COLUMBUS — ESPN’s list of the 150 best college football teams of all time included six entries from Ohio State football.
The Buckeye entries ranged from Carroll Widdoes’ 9-0 squad in 1944 to Urban Meyer’s College Football Playoff champion in 2014.
Those are not the only six times Ohio State is mentioned on the list, however. Sometimes a program’s greatness over time can be measured, in part, by being the team someone else needed to beat to achieve their own greatness.
On 10 occasions, a team’s win, loss or tie against the Buckeyes directly influenced their own claim to a place on the list. Of those 10 teams, eight ended their season with a victory over the Buckeyes.
Coming in at No. 30, the 1979 USC team that beat previously unbeaten and top-ranked Ohio State 17-16 in the Rose Bowl. Five years earlier, a Trojans team that made the list at No. 70 needed a two-point conversion in the final minutes to edge OSU 18-17.
The 2006 Buckeyes took the top ranking into the BCS National Championship but got walloped 41-14 by Florida, ranked No. 84 on this list. Bear Bryant’s 1977 Alabama squad finished second in the polls but made this list at No. 93 by crushing a top-10 Ohio State team 35-6 in the Sugar Bowl. A 28-0 shutout of the Buckeyes in the Rose Bowl was one of five posted by the 1920 Cal Bears, who came in at No. 139.
The 1947 Michigan team made the list (No. 97) in part because it beat Ohio State 21-0 for the right to go to the Rose Bowl, then leveled USC 49-0. The 1973 Wolverines were No. 103 on the list, though that Ohio State team fought to a 10-10 tie and was voted as the Big Ten’s Rose Bowl representative by league athletic directors.
It appears only one team made the list despite losing to Ohio State — Miami’s 2002 national runner-up (No. 77), which came up on the short end of that double-overtime championship game.
More recently, Clemson’s 2016 national championship squad beat Ohio State 31-0 in the CFP semifinals.
Could a similarly pivotal game await the current Buckeyes? I’m skeptical. None of the other Big Ten teams, including Michigan, seem like a “top 150” contender in real time. Perhaps if Ohio State runs the table and matches up with Clemson or someone else among the national elites, it can have a say in whether that opponents makes one of these lists in the future.