At 8 p.m. on New Year’s Eve, the fourth-ranked Buckeyes will face No. 1 Georgia in the Peach Bowl in Atlanta for a spot in the national championship game on Jan. 9 in Los Angeles.
Any bowl game presents a team the Buckeyes have rarely, if ever, faced in the school’s long history, and that is the case with the Bulldogs. This matchup has only been played once, nearly 20 years ago, and featured a face now known across the college football broadcasting realm.
Despite a lack of history against Georgia, the Buckeyes are familiar with the College Football Playoff with this their fifth appearance in the nine years this format has decided the national champion. OSU’s six previous playoff games are a hodgepodge of lopsided losses, controversial contests, and performances etched in program history.
Here is a look back at these seven games:
1993 Citrus Bowl: Georgia 21, Ohio State 14
The site for the Buckeyes’ only game against Georgia was in Orlando, Florida, on New Year’s Day 1993. OSU was ranked No. 14 entering the bowl with an 8-2-1 record under coach John Cooper in a season where the Buckeyes tied Michigan at Ohio Stadium.
The Bulldogs were coached by Ray Goff and were 9-2 coming into Orlando after losing to Tennessee and Florida, looking to continue a winless record for Cooper in bowl games.
Despite clear skies and beautiful Florida weather, Ohio State quarterback and now college football broadcaster Kirk Herbstreit could not get the passing game going. He completed just 8 of 24 passes for 110 yards. The offense for both teams was highlighted by its star running backs.
Georgia took the lead in the first quarter with Garrison Hearst’s 1-yard touchdown run, the first of five rushing TDs between both teams inside the 5-yard line. A late second-quarter Robert Smith TD from a yard out tied the score at 7 going into halftime.
The Bulldogs came flying out to start the third quarter with a 49-yard kick return by Andre Hastings setting up quarterback Eric Zeier and Hearst in OSU territory. A five-play drive capped by another short Hearst TD gave UGA the lead.
After a second Robert Smith TD run late in the third, the game hit a stalemate until a ground-and-pound score from Frank Harvey with four minutes to go. Hearst’s 163-yard game on the ground earned him Citrus Bowl MVP. The loss was OSU’s fourth straight in a bowl game.
2020 national championship: No. 1 Alabama 52, No. 3 Ohio State 24
The last time Ohio State played a playoff game and an SEC team was nearly two years ago. It’s a match Buckeyes fans perhaps would like to erase from their memories.
In the COVID-19-shortened season, the Buckeyes made the national title game in Miami to play an Alabama team that had five extra games under its belt. An even first quarter was as close as the game got when Alabama and Heisman-winning receiver DeVonta Smith punched hard at the Buckeyes’ defense in the second.
At halftime, the Crimson Tide led 35-17 and Smith had caught three touchdown passes. His 215 receiving yards, coupled with a five-touchdown, 464-yard performance from Alabama quarterback Mac Jones, made the Tide the champions of an odd season.
On a positive note for the Buckeyes, they will likely be the only team ever to make the playoff having played just six regular-season games.
2020 Sugar Bowl: No. 3 Ohio State 49, No. 2 Clemson 28
After a 6-0 regular season due to the COVID-19 pandemic condensing the Big Ten schedule, Ohio State came into its playoff semifinal against Clemson as the underdog. With fewer games played and two previous playoff losses to the Tigers, the Buckeyes silenced their critics and came out to play at the Sugar Bowl on New Year’s Day 2021.
Both teams traded multiple touchdowns after one quarter before Justin Fields and the OSU offense took over the game. Fields threw three touchdown passes in the second quarter, connecting with tight end Jeremy Ruckert twice and Chris Olave once to get the Buckeyes into halftime up by 21 points.
With Clemson scoring first in the third, Fields left little doubt the Scarlet & Grey would finally beat Clemson as he threw a 56-yard TD pass to Olave and a 45-yard TD pass to Jameson Williams to complete a six-touchdown day at the Superdome in New Orleans.
The victory was the Buckeyes’ first in the playoff in more than five years and proved to the nation they had what it took, despite such a limited regular-season schedule.
