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12 for ’12: Why undefeated Buckeyes deserve ‘Team of Decade’ honors

Ohio State Football

12 for ’12: Why undefeated Buckeyes deserve ‘Team of Decade’ honors

COLUMBUS — The actual hardware collection for the 2012 Ohio State Buckeyes isn’t the most impressive.

They weren’t eligible to win the Big Ten, which puts that team behind four others in the program over the last decade.

They couldn’t go to a bowl game, which every other team was able to do after the sanctions expired.

They didn’t win the national championship, which happened two years later in the first College Football Playoff.

But nothing that happened for those record-breaking, rivalry-dominating, trophy-collecting Buckeyes that followed Urban Meyer’s first team in Columbus could have happened without that historic undefeated team that overcome every hurdle that came its way on the field. And considering the degree of difficulty and what that remarkable achievement helped pave the way for down the road, that perfect record and the Buckeyes who delivered it stand out as Lettermen Row’s pick for the Team of the Decade.

“There’s no college football program immune to a downturn,” the former Buckeyes coach said in the 12 for ’12 conversation last week at Urban Meyer’s Pint House. “Alabama, Florida, Florida State, Miami, Team Up North, Penn State, USC, Oklahoma, Texas — all the blue-bloods, like Ohio State is, every program in history has a downturn. When Gene Smith came in my office and told me [about the NCAA sanctions], I thought: OK, here we are. But I didn’t want to be part of that.

Urban Meyer-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football

Former Ohio State Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer was named the Big Ten Coach of the Decade. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

“I knew from that moment at Michigan State that we weren’t going to be the downturn. And as a result, we had seven wonderful years, eight now [with Ryan Day taking over], that’s because of this 2012 team. Ohio State did what every other program in college football could not. I’ve studied it. The history of the game, every program has done it — except for here. The script was written after the Gator Bowl the year before that the downturn is here. They were going to take some scholarships, a lot of people in this country were really happy that Ohio State was about to gets teeth kicked in. It didn’t happen, and it’s because of that team.”

The Buckeyes defied the odds all season long, pulling off a couple thrilling escapes, overcoming scholarship reductions, tuning out the bowl ban and eventually capping the undefeated season with a physical win over rival Michigan in the Horseshoe.

There are countless stories from that journey that still haven’t been told, and five members of that team joined Meyer to tell a few in a conversation sponsored by our partners at Byers Auto. C.J. Barnett, Evan Spencer, Reid Fragel, Jack Mewhort and Jake Stoneburner joined Lettermen Row to reflect on that season — and raise a glass to the Ohio State Team of the Decade.

Austin Ward

Austin Ward is Lettermen Row's senior writer covering Ohio State football and basketball. The award-winning journalist has covered the Buckeyes since 2012, spending five of those seasons working for ESPN after previous stints at the Casper Star-Tribune and Knoxville News Sentinel.