100 Teams in 100 Days: A Terrific 1973 Season and Team is Overlooked Because of a Tie With Michigan

By Matt Gutridge on July 22, 2016 at 11:40 am
The 1973 Ohio State University football team.
Ohio State University Archives

Woody Hayes' goals for the 1973 season, as told by kicker Blair Conway: Have the top defense in the nation, win the Big Ten, win the Rose Bowl and be the No. 1 team in the country.

43 days and counting.

Those were lofty goals, but Hayes knew he had the talent to do it with the majority of the 1972 team back. Sophomores Archie Griffin, Brian Baschnagel and Cornelius Green led the offense, as the latter beat out senior Greg Hare at quarterback. Add Champ Henson, Mike Bartoszek, Dave Hazel, a stout offensive line led by John Hicks and the offense looked potent.

As talented as the offense was, the defense was arguably deeper and better. Anchored by linebackers Randy Gradishar, Vic Koegel and Rick Middleton, the unit possessed a strong defensive line headed by Jim Cope, Pete Cusick, Van DeCree and former linebacker Arnie Jones. Neal Colzie and Tim Fox served as ball hawks in the secondary.  

This often overlooked team defeated its opponents by an average score of 38-6. The defense pitched four shutouts and only allowed eight touchdowns in 11 games. USC scored three of those touchdowns in the Rose Bowl.

The 1973 Buckeyes
Record 10–0–1
B1G Record 7–0–1, 1st
Coach Woody Hayes (23rd year, 159–49–8)
CaptainS Greg Hare, Richard Middleton

Games of Note

September 15th • Minnesota • Ohio Stadium Scoring on four of its first six drives, the 1973 team started its season in dominant fashion. The 86,005 in Ohio Stadium watched the Buckeyes score in every quarter and take a 35-7 lead into halftime against the Golden Gophers.

The most exciting play of the first half came from Griffin, whose 93-yard kickoff return for touchdown answered Minnesota's lone score that had cut Ohio State's lead to 14-7. Griffin finished the day with a game-high 249 all-purpose yards and two scores.

More special teams explosiveness came in the second half when Colzie returned a punt 78 yards for a touchdown. Staying with the special teams theme, Conway finished the game 8-for-8 on conversions.

After the game Cal Stoll, Minnesota's coach, said this about the Buckeyes: "Ohio State is a great team. It is no longer three yards and a cloud of dust, but 12 yards and a mass of humanity. Ohio State is a better team this year than they were last year, both offensively and defensively."

Griffin's 93-yard kickoff return:

1973 Schedule
JAN. 1 NO. 7 USC ROSE BOWL W, 42–21
      10–0–1, 413–64

September 29th • TCU • Ohio Stadium
The last time the Horned Frogs visited Columbus, the top-ranked 1969 Buckeyes thumped them 62-0. This time TCU left rainy Ohio Stadium with a 37-3 defeat.

Griffin and Green provided the big plays in the victory. Griffin started the scoring with a 68-yard touchdown run and netted a game-high 119 rushing yards. Green added 113 yards on the ground and two scores. He left TCU defenders behind on an exciting 72-yard second quarter touchdown.  

Henson went down with a knee injury late in the first quarter, a significant blow for the offense. The nation's leading scorer with 20 touchdowns in 1972, Henson missed the rest of the regular season. To complicate matters, Hayes removed Randy Keith – the No. 2 fullback – from the team due to academics. Senior John Hughes sat in line to replace Henson, though he played defensive back his first three seasons. However, Hayes had second thoughts about Hughes and went with linebacker Bruce Elia

Ohio State leads its all-time series with TCU 4–1–1 and is scheduled to meet the Horned Frogs for the first time since 1973 when the Buckeyes travel to Fort Worth in 2018.

Washington State closed out the non-conference schedule the following week. Now ranked No. 1 in the nation, Ohio State used the ground and pound to grind out a 27-3 victory. Griffin rushed 15 times for a game-high 128 yards and a touchdown. The Buckeyes outgained the Cougars 303-150 in rushing yards. 

The defense, led by Gradishar's 22 tackles, held the Cougars to 246 total yards. Fox, Middleton and Dick Parsons all came down with interceptions. The defense had only allowed 13 points over Ohio State's first three games. 

October 20th • Indiana • Memorial Stadium
Week 4 Ohio State traveled to Madison and defeated Wisconsin 24-0. The Buckeyes only led 7-0 at the half but erupted for 17 second half points. Griffin led all players with 169 yards rushing and Conway made a 36-yard field goal in the fourth quarter.

The defense only allowed the Badgers to cross midfield four times and held star running back Billy Marek to 49 yards. Marek entered the contest averaging 120 yards per game.

First-year Indiana coach Lee Corso entered the game against the Buckeyes with a 2–3 record. Still, the new coach excited the Hoosier faithful and the second largest crowd (at the time) in Memorial Stadium history filled the seats.

