Ohio State football: Winning streaks of Woody Hayes, Urban Meyer share similarities

By The Columbus Dispatch  • 
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Comparing different eras of college football is tricky given the changes in the game, most notably the size and speed of today’s athletes.

When Ohio State began its school-record 22-game winning streak in 1967, a season that began on Sept. 30, the Buckeyes started a defensive end, Dave Whitfield, who weighed 178 pounds.

That’s 34 pounds less than OSU’s current kicker, Drew Basil.

Woody Hayes was in his 17th season as Buckeyes coach, and his school-record 22-game winning streak propelled OSU football to unparalleled success and romanticism in a city with a population of 580,000 when the streak began.

Ohio State, now coached by Urban Meyer, can tie that school record on Saturday when it takes a 9-0 record and No. 3 Bowl Championship Series ranking to Illinois to face a 32-point underdog that is 3-6 and has lost 19 consecutive Big Ten games.

The precipice of history begs for the current winning streak to be compared with Hayes’ 22-game mark, which included a 10-0 record, Rose Bowl win and national title in 1968.

That glorious run ended on Nov. 22, 1969, when the No. 1-ranked Buckeyes (8-0) were upset 24-12 at Michigan, which was playing its first season under former Ohio State assistant coach Bo Schembechler.

Although times have changed, there are similarities between OSU’s winning streak in the late 1960s and the current 21-0 record in Meyer’s first two seasons as Buckeyes coach.

Context

Both winning streaks were spawned by losing seasons.

Meyer took over a team that had cratered to 6-7 in 2011 under coach Luke Fickell, who served one season after an NCAA scandal cost Jim Tressel his job.

Ohio State went 4-5 in 1966, and the Buckeyes lost three of their first five games, each loss at home, to start the ’67 season. At that point, Hayes had gone 25-15-1 since OSU won its last Big Ten title six years earlier. His job was on the line.

The Buckeyes rebounded to win their final four games of 1967, the beginning of their record winning streak, which reached epic proportions the next two years under quarterback Rex Kern.

That is, when the often-injured Kern wasn’t being replaced by super-sub Ron Maciejowski. Think Kenny Guiton filling in for Braxton Miller.

Top competition

Six ranked opponents lost to Ohio State during its 22-game streak, and that’s only one more than the total of ranked teams the Buckeyes have beaten in the past two seasons.

In the current streak, however, OSU hasn’t played an opponent ranked in the top 15 of the Associated Press poll or BCS rankings.

Ohio State defeated No. 1-ranked Purdue in 1968, ended that regular season with a 50-14 spanking of No. 4 Michigan and capped the year by earning national championship honors with a win over No. 2 Southern California in the Rose Bowl.

The current winning streak features no such high-profile wins. It’s difficult to consider a 40-30 comeback win at No. 16 Northwestern to be a signature victory, especially since the Wildcats have lost five straight games.

Hayes’ teams also beat No. 10 Purdue (1969), and Michigan State teams that were ranked No. 16 (in ’68) and No. 19 (in ’69). Southern Methodist, coached by Hayden Fry, was unranked when it opened the ’68 season at OSU but finished the year ranked No. 14.

Besides Northwestern, Meyer has led the Buckeyes to wins over No. 20 Michigan, No. 20 Michigan State and No. 21 Nebraska in 2012, as well as No. 24 Wisconsin this season.

Schedule strength

Ohio State is stuck at No. 3 in the BCS rankings in large part because its nine opponents have a combined 39-46 record. Four of those teams have a losing mark, including California (1-9) and Purdue (1-8).

Six opponents finished last season with losing records. In all, seven opponents have had a losing record when they faced the Buckeyes during the 21-game winning streak, and two others were .500.

Hayes, however, would have screamed about BCS computers had they existed then. His Buckeyes probably wouldn’t have fared too well in the strength-of-schedule part of the formula.

OSU’s record 22-game streak included 15 teams that ended a season with losing records. Those included Wisconsin (0-9-1) and Iowa (1-8-1) in 1967, Wisconsin (0-10), Northwestern (1-9) and Illinois (1-9) in ’68, and Illinois (0-10) and Washington (1-9) in ’69.

Fifteen times, Hayes’ Buckeyes lined up against an opponent that had a losing record at the time. One other entered the game at .500.

The 22-game winning streak came against opponents with a combined record of 84-134-4. That’s worse than the 113-125 aggregate mark of the 21 opponents defeated by the current Buckeyes.

 

Close calls

Both winning streaks have been marked by dominating performances. Ohio State won its 22 in a row under Hayes by an average score of 35-12. The Buckeyes’ 21 straight wins under Meyer have been by an average score of 42-20.

Still, a premature end could have come to each streak, especially the current one in which the Buckeyes have needed overtime twice and won seven games by seven points or less.

Hayes had fewer close calls. The second win in OSU’s 22-game streak was 17-15 over Wisconsin, and only 64,470 were in attendance at Ohio Stadium that day, Nov. 11, 1967.

A year later, OSU led Illinois 24-0 at halftime before the Illini roared back to tie it at 24 with four minutes left in the fourth quarter. Maciejowski, filling in for an injured Kern, then drove the Buckeyes 70 yards to a score and a 31-24 win.

The next week, OSU led visiting Michigan State 25-20 after three quarters, and the Buckeyes defense recovered two fumbles in the scoreless fourth quarter.

A 26-6 lead heading into the fourth quarter on Nov. 16, 1968, was enough for Ohio State to withstand an Iowa rally in a 33-27 win.

The 1969 Buckeyes were never challenged in winning their first eight games by a total of 371-69. Then, however, they went to Michigan, and 22 straight wins went down the drain.

tjones@dispatch.com

@Todd_Jones

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