Sing it, Reba.
Some days sure are lonely days
And time can move so slow
When you’re all dressed up
With nowhere to go
Figured a column about Ohio State’s 12-0 football season — cut short because the Buckeyes are banned from a bowl — could use some musical accompaniment. Urban Meyer’s latest juggernaut, fourth-ranked in the latest AP poll, could well wind up as the only undefeated FBS team in the land, depending on what happens to Notre Dame (also 12 for 12) in the national title game. But if you do the crime, you’ve gotta do the time. And just as there are no medals for trying, there should be no tears for NCAA scofflaws.
That said, Ohio State is to be commended for keeping its emotions in check, for not taking it out on its opponents the way, say, Houston did in 1968. The Cougars, in the last of a three-year jail term, ran it up on Tulsa that season to the tune of 100-6. Forty-nine of their points came in the fourth quarter, a record for superfluousness that probably will never be broken. But that wasn’t the worst of it. The worst of it was that their next-to-last touchdown came on a pass to little-used receiver Larry Gatlin. Yes, that Larry Gatlin — the oldest of the singing Gatlin Brothers. It was the only TD of his college career.
The most points Ohio State dropped on anybody this season was 63 against Nebraska. And the guy who scored their next-to-last touchdown that day, running back Rod Smith, can’t carry a tune nearly as well as Larry Gatlin. So again, the Buckeyes showed remarkable restraint in these trying times. They won all of their games, but they weren’t obnoxious about it.
It makes you wonder, though: Is Ohio State the best team ever barred from a bowl? According to my research, only four programs have ever been in their position — that is, have posted a perfect record while being excluded from the postseason. Here’s how I’d rank them, in reverse order:
4. Auburn, 1993 (11-0) — Transgression: paying a player. As an added punishment, the Tigers couldn’t appear on TV. No matter. Under first-year coach Terry Bowden, they beat Florida (then No. 4) and Alabama (then No. 11) to get through the schedule unscathed. Top players: QB Stan White, RB James Bostic, WR Frank Sanders, OL Wayne Gandy and Willie Anderson. Redskins connection: RB Stephen Davis. Final AP ranking: fourth. Verdict: A terrific team in the years before the SEC resembled a conference in the NFL.
3. Ohio State, 2012 (12-0) — Transgressions: failure to monitor, players improperly selling memorabilia. The Buckeyes had close calls against California (35-28 on a late touchdown), Michigan State (17-16), Indiana (52-49!), Purdue (29-22 in overtime), Wisconsin (21-14 in OT) and Michigan (26-21) but always found a way. Top players: QB Braxton Miller, QB Braxton Miller, QB Braxton Miller and QB Braxton Miller (15 TDs passing, 13 rushing). Redskins connections: To be determined. AP ranking: fourth. Verdict: Normally they’d be ranked higher, but the Big Ten was down and they weren’t really that much better, head to head, than the other teams in the conference. Miller’s talents, though give them the nod over the ‘93 Auburn club.
2. Auburn, 1957 (10-0) — Transgressions: recruiting violations. Shug Jordan’s Tigers are pretty much forgotten today, but they outscored their foes 207-28, recorded six shutouts and never allowed more than seven points in a game. Top players: WR Jimmy Phillips (sixth in the Heisman Trophy voting), C-LB Jackie Burkett. Redskins connections: None. Final AP ranking: first. Verdict: They probably were the best team in the country, though Woody Hayes’ Ohio State club (10-1) was No. 1 in the United Press poll. They get bonus points, too, for going 9-0-1 the next season, when they also faced a bowl ban.
1. Oklahoma, 1974 (11-0) — Transgression: academic skulduggery. This was the Sooners’ second year in the NCAA hoosegow (and Barry Switzer’s second as coach). Boy, were they loaded. Running their vaunted Wishbone offense, they squeaked out a 72-3 win over Utah State and edged Wake Forest and Kansas State by identical 63-0 scores. Top players: RB Joe Washington, LB Rod Shoate and the ferocious Selmon brothers, DL Lee Roy and Dewey. (The oldest, Lucious, had graduated.) Redskins connections: Washington, DB Tony Peters. Final AP ranking: first. Verdict: Imagine Navy with much better athletes and a world-class defense. That’s what OU was like. In the ‘76 NFL draft, Lee Roy Selmon, Washington and WR Billy Brooks went 1-4-11. We’re talking about one of the greatest teams of all time.
There you have it, folks, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (NCAA enforcement division). Too bad they can’t get together and have a tournament of their own — kind of a consolation bracket. Of course, if the Mayans are right, the world will end Dec. 21, so Ohio State might not miss out on anything, anyway.