The last time the Ohio State football team met Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl was 2006, but the current version of the Buckeyes has many similarities to the team that beat the Irish 10 years ago.
Let’s take a trip back to 2006. The Jim Tressel Era was in full swing and the Buckeyes were making their third trip to Fiesta Bowl in four years, including the magical 2001 title game against Miami. Notre Dame had gone all in with Charlie Weis, making perhaps one of the worst coaching investments in college football history, with hindsight being 20/20.
The Fighting Irish had a Columbus quarterback in Brady Quinn leading a potent offensive attack that was supposed to return Notre Dame to national prominence.
Buckeye fans all know exactly what happened. Somewhere, Brady Quinn is experiencing traumatic flashbacks from A.J. Hawk driving him into the Arizona turf. With so many fond memories, it’s easy to forget that this game was more than just a bowl victory. It’s also an eerily similar match-up to this year’s game. So, why not continue down memory road to 2006 with an eye towards Glendale on New Year’s Day, 2016.
1) The 2006 game featured a “back up” quarterback
Troy Smith was not the starter at the onset of the season. That honor belonged to Justin Zwick, the Massillon product hailed as one of the best quarterback prospects in the country from one of the most storied high school programs in the nation. But an injury against Iowa opened the door for the Cleveland native. Smith would go on to launch a Heisman career, ending his career with 58 total touchdowns, an All-American honor, and a Heisman Trophy.
This season, J.T. Barrett himself started the year as a back up, though he reassumed the starter role he enjoyed in 2014 after Cardale Jones proved to be ineffective as a starter. Barrett has his own great story, coming in for Braxton Miller during his redshirt freshman season in 2014.
Maybe Barrett launches a 2016 Heisman campaign with a big win on a national stage. He has a similar skill set to and playing style to Smith. Additionally, both players have owned Michigan in their careers. With Ezekiel Elliott likely heading for the NFL, the 2016 offense will be only as successful as Barrett plays. A big performance in the Fiesta Bowl could put Barrett back on the Heisman radar.
2) A.J. Hawk and Joey Bosa: Buckeye Defensive Legends
Short of maybe Tom Cousineau, A.J. Hawk is the best linebacker in Buckeye history. His vicious hits on Brady Quinn, who is currently his brother-in-law, are some of the most memorable in recent Buckeye history. This game also capped off the era of long haired linebackers. In addition to Hawk, Bobby Carpenter and Anthony Schlegel exhibited long locks to honor Pat Tillman.
Hawk’s Defensive MVP performance was the final touch on an incredible career in Columbus.
Enter Joey Bosa, who just this week looks like he’s earned another consensus All-American season to add a tree to Buckeye Grove. Bosa will probably be the top overall pick in the NFL draft and will leave Columbus mentioned in the same breath as the likes of Hawk, Cousineau, Jack Tatum, and Andy Katzenmoyer.
The Fiesta Bowl offers Bosa one last chance to cause the same kind of trauma for an Irish quarterback–much like Hawk did to Quinn.
3) Breakout Games for “Heir Apparents”: James Laurinatis and Sam Hubbard
On the very first play of the 2005 Michigan game, Bobby Carpenter broke his leg. His replacement? A three-star freshman from North Dakota, James Laurinatis. After the aforementioned A.J. Hawk’s graduation, Laurinatis assumed the role as a defensive leader for the Buckeyes and promptly lead the team in tackles en route to an All-American honor. His intense style of play also helped him become the only player to win two Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Awards.
The million dollar question next season will be “Who Replaces Joey Bosa?” Well, we will see his replacement, freshman All-American Sam Hubbard. Hubbard has already shown flashes this year of having a Bosa like impact as a pass rusher.
Could the Fiesta Bowl be the game where Hubbard becomes a household name outside of Ohio the way Laurinatis became the face of one of the best teams in the country? The talent is certainly there, now the stage is, too.
4) The following NFL draft featured a boatload of Buckeyes
The 2006 draft saw nine Buckeyes get drafted, all of them in the first four rounds. This draft class included an astounding five first rounders:
A.J. Hawk, 5th overall
Donte Whitner, 9th overall
Bobby Carpenter, 18th overall
Santonio Holmes, 25th overall
Nick Mangold, 29th overall
That is an impressive group in and of itself, but Ashton Youboty , Anthony Schlegel, Nate Salley, and Rob Sims all saw their names called on draft weekend. It’s still one of the most impressive draft groups for any school and perhaps only second to the 2004 Buckeye draft class that featured Will Smith, Chris Gamble, Michael Jenkins, and Will Allen.
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If you’ve looked at any of the Draft Boards leading into the 2016 draft, there are plenty of Buckeye names near the top of their position groups. Joey Bosa, Ezekiel Elliott, Michael Thomas, Vonn Bell, Darron Lee, Taylor Decker, and Adolphus Washington could all reasonably go in the first round. Even if they don’t go early, or even if some come back to school, this group will see be one of the best draft classes in school history.
With one last chance to showcase their skills in a game situation for scouts, there’s a lot on the line not just for the names already mentioned, but for seniors like Nick Vannett, Josh Perry, Chase Ferris, and Jacoby Boren.