It’s Monday again, and that means we are back with the start of another theme week here at SB Nation. This time around, it’s Underdog Week. This gives us a chance to celebrate the unsung heroes and under-the-radar players that have helped make sports so unpredictable and exciting over the years. But what about Ohio State itself as an underdog?
It’s become quite a rarity that the Buckeyes are not the odds-on favorite to win on any given weekend in the fall. However, on the off chance it has happened over the last eight or so years, Ohio State has been able to rise to the challenge, and have actually done incredibly well as underdogs. Let’s take a look through the years and find out just what happened in the games in which OSU was not the betting favorite.
We begin our journey in the 2012 season, where Ohio State’s current dominant run as underdogs really began. The Scarlet and Gray first appeared as dogs in the fifth game of the season — a road contest against Michigan State.
After handily beating Miami (OH) in the season opener, the Buckeyes failed to cover the spread against three-straight opponents, including a 35-28 win over Cal and a 29-15 victory over UAB. The Spartans themselves had not fared well betting wise, as both teams entered the contest 4-0 in the standings but 1-3 ATS. As a result, the home team with Le’Veon Bell on the roster got the benefit of the doubt, and MSU entered the game as two-point favorites.
It was a defensive battle in East Lansing that day, as Ohio State held a 7-6 lead early in the third quarter. After a Buckeye field goal extended the lead, the Spartans got back on top with a 29-yard TD pass to take a 12-10 lead midway through the quarter. Not to be outdone, Braxton Miller answered with a 63-yard TD pass to Devin Smith on the ensuing drive, and MSU would muster just a field goal the rest of the way as OSU went on to win 17-16.
Ohio State would be listed as the underdog again later that same season, this time against Wisconsin. Despite being 11-0 on the year, the oddsmakers still apparently did not believe in them, as they headed into Madison as one-point underdogs against a 7-3 Badgers squad.
It was all Buckeyes early on the road, as a Philly Brown punt-return TD and a Carlos Hyde score put OSU up 14-0 in the second quarter. Wisconsin would get on the board with a TD of their own before the half, and neither team would find the end zone again until the Badgers tied the game with eight seconds remaining in the contest. The game would go to overtime, and after Ohio State scored on their first possession, the Silver Bullets were able to get the stop and win a close one — finishing 2-0 as dogs on the year.
Everything about the 2014-15 season was stacked against Ohio State, which really made it the year of the underdog for the team. After the Buckeyes lost their first home game of the campaign to Virginia Tech, it appeared as though all hopes of a national title run had vanished. The team, however, had other plans.
Ohio State first appeared as an underdog in 2014 against Michigan State on the road. The Scarlet and Gray visited the No. 8 Spartans with both teams having won their previous six games. MSU’s lone loss was at the hands of a then-No. 3 Oregon team, and they had looked pretty good from there. As a result, the Buckeyes were 3.5-point underdogs in East Lansing.
It was an offensive explosion fueled by big plays for OSU, as the team really turned it on after going down 21-14 late in the second quarter. A 79-yard TD from Michael Thomas and a 44-yard TD by Devin Smith put the Bucks back on top for the first time just before halftime, and they never looked back. Two second-half TDs by Ezekiel Elliott sandwiched a Dontre Wilson score, and Ohio State would go on to win 49-37.
Which brings us to the Buckeyes’ miraculous playoff run — all three games of which Ohio State entered as underdogs.
Beginning with Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game, the Badgers entered the contest as four-point favorites. Maybe the worst betting line of all time in hindsight, Ohio State absolutely dismantled Wisconsin 59-0 behind third-string QB Cardale Jones and a 220-yard performance on the ground by Elliott. The blowout victory was enough to earn them a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff.
Ohio State matched up with Alabama in the first round, a game in which the Crimson Tide were favored by 7.5 points. In one of the most entertaining contests the Buckeyes have played in the last decade, OSU was able to put together a full-team effort to take down the mighty Bama right in their own backyard. An 85-yard TD run by Elliott sealed the deal, and the Buckeyes were moving on to the National Championship.
Underdogs for the third game in a row, with Oregon favored by six points, Ohio State looked to finish one of the most unlikely national title runs in the sport’s history. Despite turning the ball over four times, most of which came on unforced errors, the Buckeyes were able to easily dispatch the Ducks. Elliott put the team on his back, rushing for 246 yards and four TDs as Ohio State went on to win the national title game 42-20.
Dating back to 2012, the Bucks were now 6-0 as underdogs.
A testament to the team’s puzzling year, Ohio State was listed as the underdog just once during the 2018 season — at home (!!!) to Michigan. This year’s Buckeyes were not great by any stretch of the imagination, getting blown out by Purdue and barely escaping tight contests against Maryland and Nebraska. The Wolverines, on the flip side, lost their first game of the season to Notre Dame, but had won out from there. As a result, UM entered the Horseshoe as 3.5-point favorites.
Things would not go well for Jim Harbaugh and the boys, as his team’s “Revenge Tour” came to a screeching halt in Columbus. Michigan never really had a chance, as Chris Olave burst onto the scene with two early TDs, and Dwayne Haskins hit a wide open Johnnie Dixon to put Ohio State up 21-6 in the second quarter. The Wolverines would cut that lead to just two points late in the quarter, but it was all Bucks from thereon out.
By the end of the third quarter, it was now 41-19 in favor of OSU. Two more TDs from Parris Campbell bookended a K.J. Hill score, and the Buckeyes easily came away victorious in The Game 62-39.
Dating back to 2012, Ohio State was now 7-0 in games they were not favored in.
This past season, Ohio State’s dominance in the underdog role came to a rather unfortunate ending. The undefeated Buckeyes matched up with another undefeated team in the Fiesta Bowl — the Clemson Tigers. Both teams had destroyed their opponents all season long, but the Vegas oddsmakers favored the guys in orange. OSU entered the contest as 2.5-point dogs.
We all know what happened in this game. Ohio State failed to capitalize on early red zone opportunities, Shaun Wade was ejected on a questionable targeting call, and a Buckeye touchdown was taken off the board on an incorrect overturn of a clear scoop-and-score. Even still, OSU had a chance to win the game at the end, but miscommunication between quarterback and receiver resulted in a game-ending interception, knocking Ohio State out of the playoffs and ending their undefeated streak as underdogs in a 29-23 loss.
Even with the loss to Clemson — a game in which they probably should have won if not for the questionable penalties— Ohio State’s run as underdogs has been incredibly impressive. The Buckeyes find themselves as the favorite more often than not, but even when they aren’t, they usually find a way to win.