2019 Fiesta Bowl: No. 3 Clemson 29, No. 2 Ohio State 23
The final Buckeyes game of the 2010s was an enthralling albeit controversial contest against defending national champion Clemson on Dec. 28, 2019. The semifinal was also the first playoff game for Ohio State under coach Ryan Day.
OSU blitzed to a three-score lead in the first half, going up 16-0, with a 68-yard TD run from quarterback J.K. Dobbins. The Tigers roared back, with two quick scores in the last two minutes of the second quarter, to cut the deficit to two points.
Fortunes began to shift toward Clemson as a roughing-the-punter penalty by the Buckeyes allowed the Tigers to keep the ball. That possession ended with a 53-yard TD run by Travis Etienne to give Clemson the lead.
Shortly after, the Buckeyes believed they scored a defensive touchdown with Jeff Okudah seemingly stripping the ball out of Justyn Ross’ hands after a catch and returning the fumble to the end zone. Upon review, officials ruled Ross did not establish possession, making the result of the play an incomplete pass.
Ohio State grabbed a two-point lead early in the fourth quarter as Fields found Olave on a fourth-and-2 play. But it was Clemson’s night as Etienne scampered past Ohio State defenders for his third touchdown. A heartbreaking loss left Buckeye fans wondering, “What if that scoop-and-score had counted?”
2016 Fiesta Bowl: No. 2 Clemson 31, No. 3 Ohio State 0
The third and final playoff game under coach Urban Meyer put a damper on New Year’s Eve parties for Ohio State fans. The third-ranked Buckeyes could not get anything going against Deshaun Watson and the Tigers.
After going down 17-0 at halftime, the Buckeyes still couldn’t get past a stalwart Clemson defense that allowed only 215 yards. The game, in Glendale, Arizona, catapulted Clemson to its signature national title win over Alabama a week later.
The loss is only the second time the Buckeyes scored zero points in a bowl game, the other being a 1921 Rose Bowl loss to California 28-0. It also continued a dubious streak for Big Ten teams, marking consecutive playoffs the conference didn’t score a point. In 2015, Michigan State had lost 38-0 to Alabama in the Cotton Bowl.
After this OSU loss, no Big Ten teams made the playoff until the Buckeyes in 2019. That scoreless playoff streak lasted four years.
2014 national championship: No. 4 Ohio State 42, No. 2 Oregon 20
The first College Football Playoff national championship game holds a special place in the sport’s history and particularly for Buckeyes fans. As the No. 4 seed, OSU was given little chance to win it all. The Buckeyes proved doubters wrong by beating No. 1 Alabama and then No. 2 Oregon.
On Jan. 12, 2015, the Buckeyes came in hot against a Ducks team led by Heisman winner Marcus Mariota. The legend of Ezekiel Elliott in scarlet and gray was completed as the future Dallas Cowboys running back, playing in their home stadium in Arlington, Texas, ran for 246 yards and scored four touchdowns.
The win — which featured Elliott, third-string quarterback Cardale Jones and a starting defense with eight future NFL draft picks — vindicated the playoff format to give more than two teams a shot at winning a national championship.
2014 Sugar Bowl: No. 4 Ohio State 42, No. 1 Alabama 35
Just hours after Oregon beat Florida State 59-20 in the first College Football Playoff game, the No. 4 Buckeyes and No. 1 Crimson Tide took the field in New Orleans on New Year’s Day 2015.
The Buckeyes had played their way into the inaugural playoff with Cardale Jones leading them to a 59-0 Big Ten championship game win over Wisconsin and a date with Alabama. Both teams were chock full of future NFL stars, and the 60 minutes of football did not disappoint.
With Alabama up 21-6, the Buckeyes scored two late second-quarter touchdowns to make it a one-point lead for the Tide at halftime. The start of the second half had Buckeyes fans feeling euphoric, with Jones launching a deep pass to Devin Smith for a 47-yard TD catch that was followed by Steve Miller returning an interception for a touchdown.
Up by only six in the fourth, Elliott sprinted down the Superdome turf on an 85-yard touchdown run to secure the first upset in College Football Playoff history.