There have been some comments on various posts recently about the Buckeyes’ Rose Bowl record in the ‘60s and ‘70s and its impact on natty hopes. There were some vague memories at different points so I decided to look up the details.
The bottom line: as tough as the blowout losses were to Iowa and Purdue in recent seasons, my perspective developed over many years is that the most painful losses are when the team is “this close” to winning a national title.
And we endured a lot of those “this close to a natty” losses during the 1969-75 season era.
The rankings below are AP unless otherwise noted.
1968 season: Undefeated, untied Ohio State #1 vs #2 USC in the Rose Bowl. Ohio State wins 27-16 and wins consensus natty. (And thank goodness for this, otherwise the Buckeyes would have been the Buffalo Bills of that era.)
1969 season: Undefeated, untied Ohio State is #1 the entire season leading into its final game—against TTUN. It was, win or lose, the final game of the season because the Rose Bowl had a “no repeat” rule back then. I’m sorry, but it’s still painful to write down the final score...
1970 season: Undefeated, untied Ohio State is #2 heading into the Rose Bowl behind #1 Texas. Texas loses early in the afternoon in the Cotton Bowl, 24-11. to a one-loss, sixth-ranked Notre Dame. So now the door is wide open for Ohio State to move up to number one with a win in the Rose Bowl, where it is the clear favorite against a three-loss, 12th-ranked Stanford.
Ohio State falls behind early 10-0, then leads 17-13 heading into the 4th quarter before surrendering 14 unanswered points to Jim Plunkett, Randy Vataha, et al. Yes, Stanford had some future NFL talent but still this was an extremely tough loss that cost the Buckeyes a perfect season and an AP natty.
1974 season: a one-loss, third-ranked Ohio State faced off against 5th-ranked USC in the Rose Bowl. These were the AP rankings and undefeated, untied Oklahoma was ultimately crowned AP champions. But the Sooners were on probation due to recruiting violations and thus were barred from Bowl games and from the UPI/Coaches poll, where the only team above Ohio State heading into the Rose Bowl was Alabama, which ended up losing its bowl game.
So, a victory in the Rose Bowl would have propelled Ohio State to a UPI/Coaches natty. Ohio State was in fact leading very late in the 4th quarter, 17-10, when USC QB Pat Haden threw a 38-yard bomb with roughly two minutes left to his former high school teammate, the son of USC coach John McKay. USC went for the win—and a diving catch resulted in a successful two-point conversion.
1975 season: Undefeated, untied Ohio State is #1 heading into the Rose Bowl against 11th-ranked UCLA, which is 8-2-1. Ohio State had beaten UCLA easily earlier in the season, 41-20. UCLA stuns Ohio State 23-10 in Pasadena.
So, there you have it. Ohio State could very well have had four more poll or consensus nattys from 1969-75 to add to their ‘68 national title.
Again, from my perspective, those losses were a tougher pill to swallow than the recent losses to Iowa or Purdue. And, in saying this, I am not blaming Woody or saying that anyone choked. I’ve always maintained that in sports—especially college sports—stuff happens and that’s why the games are determined on the playing field and not via pre-game analysis.