When it comes to voting and making lists, you don’t have to ask me twice. I’ll be there.
So, when Ohio State contacted me and asked me to rank its greatest football teams, it took around two seconds to say I would do it.
This fall, OSU is going to have an online contest in which fans can vote for the top Buckeyes teams in history in a brackets-style tournament.
My small role in this was to be one of the people who was asked to rank the teams for seeding and match-up purposes on the brackets.
The list includes 24 Ohio State teams from as recently as 2012 and as long ago as 1916.
Those teams were divided into three categories on my ballot. The seven OSU squads that won some version of a national championship were in one category. The six undefeated teams which weren’t national champs were in another, and the final category was a group of 11 great or near-great OSU teams.
Here’s how I ranked the teams:
In the national champions category, I put the 1968 team first, followed by the 2002 team and the 1954 team. After that, it was the 1961 team, the 1942 team, the 1970 team and the 1957 team.
The discussion of great Ohio State teams often starts with the 1968 team and there’s a reason for that. They were really good.
Going undefeated and beating Southern California and O.J. Simpson in the Rose Bowl, then rolling over Michigan 50-14 in its final two games, solidified its case for being OSU’s most successful team ever.
Full disclosure, there might be a slight personal factor in this choice. The first Ohio State game I ever saw in person was the famed 13-0 win over Purdue in 1968.
The 2002 team is often underrated because it played so many close games on its way to a 14-0 record. But its 14 wins were four more than any other OSU national champion and it knocked off a Miami team on a 34-game winning streak in the title game.
The 1954 team came in third on my champions list because it was the only other undefeated, untied team in the category.
In the undefeated but not national champion category, there was quite a bit of internal debate before I went with the 1973 team, which was 10-0-1, over the 2012 team that was 12-0 in Urban Meyer’s first season in Columbus.
I’m not sure the 1973 team was even the best team in the Big Ten that season. After a 10-10 tie with Michigan, the Big Ten voted to send the Buckeyes to the Rose Bowl, mainly because Michigan quarterback Dennis Franklin had a broken collarbone.
But I gave the 1973 Buckeyes the edge over the 2012 team because they dominated No. 7 Southern California in the Rose Bowl and outscored their first nine opponents 361-33 before the Michigan game. On the other hand, the 2012 team had close calls against some teams which weren’t impressive early and didn’t get to play in a bowl game.
Actually, some of the toughest calls were in the almost-great category, maybe because I saw every game eight of those teams played.
Maybe the most difficult thing was that each of the teams had one, maybe two stumbles that kept them from being among the all-time greats at OSU. It was almost like it came down to deciding which loss was worse.
I picked them in this order: 1969, 1998, 1975, 1996, 2005, 1995, 1979, 2006, 1974, 2009 and 1993.
Before the legendary 24-12 upset at Michigan, the 1969 team was being labeled possibly the best Ohio State team ever.
The 1998 team never was proclaimed the greatest, but it was dominant except for 30 minutes in one game. It’s still hard to believe it let a 15-point lead get away in the second half of a loss to Michigan State.
The 1975 team had the only two-time Heisman Trophy winner, Archie Griffin. And it was undefeated until a 23-10 loss to UCLA in the Rose Bowl after beating the Bruins by three touchdowns during the regular season.
The 1996 team rolled through the season before losing to Michigan, but bounced back to win the Rose Bowl with a Joe Germaine-led drive in the final minute.
The 2005 team had two losses but has long been the team I’ve called the most talented of the Jim Tressel era. Take away Troy Smith’s suspension and slow start early in the season and they might have made a run at a national championship.
The 1995 team also had two losses. But it goes high on my list for having one of the greatest offenses ever at Ohio State with Eddie George, Orlando Pace, Terry Glenn and Bob Hoying on that side of the ball.
The 1979 team was unbeaten until the Rose Bowl in Earle Bruce’s first season as coach.
The 2006 team probably suffers more in the rankings than it should because of the 41-14 beating it took from Florida in the national championship game. Maybe it is ranked too low. But the image of that game is hard to get away from.