100 Teams in 100 Days: The Super Sophomores Lead the Way For Ohio State's Fifth National Championship in 1968

By Matt Gutridge on July 17, 2016 at 11:40 am
The 1968 Ohio State University Football team.
Ohio State University Archives

Woody Hayes kept his job after a three-loss 1967 season but put together one of the most memorable years in Ohio State program history in 1968.

48 days and counting.

The dynamic recruiting class called the Super Sophomores finally made its debut and did not disappoint. Rex Kern, Leo Hayden, Jan White, Bruce Jankowski, Larry Zelina and John Brockington all started on offense as sophomores. 

On the defense, sophomores Jim Stillwagon, Jack Tatum, Mark Davevc, Doug Adams, Mike Sensibaugh and Tim Anderson led the charge. 

In all, 12 sophomores started regularly for the team that returned to the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1957.

The 1968 Buckeyes
Record 10–0
B1G Record 7–0, 1st, National Champions
Coach Woody Hayes (18th year, 117–41–7)
CaptainS Dave Foley, Mark Stier and Dirk Worden

Games of Note

September 28th • SMU • Ohio Stadium
Hayden Fry and SMU came to Ohio Stadium with the plan to sling the ball around and sling the ball they did. The Mustangs attempted an NCAA record 76 passes and tallied 437 passing yards. However, the No. 15 Buckeyes slowed the aerial attack and intercepted five passes.

Mike Sensibaugh secured the first interception to end Southern Methodist's first drive. The Mustangs threatened to score when Sensibaugh snagged Chuck Hixson's pass at the Buckeyes' 9-yard line.

Ohio State put the first points on the board halfway through the first quarter when Rex Kern capped an 80-yard touchdown drive with a 2-yard keeper. SMU fumbled the ensuing kickoff return and the Buckeyes were again in business on the Mustangs' 28-yard line. Jim Otis ran into the end zone from the 8, carrying a Mustang defender along with him. Dick Merryman kicked his second point and Ohio State led 14-0.

Hixson eventually found his groove, and early in the second quarter took his team 70 yards for a touchdown. The 12-play drive consisted of 11 passes and ended when Hixson hit Ken Fleming from eight yards out.

With their lead cut in half, the Buckeyes kicked the offense into gear. Dave Brungard scored twice before halftime — first on a 41-yard run and then an 18-yard reception. His second touchdown came because Kern took control of the game, literally.

Ohio State faced 4th-and-10 and before the punt team hit the field, Kern lined up the offense and gained 15 yards on an option play. The sophomore showed he had some serious stones or proved he had stones in his head. Either way, his gamble worked and the Buckeyes led 26-7 at the half.

The second half featured more passing and decent drives from SMU. However, Ohio State's defense always rose to the challenge and forced key fumbles or interceptions. In the fourth quarter, the Buckeyes' defense recorded a safety and Brungard rushed in for his third touchdown. Ohio State won 35-14.

1968 Schedule
JAN. 1 NO. 2 USC ROSE BOWL W, 27–16
      10–0, 323–150

October 5th • Oregon • Ohio Stadium
To complete the home and home with Oregon, the Ducks visited Ohio Stadium to play in front of 70,191 Buckeye fans. This fourth meeting between the schools, the Ducks still looked for their first win of the series. On this day, Ohio State's defense did not let that happen.

Oregon received the opening kick but quickly went three-and-out. Mike Polaski blocked Alan Pitcaithley's punt then recovered it and ran nine yards for the game's first touchdown. 

Shortly before halftime, the Ducks intercepted Kern's pass intended for Dick Kuhn on Ohio State's 28-yard line. Oregon took advantage of the short field and scored six plays later. However, the Ducks missed the extra point and the Buckeyes led 7-6 at the break.

With 3:19 remaining in the third quarter, Otis broke through right tackle for a 35-yard touchdown run. On the third play of the final stanza, Ron Maciejowski connected with Jankowski for a 55-yard touchdown strike.

The Buckeyes' defense held Oregon to 62 yards rushing and 140 total yards in the 21-6 victory. 

October 12th • No. 1 Purdue • Ohio Stadium
A 41-6 defeat at the hands of Purdue at Ohio Stadium served as one of the lower points in the 1967 season. Hayes admitted afterward that the 35-point loss should have been much worse had Jack Mollenkopf not removed his starters early in the second half.

This time around, the Boilermakers (3–0) entered The Shoe as a 13-point favorite and the No. 1 team in the nation. However, No. 4 Ohio State entered on a six-game winning streak. The record crowd of 84,712 had tempered expectations on a warm and sunny afternoon. 

Ohio State elected to receive the opening kickoff and proceeded to drive 73 yards on 13 plays to the Purdue 4-yard line. On 4th-and-goal, Hayes elected to try a field goal, but the attempt sailed wide right.

