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Buckeyes Buckeye Archive Tressel's Top Ten - Part 1
Written by Dan Wismar

Dan Wismar

Tressel_Troy06bDon’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone? - “Big Yellow Taxi” -  Joni Mitchell -

The NCAA has yet to write the final chapter of Jim Tressel’s story at Ohio State, but it’s not too soon to look back on the last ten years and acknowledge that he had a damn good run...and we, a great ride.  If nothing else, the first half of the 2011 football season should leave us with a better appreciation of just how remarkable that run was. And what better way to do that than to recall some of the best games we witnessed during Tressel’s decade on the sidelines in Columbus.

This column is less about the man than about the OSU football games he coached, but a few numbers really should be recounted here. A record at Ohio State of 106-22 (.828).....37-15 against Top 25 opponents.... 66-14 in the Big Ten....6-4 in bowl games....9-1 vs. Michigan**. He won one national championship, seven Big Ten titles, including three outright championships, and at least a share of the title in his last six consecutive seasons on the job. (** all victory numbers are before 2010 wins were vacated)

Tressel coached 80 Big Ten games and lost just 14 of them, half of those losses coming in the only two of his ten seasons (2001, 2004) in which he failed to win at least 10 games. In the six seasons from 2005-2010 his Buckeyes never lost more than one Big Ten game. He won could say at times he won boring...but mostly, he just won.

Tressel_withTeam_08Among a decade’s worth of OSU football players, Jim Tressel coached one Heisman Trophy Butkus Award Lombardi Award Thorpe Award winner... numerous All-Americans, and 14 first round NFL draft picks.

For the last decade Ohio State football has been an oasis in the desert that is Cleveland and Ohio sports. We really did know what we had before it was gone. “These are the good old days” was a regular refrain in these parts, as we encouraged each other to savor the present, because we knew it had to end sometime. And so it has.

Picking Ten

My Top Ten list surprised me a little bit as I was putting it together. It contains only two non-Michigan Big Ten games, and it has four bowl games in the top eight...evidence I guess that Tressel’s teams played some of their best football late in the season (29-4 in November). Evidence also that he routinely went through the conference schedule methodically, and without a lot of drama or flash, and often with few competitive contests.

All ten games on my list are wins, as you might imagine. To be fair I tried to come up with a loss in which the team played (or the coaches coached) extremely well...finding no really good candidates...(coming closest was the last-second Fiesta Bowl loss to Texas after the 2008 season) Neither BCS title game loss made the grade...can’t give points just for getting there. I’ve tried to pick games that were meaningful outside the context of just that particular Saturday, as you’ll see. First, a few that got a look, but didn’t make it...


Ginn_MSU04Five that missed the cut:

OSU 33 - Oklahoma State 7 - Alamo Bowl - 12/29/2004 - Justin Zwick’s moment to shine with Troy Smith suspended. Cowboys no match for the kid from Massillon

OSU 13 - Penn St. 7 - 10/26/2002 - Chris Gamble’s 40-yd interception return for a TD beats the Lions.

OSU 32 - Michigan State 19 - 11/6/2004 - Ted Ginn Jr’s coming out party...he scores on a run, a pass and a punt return to beat the Spartans. (pictured)

OSU 20 - Iowa 17 - 11/20/2010 - Pryor scrambles for 14 on 4th and 10, Herron scores late to keep Bucks in Big Ten lead.

OSU 10 - Purdue 6 - 11/9/02 - 2002 is well-represented in the Top Ten, but...this game is remembered for Krenzel’s 4th-and-1 TD pass to Michael Jenkins to preserve what became a perfect season.

Now to my Top Ten....(your mileage may vary, and I’d love to hear from you with quibbles or more serious disagreements....)


Beanie_Wisky08b#10 - OSU 20 - Wisconsin 17 - 10/4/2008 - Winning in Madison is hard...and winning there with a freshman quarterback making his third career start in a nationally-televised night game is harder still. Terrelle Pryor led two 4th quarter scoring drives, including a 12-play, 80-yard drive in the final minutes, and capped it off with an 11-yard dash on an option play for the winning TD with 1:08 to play to beat the Badgers 20-17. Call it his “coming of age” game...check that...that never happened...but this was a big win for his confidence as the starting QB for Ohio State. The game was incredibly close on the stat sheet, and came down to a gut-check drive at the end. Beanie Wells (pictured) had a monster game, with 168 yards on 22 carries, including a 33-yard TD and another 54-yard run. It was the 12th consecutive Big Ten road win for Jim Tressel (on his way to 16 straight, one shy of the record) YouTube highlights - TCF game story -



