This football game had the hype of an Ali-Frazier prize fight. Satellite trucks began parking outside of Mountaineer Field a full week before West Virginia's 1998 season-opener against No. 1-ranked Ohio State. It was also the first college football game ever broadcasted in high definition (HD).
The Buckeyes were loaded that year with big-time weapons on both sides of the football.
Tenth-ranked West Virginia also had a strong offensive team with quarterback Marc Bulger, running back Amos Zereoue, receivers David Saunders, Shawn Foreman and Khori Ivy, and tight end Anthony Becht returning. The Mountaineer defense, too, had plenty of quality players such as John Thornton, Gary Stills and Barrett Green.
The Mountaineer Sports Network thought so highly of the team that a camera crew was given inside access to the team for an hour-long highlight video of the season called “All-Access.” Cameras was supposed to follow the team toward a march to another major bowl appearance as the Mountaineers had done in previous five-year intervals under Don Nehlen in 1988 and 1993.
Football legends Sam Huff and Archie Griffin were brought in to preside over the ceremonial coin toss for nationally televised prime time game.
Unfortunately, it didn’t take West Virginia long to realize Ohio State was the much stronger football team, the Buckeyes using a 17-point second quarter to give them a 34-17 victory. Ohio State’s two main receivers, David Boston and Dee Miller, combined to catch 13 passes for 239 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while Buckeye tailback Michael Wiley upstaged West Virginia’s Zereoue, gaining 140 yards and a score on the ground.
“I’m a happy football coach,” said Ohio State’s John Cooper afterward. “We walked into a great, hostile crowd and we won the game.”
Zereoue, who rushed for 77 yards on 20 attempts, became the school’s all-time leading rusher, although he lost three yards on his seven second-half carries.
“They have a lot of weapons to defense,” Nehlen said after the game. “But their defense is really something special. Their offense is darn good, but we weren’t able to sustain anything and got behind. Defensively, they kept wearing us down.”
Years later, Nehlen thought it was a mistake opening the season with No. 1-ranked Ohio State. Had the ‘98 team opened with a much lesser opponent and been able to gain some confidence and momentum, he believes it was talented enough to achieve another undefeated regular season as his 1988 and 1993 teams did.
As for Ohio State, the Buckeyes didn’t win the national championship that year, falling 28-24 to Michigan State in Columbus late in the season, but Ohio State did rout Michigan 31-16 at the horseshoe in the regular season finale and also beat Texas A&M, 24-14, in the Sugar Bowl to finish the year 11-1, ranked No. 2 in the nation.