The remainder of the first half featured three more missed field goals. The Boilermakers missed one and the Buckeyes two as the teams went to the locker room scoreless. 

On the fourth play of the second half, Ohio State's opportunistic defense struck again. Purdue's quarterback, Mike Phipps, tried to connect with Leroy Keyes but Ted Provost jumped the route and raced 35 yards into the end zone. The kicking woes continued as the point after was missed to the right. 

The Buckeyes' defense set up their second score. Later in the third, Stillwagon intercepted Phipps at the Boilermakers' 26-yard line. On the ensuing drive, Kern suffered an injury when he was sacked at the 14. Bill Long stepped in and on 3rd-and-14 scrambled for a touchdown when he couldn't find an open receiver. This Buckeyes made the extra point this time and led 13-0.

In the fourth quarter, the Buckeyes gave Purdue a gift when Otis – who rushed for a game-high 144 yards – fumbled at the Ohio State 33. The Boilermakers drove inside the 10, but held on downs and did not score. That was the last time Purdue threatened and the Buckeyes won 13-0.

After the game, Hayes said: "That's the greatest defensive effort I've ever, ever seen. This must rank with the greatest victories we've ever had at Ohio State."

Those words had to feel good to defensive coaches Lou Holtz, Bill Mallory and Lou McCullough. It should also be noted that Jack Tatum had two sacks, broke up three passes and locked down Keyes.

The fine team effort bumped Ohio State up to No. 2 in the AP Poll.

SMU W5 5–1
PURDUE W1 14–7–2
ILLINOIS W1 35–19–4
IOWA W6 19–10–2
MICHIGAN W2 24–37–4
USC W2 8–5–1

October 26th • Illinois • Memorial Stadium
Following the impressive win over Purdue, Rex Kern threw for 170 yards and two touchdowns and also rushed for 120 yards as Ohio State pulled away from Northwestern 45-21.

The first away game of the season started off exactly as the Buckeyes expected. Ohio State faced a struggling Illinois (0–5) team, and easily scored 24 points in the first half. 

The Illini found their fight in the second half and roared back to tie the contest at 24 with 4:38 to play. On the third play of Ohio State's potential game-winning drive, a head injury knocked Kern out of the game. Hayes had to turn to Maciejowski to guide the team with under three minutes left.

On his third snap from scrimmage, the other sophomore quarterback hit Larry Zelina on a 44-yard pass play down to Illinois' 4-yard line. Otis pounded it home and Ohio State escaped Champaign with a 31-24 win. 

November 2nd • #16 Michigan State • Ohio Stadium
On an unseasonably warm 73-degree November day, a record crowd of 84,859 filled Ohio Stadium. No. 16 Michigan State (4–2) came to Columbus with confidence coming off of a 21-17 upset victory against No. 5 Notre Dame.

After Zelina returned the opening kick to the 17, Kern led the offense 83 yards in nine plays for a quick score. Kern's 39-yard pass to Jankowski on 3rd-and-2 from the Spartans' 40 set the stage for Otis to give the Buckeyes the 7-0 lead.

Early in the second quarter, Ohio State struck again. This time, a 64-yard drive ended in a touchdown when Kern passed to Jankowski for an 8-yard touchdown. The point after missed left, so the Buckeyes led 13-0. Kern did not return to the game after this drive due to a sprained ankle.

Michigan State responded with a 19-play touchdown drive that took almost eight minutes. The back and forth continued when Ohio State used a mixture of rushes and passes to move 83 yards in just over four minutes and Otis scored again. The two-point conversion failed and the Buckeyes led 19-7 at halftime.

Midway through the third quarter, the Spartans scored again to pull within five. Keeping with the pattern of the game, Ohio State answered with a quick 47-yard touchdown drive when Maciejowski rushed in from the 2.

The score remained 25-14 until Michigan State punched it in near the end of the third quarter. Frank Waters' punt return to Ohio State's 31-yard line set up the drive. The game now sat uncomfortably close at 25-20.

The fourth quarter belonged to the Buckeyes' defense, however. Early in the stanza, Ohio State's Mike Radtke forced MSU's quarterback, Bill Triplett, to fumble near midfield. Dave Whitfield recovered the fumble and ended a possible scoring drive.

With under a minute remaining, Radtke reared his head again. The lineman met Triplett with force and again caused a fumble. The Buckeyes ran out the clock to win.

November 23rd • #4 Michigan • Ohio Stadium
After the important win over Michigan State, Ohio State steamrolled Wisconsin and hung on to defeat Iowa. The Badgers remained winless after the Buckeyes left Madison with a 43-8 victory.

Ohio State led 26-6 in rainy Iowa City after three quarters but Iowa scored 21 points late to make the Buckeyes sweat out a 33-27 win. 

No. 4 Michigan (8–1) dropped its first game of the season against California but rebounded and won its next eight. The Wolverines knew a win over No. 2 Ohio State (8–0) would send them to the Rose Bowl and give them another Big Ten title. 