The 65-degree day yielded perfect playing conditions for Ohio State's running attack. Griffin and Elia provided a devastating one-two punch that produced 253 of the Buckeyes' 365 rushing yards. Elia and Green both scored twice in the 37-7 victory.

The defense put forth a solid performance as well, one bolstered by four turnovers. Colzie picked off two passes, one of which he returned 55 yards for a touchdown. Ohio State led 31-0 midway through the final quarter when Corso dialed up a reverse pass for a 51-yard touchdown. The shutout chance fell by the wayside, but the Buckeyes still won 37-7.

The following week Ohio State cemented its top ranking with a 60-0 spanking of Northwestern. The Buckeyes scored on offense, defense and special teams. Colzie had another pick-six, this one of the 19-yard variety and Fox scooped up a blocked punt for a score.

The fullback position took another hit when Elia left the game early with a back injury. Baschnagel and Pete Johnson filled in at the injury-prone fullback position. 

TCU W3 4–1–1
WISCONSIN W14 32–7–4
INDIANA W10 37–10–4
ILLINOIS W6 39–19–4
IOWA W9 22–10–2
MICHIGAN T1 26–39–5
USC W1 9–6–1

November 10th • Michigan State • Ohio Stadium
Before playing Michigan State in Columbus, the Buckeyes headed west to Champaign. In Memorial Stadium, 60,707 hoped Illinois (5–2) could remain unbeaten in Big Ten play and win its first conference title since 1963.

It appeared the Illini had a chance with Ohio State leading 3-0 at halftime, but the Buckeyes scored 27 straight second half points to end that dream.

Ohio State's defense held Illinois to 33 yards rushing and 74 total yards on 48 plays. That averages out to just over 1.5 yards per snap.

The Buckeyes' offense had 22 first downs compared to Illinois' five and racked up 341 rushing yards.

In his first season, Denny Stolz and his Michigan State (3–5) team faced a tall task as they tried to upset the No. 1 Buckeyes. Ohio State's defense crushed any hope of that and did not allow the Spartans to cross midfield until midway through the fourth quarter. Michigan State recorded only four first downs and rushed for 33 yards. 

Gradishar, Cope and Middleton recorded double-digit tackles, while Cope and DeCree combined for six tackles for loss. No matter what the Spartans tried, Ohio State had an answer.

A new stadium record of 87,600 braved the 36-degree weather, and Colzie rewarded them with spectacular punt returns. Colzie returned a punt 43 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter to put Ohio State up 21-0. He finished the day with a school record 170 punt return yards on eight attempts.

Griffin and the offense continued to hum. The sophomore eclipsed 100 yards for the eighth consecutive game of the season. Elia returned in fine fashion and scored three times in the 35-0 rout.

After the game, Stolz said: "If Ohio State isn't the best team in the nation, I hope I never play the No. 1 team."

November 24th • #4 Michigan • Michigan Stadium
The week before The Game, the top-ranked Buckeyes embarrassed Iowa (0–9) 55-13. Griffin set a new single-game record with 246 rushing yards and Elia recorded four touchdowns on just 11 yards rushing. 

How dominant was Ohio State's defense in 1973? Iowa scored the first points against the Buckeyes in 15 quarters, and it came against the reserves. Through nine games, Ohio State outscored its opponents 361-33. 

The Buckeyes entered the 70th version of The Game as favorites, despite the fact No. 4 Michigan (10–0) had not lost a home game in four seasons. 

The first half was all Ohio State and it appeared the Buckeyes were on their way to a victory. A recap from the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

Ohio State got on the scoreboard first when Blair Conway kicked a 31-yard field goal early in the second quarter after a Buckeye drive stalled on the Michigan 14.

The Buckeyes then marched 55 yards in eight plays to up their lead to 10-0 as Griffin and freshman fullback Pete Johnson did most of the rushing. Archie had 41 yards and with the ball on the five, Johnson carried three Michigan defenders with him into the end zone. Conway kicked the placement.

Ohio State clearly dominated the first half, piling up 143 yards to 86 for Michigan. Griffin rushed for 99.

The Buckeyes maintained the 10-0 lead through the third quarter. However, Hayes made a key decision late in that stanza that shifted the momentum. Facing 4th-and-2 on the Michigan 42, Ohio State's coach elected to go for a first down. But Michigan stopped Green and took over possession. 

Michigan used the field position to set up Mike Lantry's 30-yard field goal to make it 10-3. The Wolverines and their fans had hope.

The tying score from the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

(Dennis) Franklin's 27-yard heave to Paul Seal was one of the key plays in the seven-play, 55-yard drive that pulled the Wolves even. In this march, Shuttlesworth was the workhorse. He powered Michigan to the Ohio 10. The touchdown came with 9:32 left to play on a sweep by Franklin on a fourth-down-and-inches to go play.

Lantry made the point after to tie the game.

Ohio State's next possession featured seven straight runs, but it stalled at the Michigan 44-yard line. Facing 4th-and-4 at the 44, Hayes decided to punt and the Wolverines fair caught it at their own 12.

