It seems that every year the Ohio State Buckeyes are competing for national championships, playing in BCS bowls, and winning conference championships.
They are a football pipeline to the pros with 48 players on current NFL rosters. But the luster has dulled in recent years, highlighted by crushing defeats in BCS championship games.
To provide a fair assessment, it is more important to view how Ohio State ranked in the polls, and competed in bowl games during each decade over the last 40 years, the era of modern college football.
Is Ohio State overrated, or is its storied past merely overshadowed by its play in recent bowls?
The 1970s could be considered as one of Ohio State’s most successful decades, having been ranked in the Associated Press' top 10 seven times. The Big Ten competition, often referred to as the "Big Two" and "Little Eight," was minimal.
During that time, the Buckeyes went to nine bowls, and won only two. They beat a formidable Southern Cal team, and an average Colorado team. But overall, Ohio State's lofty ranking in the polls did not match its performance in the bowls.
The 1980s saw the Buckeyes ranked in the AP's top 10 only twice, but they appeared in the second 10 a respectable four times. Their bowl record improved to 5-3. They lost to Penn State, Southern Cal, and Auburn, while t hey beat Navy, Brigham Young (twice), Pittsburgh, and Texas A&M. Ohio State defeated so-so bowl teams, and underperformed once again at the upper echelon.
The Buckeyes' 1990s bowl record slipped to 3-6. Their victims included Brigham Young and Texas A&M again, and a last-second win over highly-rated Arizona State.
The loss to Air Force was Ohio State’s low point during their decade-long bowl run. They were ranked in the top 25 eight times, and included two appearances in the top 10. However, OSU continued to suffer more lackluster bowl showings.
The first 10 years of the new millennium is arguably Ohio State’s best decade, having won a controversial national championship in 2002, participating in 10 bowls, and a ranking in the top 25 eight times, seven of which were in the top 10.
But again, the Buckeyes' bowl record was a modest 5-5. The Miami and Oregon victories were the only two wins against top-notch teams. For a top-10 team most of the decade to have such a modest bowl record, is another indicator that Ohio State has been overrated.
To gain greater perspective, it is important to closely examine OSU’s record against the SEC and Southern Cal in bowls, and the regular season over the last 40 years. Ohio State is 1-10-1 against the SEC, and 1-8 against Southern Cal for an abysmal 2-18-1.
From Woody Hayes to Jim Tressel, only two victories highlight a continuing pattern of Ohio State struggles against better competition. Throw in Texas, and OSU’s record is 1-2. The lone Buckeye victory was against a four-loss Texas team.
Ohio State’s 15-21 bowl record over the past 40 years sheds light on how few and far between big time bowl wins the Buckeyes have achieved.
Forty percent of their wins came from Brigham Young, Texas A&M, and Navy. They defeated top-tier teams Southern Cal in 1973, Arizona State in 1997, Miami in 2002, and Oregon in 2009.
Despite the sparse wins against the elite, over this same time period Ohio State was one of the most highly ranked teams in the nation.
Ohio State has gained its elite reputation in the national polls by voters, who see the Buckeyes’ glowing regular season win-loss record, while failing to recognize that this record is built by piling on victories over the less than competitive Big Ten and MAC teams.
These poll numbers have elevated Ohio State’s status, but these rankings are overstated and not deserved by the way the Buckeyes have consistently performed against bowl opponents.
It appears that Ohio State has been over-hyped not just recently, but for decades.