day. Until then, Ohio State had been averaging more than 36 points per game.

As time expired, Michigan State kicker Michael Geiger hit a 41-yard field goal, making the score 17-14, sealing the Spartan’s win and a spot in the playoffs and destroying the Buckeyes’ hopes of being 2x National Champions. Geiger ran around the ‘Shoe in the pouring rain, which would later be played in every Michigan State hype video for years to come.

In an interview with The Dispatch, Urban Meyer described that game as the most painful loss of his seven-year coaching tenure at Ohio State. He blamed himself, saying he was “not content” with the play calling. Elliott, a Heisman Trophy candidate at the time, only ran for 33 yards on 12 carries. He also questioned the play calling after the game.

Now, Elliott is the highest paid running back in the NFL, Michael Thomas is the highest paid wide receiver in the league, and just about every other starter from that 2015 team continues to put up big numbers for their respective NFL team.

I find myself on any given NFL Sunday thinking to myself: “how did we lose that game?”

Blame it on the weather, blame it on lack of momentum, or blame it on the play calling (it was the play calling), but the fact remains when it comes to Michigan State, no Buckeye team is safe.

Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio, a Zanesville native, was defensive coordinator of the 2002 national champion Ohio State team and is 3-7 against Ohio State. He’s lost to his former boss, Jim Tressel, twice, beat Luke Fickell once, and went 2-5 against Meyer. This Saturday, his 4-1 team will be facing Ryan Day for the first time. All signs point to a W for Ohio State, but the signs have gotten it wrong before.