Franklin guided his team on the ensuing drive until he broke his collarbone. Larry Cipa entered as his replacement but the drive stalled at the Buckeyes' 41 with the Wolverines staring at a 4th-and-3 with just over one minute left. Schembechler opted to attempt a 58-yard field goal instead of going for the first down. Lantry's kick missed wide left giving Ohio State time to win the game.

In 1973, officials placed a missed field goal that went through the end zone at the 20, not the spot where the ball was kicked. Needing 80 yards with little time, Hayes put Hare in the game to replace Green. On the first play from scrimmage, Hare threw an interception to Tom Drake. 

With an unexpected opportunity, Michigan moved the ball to the 33 and gave Lantry another chance to be the hero.   

Mike Lantry's second attempt for victory:

The tie gave Hayes his ninth Big Ten title in 23 years at Ohio State. The tie also put the athletic directors in charge of naming the Big Ten's Rose Bowl representative. If the conference still had the "no-repeat" rule Michigan would have been the choice, but that rule was abolished a year earlier and the athletic directors had to vote.

Due to Franklin's broken collarbone and the fact the Big Ten lost the last four Rose Bowls, the athletic directors voted to send the Buckeyes to Pasadena. They thought a healthy Ohio State team had a better chance at defeating USC than the Wolverines did without Franklin.

At the time, the Big Ten only allowed one team to represent the conference in a bowl game. That relegated Michigan (10–0–1) to watching from home. The Big Ten later abolished that rule as a result of the 10-10 tie.

Go here to watch Tiebreaker, BTN's in-depth show that delves into the decision to send the Buckeyes to Pasadena. 

January 1st • #7 USC • Rose Bowl
Getting the surprising nod from Big Ten athletic directors, No. 4 Ohio State relished the opportunity to amend for its 42-17 loss to USC a year earlier. The team arrived in Pasadena focused on the task at hand.

A recap of the 1974 Rose Bowl from the 2015 Team Media Guide:

Ohio State used a powerful running attack, led by Archie Griffin’s 149 yards, to break
open a close game and run past USC. Pete Johnson added 94 yards and
three touchdowns for the Buckeyes, who totaled 320 yards on the ground.

OSU fell behind, 21-14, early in the third before scoring the final 13 points of the quarter. The first score was set up by a Cornelius Greene to Fred Pagac pass good for 39 yards to the USC 4. Johnson bulled over for the tally, and a blocked extra point kick left it 21-20.

Ohio State took the lead for good after Neal Colzie set up the go-ahead score with a 56-yard punt return to the USC 9. Greene covered the final yard with 2:12 left in the quarter for a 27-21 lead. Griffin capped the final scoring drive with 4:35 remaining by dashing 47 yards over right tackle.

The team finished the season at 11–0–1 and AP voters placed it at No. 2 in their final poll – behind Notre Dame.

That vote still does not sit well with one of the players from the 1973 team. He believes Ohio State was clearly the best team in the country and that the AP voted that way to spite Woody Hayes.

It's hard to disagree with him, but it's a shame Ohio State did not take care of business in Ann Arbor. Had the 1973 team finished with a clean slate, it would be heralded as one of, if not the best team in OSU history. 

1973 Recap

  • Griffin had a 93-yard kickoff return in the 56-7 thrashing of Minnesota.
  • Champ Henson was lost for the regular season in the 37-3 victory over TCU.
  • Ohio State defeated Indiana 37-7 in Lee Corso's first season as the Hoosiers' head coach.  
  • Northwestern could do nothing as the Buckeyes won 60-0.
  • Neal Colzie set a record with 170 punt return yards in the 35-0 shutout of MSU.
  • Frank Laterbur's last shot at Ohio State resulted in a 55-13 loss.
  • Ohio State tied Michigan 10-10 in the 70th game of the rivalry. The Buckeyes won their 17th Big Ten title.
  • Ohio State started the season as the No. 3 team in the nation, but finished 1973 ranked second in the AP Poll. 
  • Van DeCree, Randy Gradishar, Archie Griffin and John Hicks were named All-Americans.
  • John Hicks, Rick Middleton, Randy Gradishar, Morris Bradshaw, Greg Hare, Dan Scott, Jim Kregel and Vic Koegel were selected in the NFL Draft.

When asked, most people will state one of these eight teams as Ohio State's best: 1942, 1968, 1969, 1996, 1998, 2002, 2014 or 2015. Few people think of the 1973 squad, other than the 10-10 tie against Michigan, a shame that undervalues the greatness of the team. 

How good was it? Conway argues this: "There are twice as many players from that team in the OSU Hall Of Fame than any other OSU team." That's a pretty strong argument. 

He added: "All 24 starters (11 offense, 11 defense, kicker, punter) either played or had tryouts in the pros."  The 1973 team is the most overlooked team in college football history and seems to be only remembered when the 10-10 tie game is mentioned.

It should not be overlooked any longer.

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