Krenzel_Mangold2003b#9 - OSU 44 - N.C. State 38 - 3OT - 9/13/2003 - Wolfpack quarterback Phillip Rivers (36 of 52, 315 yds, 4 TD) and Jerricho Cotchery (4 rec, 2 TD) helped engineer a late comeback after Ohio State had taken what looked to be a safe 24-7 lead in the 4th quarter. But Buckeye QB Craig Krenzel (26-36, 274 yds, 4 TD, 3 INT) had a big game too, matching Rivers’ 4 TD’s with one TD pass in each of the three overtime periods. This was a bizarre game in so many respects. Neither team could run the ball at all...NC St. had 21 yards on 30 tries, Ohio State 44 yards on 32 attempts. And the Buckeyes committed 14 penalties for 129 yards. No wonder it was the longest game in OSU history at 4 hours, 17 minutes, as well as being the first ever overtime game at the Horseshoe. Buckeye safety Will Allen, who made a career of last-second plays it seems, slammed into Wolfpack running back T.A. McClendon to stop him inches short of the goal line on a 4th-down play in the 3rd OT to end the game.(Krenzel pictured taking the snap from Nick Mangold)  S-R Box Score -



Hawk_Quinn05b#8 - OSU 34 - Notre Dame 20 - Fiesta Bowl - 1/2/2006 - Troy Smith gave Buckeye fans a January preview of what his 2006 was going to look like by throwing for 342 yards and two touchdowns, and rushing for 66 more, as Ohio State humbled Charlie Weis and the Irish 34-20. Smith spread the ball around to his four NFL-bound wide receivers...Tony Gonzalez, Santonio Holmes, Ted Ginn Jr and Roy Hall, and outplayed his Irish counterpart Brady Quinn. Quinn was 29 of 45, for 286 yards and no touchdowns, and he was sacked twice by his future brother-in-law, OSU linebacker A.J. Hawk (pictured rushing Quinn), who was named co-MVP of the game.

Ginn had a career day with 8 receptions for 167 yards, including a 56-yard TD, and he added a 68-yard rushing score on an end-around. Holmes set a Fiesta Bowl record with an 85-yard TD reception. The Bucks led 21-7 at the half, and although the Irish got within seven in the final quarter at 27-20, Antonio Pittman iced the game with a 60-yard touchdown run with less than two minutes to play. - YouTube highlights (8:03)


Dane_Arkansas10a#7 - OSU 31 - Arkansas 26 - Sugar Bowl - 1/4/2011 - Last January’s Sugar Bowl triumph over the Arkansas Razorbacks was Jim Tressel’s last hurrah, as it turned out. They can vacate the win for the record books, but they can’t un-play the game, and Tressel’s Buckeyes won this one by holding on desperately at the end in the face of a furious Arkansas comeback. By going into the heart of SEC country in New Orleans and breaking Ohio State’s 0-for-9 streak against SEC opponents, Jim Tressel exorcised another longstanding OSU demon. Tressel took some heat for allowing Pryor and the other suspended OSU players to participate in this game, but the decision was made jointly, and with all parties to the game...the BCS, the Big Ten, and even the University of Arkansas and coach Bobby Petrino...saying they wanted Ohio State to be at full strength. It turned out that Tressel was probably the least enthusiastic about letting the sanctioned Buckeyes take part. That said, they all had key roles in the victory.

Game MVP Terrelle Pryor ran (115 yds) and passed (14-25, 221 yds, 2 TD) the Buckeyes to a 28-7 second quarter lead while the Razorbacks were helping out the OSU defense by dropping Ryan Mallett passes left and right. Dan Herron added 97 yards rushing and a TD, and DeVier Posey hauled in a 43-yard TD pass from Pryor. Finally, the least known of the Tatgate suspendees, Solomon Thomas, saved the day for OSU when he picked off Mallett after the Razorbacks had blocked a punt to give themselves one last shot at victory. Lots of other memorable plays in this one...Dane Sanzenbacher’s scrambling fumble recovery TD (pictured) ...the controversial safety call involving Dan Herron...Herron’s first career fumble on a key 4th down play, etc. YouTube highlights - TCF game story -


