It's almost hard to believe that Jim Tressel is entering his 10th season as head coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes this coming season.
During that span, there have been many big wins, as well as also some not-so-pleasant, soul-crushing losses as any die-hard Buckeye follower can tell you.
The expectations that the Buckeye Nation place upon their team, and ultimately Coach Tressel, are always high.
That often includes frustration and criticism from fans of his patented "Tressel-ball " style, which has led to some of the most excruciating losses of his tenure.
As much as some fans complain about Tressel at times, it makes one wonder if they don't need to step back and take a look at the big picture.
It's hard to argue against the man when considering the resume he has put together—bringing Ohio State their first national title in football in over 30 years, three BCS title game appearances, flat-out owning the Buckeyes' hated rival Michigan—all amounting to a record of 94-21.
Of those 94 wins, I have selected the 10 best.
The 2004 Fiesta Bowl pitted No. 8 and Big 12 Champion Kansas State (11-3) against No. 6 Ohio State (10-2).
The Wildcats, who were on a seven-game winning streak, the latest a 35-7 pounding of then-No. 1 and unbeaten Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game, were expected by many of the "experts" to defeat the Buckeyes.
Buckeye QB Craig Krenzel and the Ohio State defense had other plans.
Krenzel, who finished his Ohio State career 24-3 as a starter, matched his career high with four touchdown passes, and the top-ranked rushing defense in the country held All-American Darren Sproles to a season-low 38 yards on 13 carries and quarterback Ell Roberson to just 20/51 passing for 294 yards, no touchdowns, and an interception.
Although the final score (35-28) seemed close, the actual game was never that close until Ohio State, leading 35-14 in the fourth quarter, pulled most of their defensive starters.
In true Jim Tressel fashion, the Buckeyes "held on" for the "W."
A win is a win is a win, right?
From 1988 to 2000 under John Cooper, Ohio State went a dismal 2-10-1 vs. Michigan in "The Game," and Cooper sealed his fate when he said the annual rivalry was just another game.
Enter Jim Tressel.
After winning four I-AA national titles at Youngstown State, the former Buckeye assistant and homegrown "Ohio boy" (unlike Cooper) was hired over Glen Mason, and the rest to date, as they say, has been history.
Also unlike Cooper, Tressel immediately placed special emphasis on the rivalry.
On January 18th, 2001 during halftime of a home Ohio State basketball game, coincidentally against Michigan, Tressel made a very bold statement to the Buckeye fans in attendance, and I quote:
"I can assure you that you'll be proud of our young people—in the classroom, in the community, and most especially, in 310 days in Ann Arbor, Michigan on the football field."
Talk about setting an accurately prophetic tone.
That fall in Ann Arbor, Ohio State (6-4) was unranked, and the Wolverines (8-2) were ranked 11th.
After building a 23-0 halftime lead behind running back Jonathan Wells, the Bucks withstood Michigan's comeback bid to secure a 26-20 victory, their first win in Michigan over the Wolverines in 14 years.
It's as if Michigan was Charlie Root and Tressel was Babe Ruth . He called his shot in January, and then, true to his words, he hit it out of the park in November.
In what was an otherwise disappointing 2004 season, Ohio State (6-4) was once again unranked entering the Michigan game. The Wolverines (9-1) were ranked No. 7, their then-only loss coming early in the season to Notre Dame.
Led by QB Troy Smith and WR Ted Ginn, the underdog Buckeyes posted a 20-14 halftime lead against heavily-favored Michigan.
Smith tossed two touchdowns and passed for 241 yards and also ran for 145 yards and a score, while Ginn set a school and conference record with his fourth punt return for a touchdown as the Buckeyes coasted to a 37-21 victory, Tressel's third in four meetings.
Former Buckeye Maurice Clarett had made his false "money for nothing, academic fraud, and free car" accusations against Tressel and the University during the 2004 season.
With that cloud hanging over the program, and with several unexpected losses prior to the UM game, Buckeye Nation needed this one badly to salvage the season, and once again, The Vest delivered on and off the field. He and the University were cleared by the NCAA of any wrongdoing.
Last year, after a hard-to-swallow loss at home to USC (after which, many fans were calling for Tressel's head on a platter) and the stunning road loss to Purdue (after which many fans were calling for a change at QB), the Buckeyes could have thrown in the towel.
Instead, Coach Tressel tightened the leash on Terrelle Pryor and shifted the emphasis back to what he does best in a pinch—Tressel-ball , i.e. a strict ball control offense, the field position edge, reliable special teams play, and great defense.
The No. 16 Buckeyes (7-2) headed to Happy Valley to face the No. 11 Penn State Nittany Lions (8-1). Penn State, whose only loss was a 21-10 defeat at home to unbeaten Iowa, was still clearly favored by the media and even the doomsday "fans" of the Buckeyes.
Several cocky and classless Penn State fans all but predicted a massacre and had planned to distribute "Terrelle Cryer" t-shirts for the students to wear during the "whiteout."
As it turned out, Terrelle and company would come away smiling and victorious, and Penn State would be left saddened, dazed and confused.
Pryor, who is from Western Pennsylvania, accounted for three scores in one of the best games of his Buckeye career, while PSU's veteran QB Daryll Clark, who hails from Eastern Ohio, had one of his worst against the Buckeyes' smothering defense.
It was sweet revenge for Pryor and Ohio State, as Penn State had snapped a 30 year losing streak in Columbus a year earlier when Pryor lost a fumble on an ill-advised ad-lib, which that led to the game's only touchdown and ultimately, the win for PSU.
In only the fifth meeting ever between two of college football's most storied programs, No. 4 Ohio State (9-2) and No. 5 Notre Dame (9-2) met in the 2006 Fiesta Bowl.
Former New England Patriots offensive coordinator turned college coach Charlie Weis and his high-scoring Irish, led by Ohio-born Brady Quinn, were seeking Notre Dame's first bowl win since the 1993 Cotton Bowl.
On the other end of the spectrum, the Buckeyes were looking to push their BCS bowl game record to a perfect 4-0.
It was Troy Smith, not Brady Quinn, who shined as the best QB from Ohio on this day.
And it was Tressel who out-coached first year coach Charlie Weis as the Buckeyes romped Notre Dame 34-20, sending the seemingly "fightless" Irish to their eighth strait bowl loss.
The outcome of the game was never really in doubt. The stingy Ohio State defense, led by AJ Hawk, contained Quinn, and conversely, the Irish defense had no answer for Smith, RB Antonio Pittman, or WRs Ted Ginn and Santonio Holmes.
In closing (for now)
The theme established here should be clear—Tressel wins a lot, recruits tons of talented NFL-caliber players, has owned Michigan twice so far in this top 10, and is not concerned with being flashy while doing it.
In the end as stated above, a win is a win is a win.
I hope you enjoyed looking back at the bottom half of this top 10, and I'm very excited to be bringing you Part II soon.
Read PART II (the top 5) here