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'We gave it our best shot'

Ohio State still has sweet dreams of national title

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Posted: Sunday January 03, 1999 08:18 AM

  Pleading his case: Cooper thinks his team deserves a share of the title -- if Florida State wins ugly against Tennessee AP

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- If it's not a team from Michigan beating them on the field, it's a team from Florida beating them in the polls. Either way, the Ohio State Buckeyes keep coming up short in their bid for a national championship.

Two years ago, the Buckeyes pulled out a late win over undefeated Arizona State in the Rose Bowl, but had to settle for No. 2 when Florida beat top-ranked Florida State for the national title.

Ohio State now appears headed for the same fate.

"We gave it our best shot," coach John Cooper said Saturday morning after Ohio State's 24-14 victory over Texas A&M in the Sugar Bowl.

He won't give up hope on the third-ranked Buckeyes' first national championship since 1968 until after the Fiesta Bowl on Monday night between No. 1 Tennessee (12-0) and No. 2 Florida State (11-1).

The Fiesta winner is the automatic choice for national champion in the coaches' poll, but Cooper has said all week that an ugly win by the Seminoles would give Ohio State a right to claim a share of the title.

"I may watch that game and say, 'Hey, these teams are better than us.' But I don't think that will be the case," Cooper said.

Whether voters in the AP poll agree with him is another story.

Those who tuned in to the Sugar Bowl saw the Buckeyes roll to 432 yards against the Texas A&M Wrecking Crew defense.

"People who saw the game saw, particularly in the first half, how dominant we were," Cooper said.

Three touchdowns in a span of 6 1/2 minutes in the first quarter almost blew the Aggies out of the Superdome, but the Buckeyes managed only a chip-shot field goal the rest of the game.

"We had a fast start, but we missed some opportunities to put more points on the board," said Joe Germaine, who threw an Ohio State bowl-record 38 passes trying.

No matter how impressive Cooper thought the Buckeyes were, he admitted it could have been much better. As receiver David Boston talked Saturday morning about whether he would return for his senior season, Cooper thumbed through the play-by-play sheet on the table and highlighted one play after another.

It's amazing he still had any ink left in the pen.

The Buckeyes had 210 yards rushing, but couldn't pick up a 4th-and-1 from the 24 leading 21-7 early in the second quarter. Boston, the Sugar Bowl's MVP after catching 11 passes for 105 yards, couldn't handle a perfectly thrown pass in the end zone on the next possession.

Late in the first half, Germaine was falling forward when he spotted Matt Keller alone at the goal line, but his pass came up inches short.

Ohio State went 40 yards on the first series of the second half, only to miss a field goal. Another 12-play, 50-yard drive also came up empty when Dan Stultz's 47-yard field goal hit the upright.

And the Aggies' only touchdown of the second half was set up by two third-and-long penalties -- one that negated an interception, another that put Texas A&M in scoring position.

"That's what kept it from being a blowout," Cooper said.

Could that ultimately doom the Buckeyes?

"I don't know if it should," Cooper said. "But it probably could."

What haunts the Buckeyes more is the 28-24 loss at home to unranked Michigan State, which knocked them from No. 1 after 10 straight weeks. Two years ago, it was a home loss to Michigan that gave Ohio State its only loss of the season, and denied Cooper and the Buckeyes yet again.

"There are a lot of great coaches who haven't won a national championship," he said. "You've got to be fortunate to go undefeated. Sometimes it's out of your control. I've got the greatest respect in the world for Bobby Bowden, but Bobby's never had an undefeated football team."

No, but Bowden has a national championship. And if his Seminoles beat the Vols in the Fiesta Bowl on Monday night, he'll likely have another one.

 
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