Laurinaitis_TX06a#6 - OSU 24 - Texas 7 - 9/9/2006 - In the first of an unprecedented three matchups of #1 vs #2 for the Buckeyes in this ‘06 march to the BCS title game, this was a rematch of the 2005 contest won by Vince Young and the eventual national champion Longhorns. Played at Royal-Memorial Stadium in Austin, it featured a mature Troy Smith against a green Texas QB named Colt McCoy. A big momentum swing occurred midway through the first quarter when Longhorn RB Billy Pittman fumbled at the OSU 2-yard line, and Buckeye corner Donald Washington scooped it up and ran it out to the Buckeye 40. Tony Gonzalez (8 rec, 142 yds) and Ted Ginn Jr. (5 rec, 97 yds) would catch first half TD throws from the Heisman Trophy winning QB Smith, and the OSU defense rattled McCoy the rest of the way, shutting out the Longhorns in the second half. Smith was 17 of 26 for 269 yds and 2 TD’s. James Laurinaitis (10 solo, 13 total tackles) starred for the defense, forcing the early fumble, and then picking off McCoy on the first Texas possession of the second half, setting up an OSU field goal.
YouTube highlights - YouTube highlights



Worthington_Iowa09#5 - OSU 27 - Iowa 24 OT - 11/14/2009 - The 2009 Hawkeyes had surprised everyone by racing out to a 9-0 mark before stubbing their toe at Northwestern the week before the OSU game, but they still came into Columbus 9-1 and ranked No. 11 to face the 10th-ranked Buckeyes. The Big Ten title was on the line as each team had one loss in-conference and would be favorites in the season’s final week. An injured Ricky Stanzi was replaced at QB for Iowa by redshirt freshman James Vandenberg making his first start, and the Bucks were the prohibitive favorites. This game comes in at #5 because it effectively won the Big Ten for Tressel, and also gave him the shot to break his 3-game BCS losing streak, which of course he did.

Brandon Saine had a 22-yard TD run in the first half, and when he galloped 49 yards for another score in the 4th quarter, the 24-10 OSU lead smelled like roses. But Iowa’s Derrell Johnson-Koulianos ran the ensuing kickoff back for a TD, and Vandenberg engineered a late TD drive to send the game into overtime. Cam Heyward, Doug Worthington (pictured) and the rest of the Bucks defensive line stepped up in the extra session and recorded their only sack of the game to hold the Hawkeyes scoreless on their OT possession. And 26-year old ex-soccer player Devin Barclay kicked a game-winning 39-yard field goal to send Jim Tressel to his first Rose Bowl as OSU head coach. TCF game story - YouTube highlights -


Clarett_UM2002b#4 - OSU 14 - Michigan 9 - 11/23/2002 - This was Jim Tressel’s second Michigan game, and it makes this list over his first one...the one he famously promised would make OSU fans proud...not only because it was a better game, but because it completed a 13-0 season and sent the Buckeyes into the BCS title game. The Bucks had blown unbeaten seasons with losses to the hated Wolverines in both ‘95 and ‘96 (and to MSU in ‘98) so history wasn’t exactly on their side.

Maurice Clarett (pictured) who rushed for 119 yards, scored on a sweep to give the Buckeyes a 7-3 first quarter lead, but UM got two more field goals to lead 9-7 at the half, and the 3rd quarter was scoreless. Jim Tressel made a habit of saving a play for Michigan that he hadn’t shown the rest of the season, and this time he had two of them. The winning TD drive for OSU featured a 26-yard completion to Clarett on a wheel route out of the backfield down to the Michigan 6, and then one play later from the 3, they ran the only option play of the season, and Maurice Hall took the pitch from Krenzel and ran it in. OSU had to stop two late Wolverine drives, as John Navarre fumbled the ball away on a sack with 2:29 to play, and Will Allen ended the game with an interception of Navarre at the Ohio State goal line. Check the highlights for Braylon Edwards’ offensive pass interference that cost UM a touchdown in the 2nd quarter. - YouTube highlights - S-R Box


Pryor_RoseBowl09c#3 - OSU 26 - Oregon 17 - Rose Bowl - 1/1/2010 - The Buckeyes Rose Bowl victory following the 2009 season was probably the high point of Terrelle Pryor’s OSU career, and it was one of Jim Tressel’s best games as a coach, in my view. So it comes in at #3, in part for breaking Tressel’s 3-game losing streak in BCS bowl games, following two consecutive title game losses and the 2008 Fiesta Bowl disappointment against Texas. The 10-2 Ducks were touted before the game as an unstoppable offense, but the short and intermediate passing attack devised for Pryor by Tressel and his staff surprised Oregon, and the balanced offense allowed the Bucks to set a Rose Bowl record of 41:27 in time of possession. DeVier Posey (8 rec, 101 yds) and Dane Sanzenbacher (9 rec, 64 yds) were on the receiving end of a majority of Pryor’s completions.

