Buckeyes plan to keep Ohio teams on football schedule

Published 11:52 am Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Associated Press

COLUMBUS — Imagine an Ohio State team allowing just 14 points all season with a defense putting up five shutouts, one of which was an impressive 14-0 victory over archrival Michigan.

Pretty good season, right?

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But that 1921 campaign also marked the last time the Buckeyes lost to an in-state school. On Oct. 8, Oberlin hung a humiliating 7-6 defeat on Ohio State.

Since that game, which predated now ancient Ohio Stadium, the biggest school in the Buckeye state has gone 40-0-1 against Ohio teams.

“If Mars had dropped from its place in the solar system and bumped into Mother Earth yesterday, it wouldn’t have caused any greater surprise in Columbus than that kicked up by little Oberlin when it licked Ohio State’s football team 7 to 6 in the Buckeyes’ own back yard,” read The Ohio State Journal’s report from the game.

The game was played before 9,000 at Ohio Field which was, basically, a field on campus.

In its 121 years of football, Ohio State has played in-state teams 240 times. On Saturday, the second-ranked Buckeyes will pay Ohio University $850,000 to make the hour-long trip north to Columbus for a noon kickoff to be the 241st.

When the college sport was just getting started, Ohio State played almost exclusively Ohio teams because travel in those days was slow and costly. Then, in 1934, not long after a 76-0 rout of Western Reserve, the Buckeyes stopped playing schools from within the borders until a contest with Bowling Green in 1992.

The Falcons almost made Ohio State regret the scheduling decision, hanging with the 22nd-ranked Buckeyes all day before falling 17-6.

Most years since then, at least one or even two in-state schools have dotted Ohio State’s schedule. It’s been a win-win, with Ohio State getting a lucrative home date, the other school getting a sizable check for its trouble and the money staying within the state.

“It works well for us,” Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said. “When I came here (in 2005), (coach Jim Tressel) and I had a conversation about our schedule and we decided to try and schedule MAC schools. Then we went to the 12th game. We really got on it hard to try and schedule MAC schools, but with the real focus on Ohio. So we’ve been able to make it happen so far. Hopefully, we can keep it going.”

Tressel believes there are benefits for all.

“It’s a special opportunity for people to play in the Horseshoe and it’s a financial gain for sister institutions,” he said. “It’s probably not the easiest thing for the home team because you don’t want to not do well against your in-state brethren. It’s been a real part of the last few years of Ohio State football and I think it’s been a positive thing.”

There have been some close calls, but for the most part the Buckeyes have dominated. Over the 20 games played since 1992, the Buckeyes have outscored their neighboring rivals by an average of 34-10.

The last time Ohio came to town, the Bobcats led 14-12 going into the fourth quarter against the nation’s No. 3-ranked team. The Buckeyes scored twice to win 25-14.

“We could be playing Pickerington High School and we wouldn’t be looking past them,” Ohio State offensive lineman Justin Boren said, using his former high school as a reference point. “It’s OU. They’re a good team. We almost lost in 2008.”

The lone game played away from Ohio Stadium since the in-state games returned to Ohio State’s schedule in 1992 was one of the most memorable. The Buckeyes would go on to win the 2002 national championship with a 14-0 record, but they were fortunate to survive a 23-19 victory over Cincinnati at Paul Brown Tiger Stadium in that season’s fourth game. Bearcats receivers dropped two potential game-winning touchdown passes in the closing seconds of that game.

“We haven’t played a good game every time we’ve played in-state foes,” Tressel said. “Cincinnati catches a pass in the corner of the end zone, you know, we don’t have a (championship) ring.”

Smith says the in-state games are ideal for everybody — until the Buckeyes lose one.

“It’s risky,” he said. “We understand that because every now and then there’s a program that can get us. … But it’s the right thing to do, to be able to keep the money in state and help those schools.”

Ohio State, by the way, is favored by 31 1/2 points against Ohio in the latest matchup.

The old newspaper account of that 1921 loss to Oberlin provides a cautionary tale for future Buckeyes teams.

“The real story of what happened is brief,” the Journal article said. “The Buckeye eleven entered the contest confident that no matter what happened Ohio State would win. Oberlin licked the Buckeyes in a fair and square manner and deserved the victory.”