Trying to rank Coach Jim Tressel's seasons at Ohio State is a challenging task. How can one possibly complain about no losing seasons over a ten year span? How to rank one Big Ten championship team over another, when Tressel's teams have won or shared six straight? How to rank one Ohio State team over another by virtue of beating Michigan, when Ohio State has won the last seven times the rivals have played? Three national championship appearances, winning one?
After ten seasons, Coach Tressel's Ohio State record stands at 106-22, meaning Coach Tressel's teams average ten wins a season. If anything, I am writing this article to show Ohio State fans who may read it how fortunate they are to have Coach Tressel at the helm, and how accustomed and spoiled Ohio State fans have become to victory.
Below are my rankings of the various seasons Ohio State fans have experienced during the first ten years under Coach Tressel. As always, please feel free to offer commentary.
10. The 2001 season: Coach Tressel's first season in Columbus, and I am proud to say my lovely wife and I were in attendance for Coach Tressel's season opener and first game as Ohio State's head coach against Akron. Tressel's team gave up leads and lost at home to Wisconsin, and on the road at Penn State. Steve Bellisari was suspended in his last home game due to a DUI suspension, and Ohio State lost at home to Illinois. The saving grace of this squad was the first Ohio State victory over Michigan in Ann Arbor since 1987.
Record: 7-5, lost to South Carolina in the 2002 Outback Bowl
9. The 2004 season: Disappointing season, as Ohio State was coming off two very strong seasons in 2002 and 2003. Ohio State started out 3-0, with a stirring victory over Marshall and were ranked #7, before losing at Northwestern, to Wisconsin at home, and at Iowa. The season was salvaged by the emergence of Troy Smith at quarterback, true freshman Ted Ginn, Jr. as a punt and kickoff returner, and blowout victories at home over Michigan and against Oklahoma State in the Alamo Bowl.
Record: 8-4, defeated Oklahoma State in the 2004 Alamo Bowl
8. The 2008 season: I am rating this season here because of the expectations of this team by fans and the media going into the 2008 season. In 2008, Ohio State had a veteran team, coming off two BCS Championship Game appearances. By most accounts, Ohio State was expected to be a national championship contender, but the season was arguably lost by the end of September - RB Chris Wells was injured against Youngstown State in the opener, Ohio State barely survived against Ohio University, and then Ohio State was blown out at USC on national television. At that point, Tressel turned the team over to true freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor. Ohio State lost again in a close one to Penn State, but were able to tie Penn State for a share of its fourth straight conference title, win its fifth straight game against Michigan, and lost a close game to Texas in the 2009 Fiesta Bowl.
Record: 10-3, lost to Texas in the 2009 Fiesta Bowl
7. The 2003 season: Ohio State was preseason #2 coming into the 2003 season, and strongly considered to be a national title contender with most of its team returning from its 2002 national championship team. Just before the season, Maurice Clarett was suspended and never played for Ohio State again. Ohio State were able to win games, without the presence of a dependable running game and a strong defense. Despite the loss of Clarett, Ohio State was able to survive against Philip Rivers and North Carolina State in one of the best games I have ever witnessed in Ohio Stadium, as well as Purdue in the final home game of the season. Ohio State's hopes of repeating as national champion were dashed when defeated at Wisconsin and at Michigan. The 2003 team was the last team to suffer a defeat to Michigan.
Record: 11-2, defeated Kansas State in the 2004 Fiesta Bowl
6. The 2009 season: Ohio State opened up against a competitive Navy team, then lost at home to USC in the last moments. Ohio State won four straight, including a puzzling 31-13 win over Wisconsin, despite being outgained in every offensive category. Ohio State then went to Purdue, and were upset by the unranked Boilermakers. Ohio State was able to win the Big Ten championship with an impressive win over Iowa, won their sixth straight over Michigan, and were able to snap their bowl game losing streak at three with an impressive win over Oregon in the Rose Bowl.
Record: 11-2, defeated Oregon in the 2010 Rose Bowl
5. The 2005 season: Coming off an impressive ending to the 2004 season, Ohio State was considered a national championship contender. Ohio State opened up with a quarterback controversy between Justin Zwick and Troy Smith. After a close loss to Texas in the second game, Ohio State went with Smith as the starter for the remainder of the 2005 season, and for the remainder of both quarterbacks' careers. Ohio State was defeated at Penn State in the fifth game, making them 3-2 and eliminated from national championship consideration. Ohio State rallied to win the remainder of its games, including a thriller at Michigan, and concluded the season with a strong performance against Notre Dame in the 2006 Fiesta Bowl.
Record: 10-2, defeated Notre Dame in the 2006 Fiesta Bowl
4. The 2010 season: Similar to the 2008 season, 2010 was somewhat disappointing as Ohio State was ranked in the preseason as the #2 team in the country. Ohio State suffered its only loss at Wisconsin, but were able to secure a three-way tie with Wisconsin and Michigan State to earn a share of its sixth straight conference championship. Ohio State won its seventh straight over Michigan, and were able to defeat SEC opponent Arkansas in the 2011 Sugar Bowl to secure its first win over an SEC opponent in ten attempts.
Record: 12-1, defeated Arkansas in the 2011 Sugar Bowl
Despite being soundly beaten in both BCS Championship Games, I cannot rank the 2007 or 2006 teams low. One team has to win, another has to lose. Do you think Oklahoma fans are unhappy with playing for the title, despite losing to LSU in 2003 or USC in 2004?
3. The 2007 season: Ohio State entered 2007 on the heels of an embarrassing loss to Florida in the 2007 BCS Championship Game. Ohio State was ranked preseason # 10, and slowly rose through the rankings until becoming ranked # 1 in late October. Ohio State held onto its ranking until a tough home loss to Illinois. Ohio State rallied to defeat Michigan in Ann Arbor for its fourth straight victory in the series, then were able to secure a BCS Championship Game berth when all of the other teams ranked ahead of them lost in the last games of the season. Ohio State suffered through another tough loss in the 2008 BCS Championship Game to LSU.
Record: 11-2, lost to LSU in the 2008 BCS Championship Game
2. The 2006 season: The team that virtually every Ohio State fan believed was going to win it all from the onset of the season. Ranked # 1 at the beginning of the season, winning every game, surviving an epic battle against # 2 Michigan in Ohio Stadium...and then were blown out by Florida in the BCS Championship Game. QB Troy Smith won the Heisman Trophy, and became the first quarterback since Tippy Dye to defeat Michigan three straight times.
Record: 12-1, lost to Florida in the 2007 BCS Championship Game
1. The 2002 season: Could there be any doubt as to which team would rank at the top of this list? Ohio State started off the season ranked # 13, and slowly rose through the ranks by winning games in close, dramatic fashion. Led by the seemingly unflappable Craig Krenzel and true freshman Maurice Clarett, Ohio State survived close calls at Purdue, at Illinois, and against Michigan to secure a title shot against Miami in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl. Ohio State won against # 1 Miami (FL) in double overtime to win its first national championship since 1968.
Record: 14-0, defeated Miami (FL) in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl
Part 2: The Recruits
Part 1: The Speech