As we count down the rich and storied history of Ohio State football, we look back at the 1926 Buckeyes, Ohio Stadium was entering its fifth season of use and for the first time in the stadium's short history the Buckeyes started a season with a winning record in the 'Shoe.
Ohio State head coach John Wilce had snapped his program's streak of three-straight losing seasons in 1925, if just barely, as his Buckeyes finished 4–3–1 that season.
As his team entered the 1926 season, they'd need to do much better than that, both to quiet his critics and to prove the colossal Ohio Stadium, opened in 1922, wasn't the boondoggle some in Central Ohio were saying it was.
The coach and his team responded in Ohio State's 37th year of football with an inspired effort that fell just one point short of an unbeaten season.
|The 1926 Buckeyes|
|B1G Record||3–1, 3rd|
|Coach||John Wilce (14th Year, 69–27–8)|
Games of Note
October 16th • Columbia • Ohio Stadium
Ohio State jumped out of the gates in 1926, thumping Wittenberg and Ohio Wesleyan by a combined score of 87-0 to open 2-0.
For their third game of the season, Wilce's Buckeyes would become the first Big Ten team to play in New York City, when they traveled to the Big Apple to complete their home-and-home series with the Columbia Lions.
The Buckeyes sprung the upset over Columbia the previous year, taking the game 9-0 in Ohio Stadium. The rematch would be all Ohio State as they thumped the Lions at the Polo Grounds, 32-7.
State became the first Big Ten team to play in New York City. The Buckeyes and Lions played at the Polo Grounds in what would be the last game played between the two schools. Ohio State won 32-7 and leads the series 2–0.
October 23rd • Iowa • Ohio Stadium
The following week, Ohio State welcomed a solid Iowa team to town. The Hawkeyes were 2–1 on the season, coming off a tough loss at Illinois. Iowa had never lost to Ohio State, owning a 3–0–1 record in the series.
Again, it was all Buckeyes for the fourth Saturday in a row as Ohio State pounded Iowa, 23-6 to nab the program's first-ever win over the Hawkeyes and improve to 4–0 on the season.
|OCT. 2||WITTENBERG||OHIO STADIUM||W, 40–0|
|OCT. 9||OHIO WESLEYAN||OHIO STADIUM||W, 47–0|
|OCT. 16||COLUMBIA||POLO GROUNDS||W, 32–7|
|OCT. 23||IOWA||OHIO STADIUM||W, 23–6|
|OCT. 30||CHICAGO||STAGG FIELD||W, 18–0|
|NOV. 6||WILMINGTON||OHIO STADIUM||W, 13–7|
|NOV. 13||MICHIGAN||OHIO STADIUM||L, 16–17|
|NOV. 20||ILLINOIS||MEMORIAL STADIUM||W, 7–6|
November 7th • Wilmington • Ohio Stadium
Ohio State shut out Chicago on the road, 18-0, to move to 5–0, before welcoming Wilmington to Ohio Stadium.
The Quakers were heavy underdogs and met the Buckeyes in front of the smallest crowd in Ohio Stadium history. To this day, the 5,482 fans who showed up to watch the game are the fewest to ever see Ohio State play a football game in the Shoe.
Why so few? The Buckeyes played their third-string players the majority of the game as they rested their starters for the battle with Michigan the next week.
In fact, head coach John Wilce and assistant Sam Willaman spent the day in Ann Arbor scouting the Wolverines and left the coaching duties to fellow assistant Jim Oberlander.
Perhaps uninspired by the empty Horseshoe, the Buckeyes narrowly defeated Wilmington, 13-6. However, the team was rested and ready for the powerful Wolverines.
November 14th • Michigan • Ohio Stadium
At 6–0, Ohio State's mid-November clash with 5–1 Michigan was one of the early games to put the rivalry on the map. The Wolverines' lone loss came on the road to Navy, who would finish the season with a perfect record.
The two best teams in the league were set to face off and Columbus was on tilt. With the Buckeyes undefeated and in position to capture a Big Ten title, the fans who didn't bother coming out for the quasi-scrimmage against Wilmington the previous week showed up to Ohio Stadium en masse.
The official attendance for the game is 90,411 – good enough to set another national record for a live sporting event – but reports state another 10,000 were camped outside the open end of the Horseshoe to listen to the game via public address announcements. Other fans climbed over fences and went through barricades to enter the stadium. Some were less fortunate, as several fans were injured – some with broken bones – attempting to navigate obstructions and make their way into the stadium.
To add to the chaos, the Ohio State Military Department decided to launch aerial bombs as celebrations prior to kickoff. One of the bombs malfunctioned and landed in the South Stands, where two ladies were injured.
The Buckeyes jumped out to an early 10-0 lead, sending the capacity crowd bonkers. Ohio State's first touchdown – scored by Marty Karow – was the first touchdown surrendered to a league opponent by the Michigan defense in two years.
The Wolverines fought back and scored on a fake field goal in the second quarter to cut Ohio State's lead to just three. With 10 seconds remaining in the first half, Michigan added a field goal to tie things up as the teams entered their locker rooms.
Still knotted at 10, the Buckeyes made a costly mistake near the end of the third quarter. After Ohio State forced Michigan to punt near midfield, Elmer Marek muffed the ball attempting to scoop it up as it rolled inside the Buckeyes' 7-yard-line. Michigan recovered and star quarterback Benny Friedman tossed a touchdown pass and converted the extra point to give the Wolverines a seven point lead.
The Buckeyes had fight in them and drove down the field to respond with a touchdown of their own with only two minutes remaining in the game. Unfortunately, Ohio State's drop-kicker was rushed and missed the conversion, kicking the ball below the crossbar.
The perfect season was over.
After taking three-straight from the Wolverines, Ohio State had now lost five in a row to Michigan to put the series at 3–18–2.
November 21st • Illinois • Memorial Stadium
Still smarting from the loss to Michigan, Ohio State traveled to frigid Illinois to take on the Illini in the regular season finale.
The Buckeyes crossed the goal line first to go up 7-0 in the second quarter. Illinois managed to score late in the final period, but like Ohio State one week prior, the Illini missed the crucial extra point to tie the game.
Illibuck, then still a living turtle, was staying in Columbus for the first time. Unfortunately, it would be the last year of Illibuck's short life.
- Ohio State faced Wittenberg for the first time since 1910, with the Buckeyes winning, 40-0, to push their winning streak to eight games against the Tigers.
- The Buckeyes played Columbia for the second and final time, finishing 2–0 against the Lions.
- Ohio State squared off against Wilmington for the first and only time. The Buckeyes lead the series 1-0.
- The attendance for the Wilmington game was the lowest in Ohio Stadium's history. Only 5,482 fans attended the game.
- Ohio State dropped its fifth-straight game to Michigan.
- Maudine Ormsby, a cow, was elected Homecoming Queen.
- Ed Hess, Marty Karow and Leo Raskowski were named All-Americans.
John Wilce and his 1926 Buckeyes answered four years of criticism resoundingly with a 7–1 season in 1926, finishing just one point shy of an unbeaten season.
Ohio Stadium was also finally coming into its own groove, hosting crowds in back-to-back seasons that would be the largest ever to pay to watch a sporting event in the United States.
Little did he know it at the time, but the Wilce era was entering its final chapters.