The Big Ten team of the decade is overwhelmingly Ohio State.
Perhaps the biggest moment of the decade that Ohio State fans will always remember came shortly after Head Coach Jim Tressel was hired from Youngstown State in 2001. He stood at midcourt at halftime of an OSU basketball game and declared “I can assure you that you will be proud of your young people in the classroom, in the community, and most especially in 310 days in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on the football field.”
He made good on that promise and has won eight-of-nine against rival Michigan, including the last six in a row.
The following year, Tressel guided Ohio State to its first national championship in 34 years, beating Miami in double overtime in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl. He then watched his star freshman running back, Maurice Clarett, try to challenge the NFL’s draft eligibility rules and then wind up in jail.
The Buckeyes didn’t let down after that, though, winning Big Ten titles in each of the final five years of the decade and playing for the national championship twice more.
In 2006, undefeated and first-ranked Ohio State squared off in the Horseshoe against undefeated, second-ranked Michigan. Many billed it as “The Game of the Century” and it lived up to the hype. Ohio State won 42-39, earning a trip to the BCS National Championship game where it lost to Florida 41-14.
A year later, the Buckeyes went back to the title game, losing again to another team from the SEC, LSU, 38-24.
Nevertheless, by playing in three national title games in one decade and winning one, Ohio State proved it was the cream of the crop in the Big Ten.
The Buckeyes compiled a 102-25 record (64-16 in the Big Ten), thanks in large part to having the best scoring defense, allowing just 15 points per game over the course of the decade.
The Bucks’ defense was so good in the final four years of the decade that it gave up an average of just 11.6 points per game over that four-year span.
In addition to team accomplishments, Ohio State also led the conference in individual accomplishments, highlighted by quarterback Troy Smith’s Heisman Trophy in 2006 – the only Heisman of the decade for the Big Ten.
Twenty-nine Buckeyes earned All-American honors, including 13 first-teamers. Five Buckeyes were named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year (safety Mike Doss in 2002, defensive end Will Smith in 2003, linebacker A.J. Hawk in 2005, and linebacker James Laurinaitis in 2007 and 2008). Troy Smith also garnered Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year honors in 2006.
Ohio State dominated all other conference schools in players drafted, with a whopping 63, an average of seven per season. Fifteen of those were taken in the first round.
Although Buckeye fans sometimes criticize Tressel for his conservative “Tresselball” philosophy, it has succeeded in making Ohio State the top program in the Big Ten for the last decade.
With quarterback Terrelle Pryor a junior in 2010 and two years of experience under his belt, Ohio State figures to be the team everyone is chasing once again into the new decade.