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The best Ohio State teams to never win a title: A dream season ending with a nightmare

Ohio State opened up the 2006 season as the top-ranked team in the country, a spot they wouldn’t relinquish until the final game of the season.

Michigan Wolverines v Ohio State Buckeyes Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

There have been numerous Ohio State teams that have obviously looked like the best team in college football, only to fall painfully shy of bringing another national championship back to Columbus. The 1999, 2015, and 2019 teams are all prime examples of Buckeye teams that deserved more. For me, the year that hurts the most is 2006. Funny how the head coach that denied Ohio State a national title at the end of that year is the same head coach that led the Buckeyes to a championship in 2014, but there is another national title game loss, a tattoo scandal, and some other shenanigans in between those events.

2005 was my first year at Ohio State. My second game at Ohio Stadium was the heartbreaker under the lights against eventual national champion Texas. Jim Tressel’s team went on to a 10-win season, capped off by a 34-20 win over Notre Dame.

The success of the 2005 season and the number of key returning players set expectations sky-high for the Buckeyes in 2006. Troy Smith, Antonio Pittman, and Ted Ginn Jr. were all returning on the offensive side of the football, while James Laurinaitis and Malcolm Jenkins powered the Ohio State defense. The Buckeyes entered the season ranked at the top of the AP and Coaches Polls.

Heading into the season, one of the marquee games early in the year would see Ohio State and Texas lock horns again. After easily handling Northern Illinois in the season opener, the Buckeyes made their way down to Austin to take on the second-ranked Longhorns, who were adjusting to life after Vince Young.

With classes not yet back in session, I watched the game back in Buffalo with friends, who had to be annoyed with how crazy I was about the game. Thankfully I was able to celebrate a win, as Troy Smith and the Buckeyes handled the Longhorns. After the game I realized just how special the year could possibly be.

Following the win against Texas, Ohio State wasn’t really tested for the majority of the season. Over the next seven games, which included road wins at Iowa and Michigan State, the Buckeyes made things look easy, winning those games by a combined score of 264-47. The first hiccup came in a weird game at Illinois, where the Buckeyes jumped out to a 17-0 lead but failed to create any more separation on the Fighting Illini. Not the first time a weird game has happened in Champaign, though.

For most of the year, the focus of the college football world was on whether Ohio State and Michigan would be able to make it to The Game undefeated, which they did, setting up “The Game of the Century.” With the teams being the two top ranked teams in the country, the game was so big that even the normal noon start time of the rivalry was changed to a 3:30 pm kickoff. And if that wasn’t enough, emotions were kicked up even higher because just a few days before, legendary Michigan head coach Bo Schembechler passed away.

The contest between the Buckeyes and Wolverines surpassed the lofty expectations. Ohio State jumped out to a 28-14 halftime lead, and withstood a late Michigan rally to beat the Wolverines 42-39. The win over their rivals allowed the Buckeyes to secure their second BCS National Championship Game bid under Jim Tressel. It was looking like Ohio State would be taking on USC in the title game, but the Trojans lost late in the year to UCLA, leaving the Buckeyes to battle Florida for the first time.

For many Ohio State fans, it felt like a foregone conclusion that the Buckeyes were going to win the title. Vegas agreed with the confidence of Ohio State fans, with the Buckeyes entering the game as touchdown favorites. In the time between Ohio State’s win against Michigan and the BCS Championship Game, a lot changed. Quarterback Troy Smith won the Heisman Trophy and pretty much every other major award, while Florida head coach Urban Meyer was putting together the perfect game plan to attack the Buckeyes.

On the opening kickoff, it looked like it could be a long night for Florida, as Ted Ginn Jr. took the kick 93 yards for a touchdown. Things took an immediate turn for the worse when Ginn was injured during the celebration, forcing him to miss the rest of the game, as well as close out his Ohio State career. The Gators would respond by putting up 21 straight points, putting the Buckeyes in a hole they couldn’t crawl out of. Florida would go on to win 41-14, embarrassing Ohio State in football’s biggest game.

Had Ohio State faced any other team in the country, I have no doubt in my mind that the Buckeyes would have won the national title. The Gators were just too perfect of a team to matchup against an outstanding Ohio State team. Even with the loss, I still think the 2006 Ohio State football team is one of the best teams to not win a championship.

Not only can the 2006 Ohio State football team claim the Heisman Trophy winner, Nagurski winner, and three AP first team All-Americans, a second-team All-American, but they also saw more than 15 players from the team eventually selected in the NFL Draft. Ted Ginn Jr., Anthony Gonzalez, Vernon Gholston, Malcolm Jenkins, and Chris “Beanie” Wells were all first round picks, while James Laurinaitis and Brain Robiskie were second round picks. Add in two wins over teams ranked second in the country, and a ton of other decisive wins—the 2006 season was an amazing year, despite falling just short of a title.