There are some moments in a team’s history that are engrained, and unfortunately, it’s more often the painful memories than the good.
The Ohio State Buckeyes have had some absolutely stellar memories. From the 1968 national championship team gashing USC in the Rose Bowl, to the win against Miami in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl, to beating Michigan in overtime in 2016.
Moments that lead to a national title, though, create the folklore to a program. Like in 2002, when Craig Krenzel found Michael Jenkins in the back of the endzone in West Lafayette for the “Holy Buckeye” catch. Or in 2015, when Ezekiel Elliott took the sixth OSU touchdown to the house against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl semifinal. Those are the moments that get t-shirts made, replays shown countless times on SportsCenter, and become lightning rods for the “team of destiny” narrative.
On the other side of the coin, there are moments that get seared into your memory, never to be forgotten, and elicit feelings of dread, despair, and any other negative adjective that you can think of. And depending on how close your team was to winning a championship, these feelings get multiplied.
After reading an article on ESPN ranking the top teams in the history of college football, one name toward the top of the rankings caught my eye: 2005 Texas.
A team that had Heisman-caliber quarterback Vince Young guiding it, the Longhorns were coming off of a last-second Rose Bowl victory over Michigan the season before. And in Week 2 of the 2005 season, they would be coming to Columbus for their first-ever meeting with Ohio State. The Buckeyes entered the season as the No. 4 team; the Longhorns were polling at No. 2. It was a battle of Goliath’s that had national title implications. And when the season ended in the Rose Bowl for the BCS National Championship Game, that hypothesis was correct — that early season clash did produce a team for the title game. However, it wasn’t the Buckeyes that went out to Pasadena that year.
Whether you believe it or not, it’s now been 14 years since Young led the Longhorns into Ohio Stadium on Sept. 10, 2005, and found wide receiver Limas Sweed in the southeast corner of the endzone for the game-winning score in the waning minutes of the contest. A spectacular throw mixed with a spectacular catch — and that was that.
Note: I didn’t watch the play live — I fell asleep in the third quarter. I watched it happen the following morning when the highlights appeared on SportsCenter. Even when the reel showed the Ryan Hamby drop, or the Justin Zwick fumble, those weren’t the plays that stood out. There was only one play that stood out, and that was the throw from Young to Sweed. Maybe it was because the pass was so on the money that it wasn’t even funny. I dunno.
You don’t really know how far you’ve gone until you look back. Jim Tressel has long been gone from Ohio State, and Mack Brown left college football — only to return again in 2019 at North Carolina. In 2005, Urban Meyer was just starting at Florida after leaving Utah, and had first-year offensive coordinator Dan Mullen with him.
And in a blink of an eye, nine years of Meyer at OSU have happened, with a national title being added to the trophy case. The SEC reign of terror hadn’t begun yet. Outside of LSU winning the 2004 title (splitting it with USC), the last SEC national champions were Tennessee in 1998.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Instead of dealing with a USC dynasty, we are in the middle of an Alabama-Clemson war. Coaches and players have changed, but the Big Ten is still in a firm Ohio State grasp. And for Michigan, time has brought new coaches and NFL-grade talent, but it hasn’t been able to restore their ability to beat the Buckeyes on a consistent basis.
2005, more likely than not, wasn’t going to be a national title year for the Buckeyes. Even if they did make it to the Rose Bowl, they would’ve had an enormous task in front of them. But they had an enormous task in 2003 in Tempe. There is no way to rechart history — no way to figure out just how close Ohio State was to claiming a title in ‘05.
All we have is this reality that we live in, the one in which the Bucks absolutely steamrolled Notre Dame for a Fiesta Bowl victory. On the other side of the coin: Limas Sweed straight-up stole OSU’s championship hopes right out of thin air on a Saturday night in September.