Ohio State’s SEC Bowl Game Struggles
Ohio State has had its difficulties when playing SEC teams in bowl games. Not even the most die-hard Ohio State fan could deny it: The Buckeyes, historically, have had a dismal record against the SEC. Ohio State’s struggles against the SEC date to 1978, when they were pummeled by Alabama, 35–6, in the Sugar Bowl. Still, Ohio State may be bouncing back: The school beat Arkansas, 31–26, in the 2011 Sugar Bowl, but the Buckeyes had to vacate the victory later that year under a cloud of NCAA sanctions. Ohio State even managed a degree of revenge, beating Alabama 42–35 in the 2015 Sugar Bowl on the way to winning the national championship that year.
Read on to learn about Ohio State’s losses—and some recent successes—against SEC bowl opponents.
1995 Citrus Bowl: Alabama 24, Ohio State 17
Ohio State lost to SEC opponent Auburn, 31–14, in the 1990 Hall of Fame Bowl followed by a loss to Georgia, 21–14, in the 1993 Florida Citrus Bowl. Ohio State’s next trip to the Citrus Bowl was in 1995 when it lost to Alabama 24–17. Ohio State was actually leading the game 14–7 late in the second quarter, but the Crimson Tide managed to knot the score at 14 just before the half. The game remained tied through a scoreless third quarter. After each team kicked a field goal in the final period, the game remained tied, 17–17, late in the quarter. But Alabama scored the winning touchdown with only 42 seconds remaining in the game when Crimson Tide quarterback Jay Barker hit Sherman Williams for a 50-yard touchdown reception and a 24–17 Crimson Tide victory, continuing Ohio State’s SEC curse.
1996 Citrus Bowl: Tennessee 20, Ohio State 14
Ohio State came into the Citrus Bowl with a 10–1 record, having lost its only regular season game 31-23 to rival, the Michigan Wolverines. That game was considered an upset, and that lone loss cost Ohio State a chance to play in the Rose Bowl—and for the national championship. Instead, Ohio State was matched up against SEC rival Tennessee, which also came into the game having posted a 10–1 regular-season record. Still, the Ohio State curse vs. SEC teams in bowl games continued, and it lost a close one to Tennessee. The game was actually tied 7–7 at halftime, but the Volunteers scored 13 points in the second half against only seven for Ohio State.
2002 Outback Bowl: South Carolina 31, Ohio State 28
This game was actually a rematch of the 2001 Outback Bowl, when South Carolina—led by legendary coach Lou Holz—had blown out Ohio State, 24–7. Though the 2002 game was much closer with Ohio State losing by just three points, the result was the same—an Ohio State loss to an SEC bowl opponent. The Gamecocks led 28–0 late in the third quarter, and the game looked to be another blowout. But, Ohio State made a furious comeback attempt, scoring a touchdown in the third quarter and 21 points in the fourth. Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, South Carolina managed a single field goal in the fourth quarter, and those three points were enough for the win.
2007 BCS Championship: Florida 41, Ohio State 14
Ohio State had not lost a game in the 2006 season, earning the chance to play for the national championship in the title game at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, on Jan. 8, 2007. Ohio State was even named the country’s No. 1 team in both the coaches and Associated Press polls as well as in the Bowl Championship Series rankings. Florida, by contrast, came into the game 12–1 record, having lost to Auburn during the regular season. Nevertheless, the Gators trounced the Buckeyes, winning the national championship. Ironically, Florida’s coach at the time was Urban Myer, who would later go on to coach Ohio State’s football team.
2008 BCS Championship: LSU 38, Ohio State 24
The year saw Ohio State post another No. 1 ranking coming into the BCE championship, while its SEC opponent again came in ranked No. 2: It made little difference as the result was the same. Many sports analysts had predicted that Ohio State would finally grab the national title this year. Indeed, Ohio State actually led 10–0 after the first quarter. “Things had to look easy at this point for Ohio State, seeing as how the Buckeyes gave up just a nation-leading average of 10.0 points per game (during the regular season),” noted the Allstate Sugar Bowl website. “This one, to some, must have seemed over.” But, it was not to be: The LSU Tigers, with an 11–2, record coming into the bowl game, handily defeated the Buckeyes, securing the win with a 21-point second quarter.
2011 Sugar Bowl: Ohio State 31, Arkansas 26
Ohio State seemingly broke its SEC bowl curse in the 2011 Sugar Bowl, outscoring Arkansas 28–10 in the first half. But, even this game—which the Buckeyes had seemed to have well in hand—turned into a nailbiter as the Razorbacks made a comeback attempt in the second half, putting up 16 second-half points, compared to just three for the Buckeyes. Still, Ohio State won the game, finally succeeding against an SEC bowl opponent.
2012 Gator Bowl: Florida 24, Ohio State 17
Though the teams were ranked much lower than in their previous meeting for the 2007 BCS championship game, this game was essentially a rematch, pitting Ohio State against yet another SEC opponent in a bowl game. And, the teams were tied 7–7 late in the first half. But, the Gators outstanding special teams play—including a kickoff returned for a touchdown and a blocked punt returned for a touchdown—led to a Florida win and a continuation of Ohio State’s difficulty in matching up with SEC opponents in bowl games.
2015 Sugar Bowl: Ohio St 42, Alabama 35
Ohio State turned the tables on the SEC in the 2015 Sugar Bowl. The Buckeyes came into the Jan. 1 game ranked No. 4 in the AP poll, No. 4 in the coaches poll and No. 4 in the Bowl Championship Series ranking. By contrast, Alabama was ranked No. 1 across the board. This game was not for the national championship; it was one of two games in a mini-tournament that would determine which squads would play for the national title. After knocking off Alabama, Ohio State earned a spot in the national title game, where it easily defeated the Oregon Ducks 42–20.
2016 Fiesta Bowl: Clemson Tigers 31, Ohio State 0
Though Ohio State had seemingly excised its SEC bowl curse with its win over Alabama the previous year, the Buckeyes again suffered a loss to a Southeastern Conference opponent—its worst bowl defeat in school history. “Clemson became just the second team in college football history to shut out Ohio State (11–2) in a bowl game, joining U.C. Berkeley in the 1921 Rose Bowl,” notes Wikipedia. Ohio State’s coach Urban Meyer expressed shock at the loss: “Ohio State’s not used to this, I’m not used to this, and we will not get used to this,” he told CBS Sports. Only the future will tell if Ohio State’s SEC bowl curse continues.