Buckeyes are now the Big Ten's clutch team

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Some of you probably saw the headline and spilled coffee all over your pants. He must have amnesia, you're thinking. Didn't he watch the last two national title games?

True, Ohio State was anything but clutch in back-to-back center-stage flops, especially after entering the 2006 championship as a heavy favorite. But I like to look at the larger picture, and in the last few seasons, no Big Ten team has consistently been better under pressure than Ohio State.

Since 2002, the Buckeyes are 25-7 in games decided by 11 points or fewer. The team's 2002 national championship run was defined by close victories, as quarterback Craig Krenzel & Co. claimed eight games by 11 points or fewer -- the final four contests by a touchdown or less. From Will Allen picking off Michigan's John Navarre near the goal line to seal a win in 2002, to Mike Nugent repeatedly connecting on pressure-packed kicks, to Krenzel's Fiesta Bowl heroics against both Miami and Kansas State, the Buckeyes have come up big over and over. Oh, and they've beaten Michigan four consecutive times and six times in the last seven years. Performances like those in what is always the biggest game on the schedule qualifies as clutch.

Ohio State's crunch-time poise has dipped a bit since 2003, and last season's home loss to Illinois raised some red flags. But Heisman Trophy contender Beanie Wells consistently makes big plays in big games. If quarterback Todd Boeckman solidifies his clutchness (is that a verb?) during a tough road schedule this fall, Ohio State will be back in the national title mix.