On this 55-degree day, Michigan won the toss and chose to receive. The Wolverines made the record crowd of 85,371 nervous when they methodically marched 84 yards in 17 plays to take a 7-0 lead. Concerning for Ohio State's defense was that 15 of Michigan's 17 plays were runs.

The fears turned out to be unfounded as the Buckeyes responded and secured one of the more lopsided wins in The Game.

A recap of the action from the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

Magnificent and superb.

Ohio State was all that and more as the undefeated Buckeyes won the Big Ten football title and Rose Bowl trip with an astounding 50-14 victory over Michigan.


It was Ohio State's finest hour. The Buckeyes took charge in the second quarter and there was no doubt of the outcome, only the size of the score.

Ohio State was quick and devastating on defense and that's where the issue was decided as the Buckeyes completely throttled Michigan in the second half by holding the explosive Wolverines scoreless. It was one of Ohio's most thorough thrashings of Michigan in the series dating back to 1897 and the worst drubbing handed the Wolves since 1961 when Ohio romped, 50-20.

The offense also had a big day. 

The Buckeyes had complete charge of the statistics, outgaining Michigan, 467 to 311 in total yards.

Ohio, playing ball control, ground out 421 yards rushing to 140 for Michigan. The Wolves made 171 passing, but had three passes intercepted which Ohio turned into scores in the final period.

This is the game in which Hayes went for two after taking a 50-14 lead with 1:23 left in the game. Long's pass fell incomplete, however.

Ohio State's 11th undisputed Big Ten title ended a brief championship hiatus for Hayes. The Buckeyes won the league title in 1961, but faculty denied them a Rose Bowl trip. This time, the team knew it earned its way to Pasadena to play No. 2 USC for a possible national championship.

January 1st • #2 USC • Rose Bowl
This marked the first time the Rose Bowl had two undefeated teams since The Big Ten-Pac Eight pact in 1947. It was also the first time Ohio State (9–0) played in a game that featured the No. 1 and No. 2 ranked teams.

Heisman Trophy winner O.J. Simpson powered No. 2 USC (9–0–1), but Ohio State's defense keyed on the star running back and kept the Trojans scoreless through one quarter. 

The Buckeyes had the first scoring opportunity, but Zelina missed a 27-yard field goal on the first play of the second quarter. USC took over and drove to the Ohio State 4. The Buckeyes' defense held and the Trojans settled for a field goal to take the lead 3-0.

Following the kickoff, Ohio State's drive stalled near midfield and Sensibaugh's punt went into the end zone. With his team on its own 20, head coach John McKay called for a pitchout to the left for Simpson. When Simpson caught the pitch and cut back before he raced 80 yards to give USC a 10-0 lead. At the time, the run was the second-longest in Rose Bowl history.

The Buckeyes responded and closed the first half with 10 straight points. Otis plowed in with a 1-yard touchdown and Jim Roman made a 26-yard field goal just before halftime.

For the majority of the third quarter, the score remained tied. Ohio State broke the tie when Roman converted a 25-yard field goal with 1:40 left in the quarter. On USC's next drive, the Buckeyes' defense forced and recovered a fumble at the Trojans' 30. Ohio State scored six plays later to take a 20-10 lead. Hayes and the Buckeyes owned the momentum.

With 4:55 remaining, Kern found Ray Gillian for a 16-yard touchdown to put Ohio State up 27-10. USC scored late, but the Buckeyes won the Rose Bowl 27-16 to notch the program's fifth national championship. 

1968 Recap

  • SMU sets an NCAA record with 76 pass attempts in a 35-14 loss.
  • The Buckeyes improved to 5–0 against Oregon.
  • Woody Hayes calls the win against No. 1 Purdue "the greatest defensive effort I've ever, ever seen." 
  • Ohio State almost blew a 24-0 lead but held on to defeat Illinois.
  • The Buckeyes victory over No. 16 Michigan State evened the series 4–4.
  • OSU defeated Wisconsin for the ninth straight game.
  • Hayes handed the Wolverines a 50-14 loss and went for two late in the game.
  • Ohio State won its 11th undisputed Big Ten title and fifth with Hayes.
  • The Buckeyes defeated USC in the Rose Bowl 27-16 to claim its fifth national championship.
  • Ohio State started the season 11th in the AP Poll and reached No. 1 after the Michigan victory. 
  • Dave Foley and Rufus Mayes were named All-Americans.
  • Rufus Mayes, Dave Foley and Steve Howell were selected in the NFL Draft.

In 1967, rumors about Woody Hayes' job security swirled. At the end of the 1968 season, he won his fourth national championship, fifth Big Ten title and the Buckeyes rode a 14-game winning streak.

With an experienced and talented team returning, many expected the 1969 season to be one for the ages.


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