When you’re watching this year’s Sugar Bowl with Arkansas against Ohio State, you’ll be watching more than just a matchup of two of the better teams in the country. You’ll be watching Jim Tressel’s Ohio State’s Buckeyes in the midst of one of the most successful eras in college football history.
Since 2002, Ohio State’s record is 98-17 for a winning percentage of .852 and one national championship (2002). Only nine schools have ever had a nine-year run of excellence with a higher winning percentage.
In looking at those other nine-year runs, Oklahoma, under Bud Wilkinson from 1948 to 1956, had a record of 87-6-2 for a winning percentage of .926 and three national championships (1950, 1955 and 1956).
The Sooners from 1971 to 1979 were 95-9-2 for a winning percentage of .906 and two national championships (1974 and 1975). During that nine-year run, the Sooners were coached by Chuck Fairbanks until 1972, and then Barry Switzer the rest of the way.
Alabama, under Bear Bryant, had a record of 97-11 for a winning percentage of .898 from 1971-1979 with two national championships (1978 and 1979).
The Miami Hurricanes from 1986-1994 were also 97-11 and had a .898 winning percentage. The Hurricanes were coached by Jimmy Johnson until 1988 and then Dennis Erickson for the remainder of that run. The Hurricanes won three national championships during their run (1987, 1989 and 1991).
Florida State, under Bobby Bowden from 1991-1999, had a record of 99-11-1 for a winning percentage of .896 and a pair of national titles (1993 and 1999).
Nebraska, under Tom Osborne from 1993-2001, had an amazing winning percentage of .895 going 102-12 during that time. The Cornhuskers won three national championships in four years (1994, 1995 and 1997).
Ohio State’s arch-rival, the Michigan Wolverines under Bo Schembechler, went 88-12-3 from 1970-1979 for a winning percentage of .869.
Ohio State’s current run is not quite the equal of Mack Brown’s nine-year run at Texas that just ended. From 2001-2009, the Longhorns were 101-16 for a winning percentage of .863 and a national championship in 2005. That run of excellence came to a crashing halt this season.
Fellow Ohio State coach Woody Hayes went 82-13-2 from 1968 to 1976 for a winning percentage of .856, and won the national championship in 1968. However, many would argue that the overall strength of the Big 10 Conference today is greater than it was during Hayes’ era, when the Big 10 Conference was often referred to as the Big Two Little Eight Conference.
Depending on the outcome of the Sugar Bowl against Arkansas, a Buckeye win would put their nine-year run at 99-17 for a winning percentage of .853. That would keep Ohio State’s current run ahead of USC’s run from 1972-1979, when the Trojans had a winning percentage of .851. John McKay was the engineer of that run until 1975 and then John Robinson continued it to 1979. That Trojan run was highlighted by national championships in 1972 and 1974. Should the Buckeyes lose to the Razorbacks, they will be 98-18 since 2002 for a winning percentage of .845.
The Buckeyes' current run eclipses Bob Stoops’ nine-year run at Oklahoma that ended in 2008. From 2000-2008, the Sooners' record was 102-19 for a winning percentage of .843 and a national title in 2000.
Tressel’s nine-year run also eclipses Steve Spurrier’s nine-year run at Florida from 1993-2001, in which the Gators were 94-19-1 for a winning percentage of .829 and a national championship in 1996.
Another outstanding run that came to a screeching halt this year was Urban Meyer’s five-year run at Florida from 2005 to 2009. During that time, the Gators were 57-10 for a winning percentage of .851 and two national championships (2006 and 2008). From a winning percentage standpoint, Meyer’s run didn’t equal Steve Spurrier’s five-year run with the Gators from 1993-1997. During that time, the Gators were 55-8-1 for a winning percentage of .867.
Even more impressive in recent years was Pete Carroll’s seven-year run at USC from 2002 to 2008. The Trojans were 82-9 during that time for a winning percentage of .901 and back-to-back national championships in 2003 and 2004.
Another coach that had an impressive seven-year run is Joe Paterno at Penn State. Paterno, from 1968 to 1974, had a record of 72-8 for a winning percentage of .900. In terms of winning percentage, both Carroll's and Paterno’s seven-year runs fail to equal General Neyland’s run at Tennessee from 1926 to 1932. Neyland went 61-2-4 for a winning percentage of .940.
The ultimate run for excellence and longevity, without question, was Florida State’s 14-year run from 1987-2000 under Bobby Bowden. The Seminoles were an amazing 152-19-1 for a winning percentage of .887. The Seminoles had 14 consecutive seasons with 10 wins or more and were ranked fifth or higher each year.
As for the future, Ohio State’s recent off-the-field problems may well influence if junior quarterback Terrelle Pryor comes back for his senior season and if he doesn't, not having him for the first five games of next season, which include games at Miami and against Michigan State, may well determine if Ohio State’s run of excellence continues.