Pryor (pictured) had an MVP performance (23-37, 266 yds, 2 TD, 72 yds rushing) with a career best at the time in passing yardage. His size and his stiff-arm gave the smaller Oregon defenders fits all night, and he converted 3rd downs when it counted. The Bucks trailed only once, at 17-16 early in the second half after Oregon scored on their first 3rd quarter possession. But they regained the lead on a field goal, and got a little bit lucky when Ducks RB LeGarrette Blount kicked his own fumble through the end zone on what looked like it might be a go-ahead TD drive for Oregon in the 3rd quarter. The OSU defense stiffened after that, and Oregon wouldn’t score again, and the Bucks won going away on the strength of Pryor’s option running late in the game. It was the first Rose Bowl win for OSU since the 1997 season, and it shook a large monkey off the program’s back. OSU Box Score and Stats - TCF game story - YouTube highlights -


TroySmith_UM06a#2 - OSU 42 - Michigan 39 - 11/18/2006 - It was billed as “The Game of the Century”, and the matchup in Columbus dripped with drama, as the 11-0 and No. 1 Buckeyes faced their second challenge of the 2006 season from a team ranked 2nd in the nation. The fact that it was also “The Game” served to multiply the tension of a moment that needed no more of it. Already at stake was a chance at an unbeaten regular season and a berth in the BCS title game. Then the day before the game, Michigan’s legendary coach Bo Schembechler passed away, as if anyone’s gut needed an extra wrenching for that afternoon. The game would not disappoint.

The Wolverines also came into The Game 11-0, and they scored on their first possession to go up 7-0, but the Buckeyes came right back to tie it on a short Troy Smith to Roy Hall TD pass. Beanie Wells put OSU ahead 14-7 with a 52-yard burst for a score, and then Smith hit Ted Ginn Jr. from 39 yards out for a 21-7 lead. Smith hooked up with Tony Gonzalez for a TD just 20 seconds before halftime to give OSU a 28-14 lead at the break, but the Wolves weren’t going to go away.  They scored the first ten points of the third quarter to draw within four midway through the period. But it took OSU just 40 seconds to extend the lead, as Antonio Pittman (18 att, 139 yds) dashed 56 yards right up the middle for a TD, and a wild second half battle was on.

Tressel_Carr06Michigan would stay close with the help of Buckeye mistakes: a tipped ball interception thrown by Smith cost the Bucks three points, and then Smith fumbled at his own 9-yard line as the third quarter ended, with Michigan capitalizing on a Mike Hart TD run. Smith would fumble again on the next OSU possession, but after the Bucks forced a punt, the Heisman winner would drive the team 83 yards for their final score, a TD pass to Brian Robiskie, for a 42-31 lead with just over five minutes to play. Smith had career highs in attempts (41) and completions (29), finishing with 316 passing yards and four TD’s. The powerful Michigan offense came back behind Chad Henne, Hart (23 att, 142 yds, 3 TD) and Mario Manningham to score with 2:18 to go, but they never got the ball back and the party was on in Columbus.

This game sealed the first outright Big Ten championship for Ohio State since 1984, and ran their unbeaten streak to 19 games. As you’ll recall, that streak ended at 19 with a resounding thud in the BCS title game against Florida, but as big games go, this was almost as big as it gets, (that’s why it’s #2). With barely a word about the game itself, our own Rich Swerbinsky captured the feeling of being there in a memorable TCF column that’s worth revisiting. -YouTube highlights

Edit: 5/19/12: This entire game is now available on YouTube here

I know there couldn’t be much suspense about which game is #1 in the Tressel Decade. Back soon with Part Two...a column dedicated to that contest.

(Here's a link to Part Two -  Tressel's Top Ten - #1 - The Title Game )


on Twitter at @dwismar


(photo credits: all photos courtesy of the archive of the incomparable Jim Davidson at

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