For eight weeks last year Ohio State was the No. 1 team in the country, starting with a 62-0 romp over TCU and ending with the total destruction of Mike Phipps and Purdue 42-14. That game, played on such a frigid day in Columbus that Coach Woody Hayes was forced to abandon his traditional shirtsleeves for a parka, gave Rex Kern, Jack Tatum and the rest of the talented Buckeyes 22 straight wins as a team and put them one game away from a second straight national championship.
Most people know what happened in the game that followed. Traveling to Ann Arbor, Ohio State was upset 24-12 by the emotionally aroused Wolverines. Ohio State looked flat, listless. Perhaps the Buckeyes themselves had been too aroused the week before and had nothing left for Michigan. Perhaps the lack of a Rose Bowl incentive had hurt them. (There is a Big Ten rule that prohibits a team from going twice in a row.) In any case, Ohio State had blown the championship.
Chances are nothing of the sort will happen this year. For one thing, State has Kern, Tatum and many of the others who put together that long winning streak. For another, its schedule, compared to that of other No. 1 contenders, is a cake-walk (Texas A&M and Duke are its non-conference opponents). Lastly, Woody Hayes is not going to let his players forget what happened that dreadful day in November. Last spring Hayes placed a large scarlet-blue-and-gray rug outside the door to the team dressing room, and every Buckeye, Woody included, had to tread on it at least four times a day. The rug had this curt inscription:
1969 MICH 24 OSU 12
1970 MICH OSU
Ohio State and Michigan will fill in the blanks Nov. 21 at Ohio Stadium in Columbus (right), and if Woody has his way, the game should convince the world that Ohio State is No. 1.
As one Ohio State player says, "Woody is a revengeful man, make no mistake about that. Why, deep down inside he's been playing Michigan every day since we lost. We might lose a game this year, but we won't get beat by Michigan."
The Buckeyes have 31 lettermen returning (they lost only five important players), and at least 15 of them will probably be drafted by the pros. Hayes has two experienced quarterbacks—Kern, the sleight-of-hand magician, and Ron Maciejowski, the Mr. Avis of college football—to operate his varied offense in which Larry Zelina, Leo Hay-den and John Brockington handle the ground-gaining chores and Jan White and Bruce Jankowski lake care of the pass catching. If all that is not enough, the Buckeyes also return two of the country's best deep defenders, Tim Anderson and Mike Sensibaugh, and probably the best college player in the land, Corner-back Jack Tatum. Tatum is a 6', 205-pound senior from Passaic, N.J., who is almost certain to be someone's No. 1 draft choice this winter. Hayes, who personally recruited Tatum, has played him only on defense, always at cornerback on the wide side of the field, but many scouts feel that Jack will be a running back or a flanker in the pros. Playing defense for the Buckeyes, Tatum has stopped such great college runners as O. J. Simpson, Leroy Keyes and Ron Johnson—broken-field specialists who preferred the wide side.
Nevertheless, when Hayes, always the pessimist, inspects his troops √† la George Patton, he says, "We do have to rebuild the interior of our offensive and defensive lines." What Woody does not say, though, is that his sophomores—monsters such as Larry Graf, Shad Williams. John Hicks and George Hasenohrl—already are considered better than the graduates they have replaced. And with All-America Middle Guard Jim Stillwagon among the returnees, Hayes really should have no worries about "rebuilding." As a matter of fact, Hayes should not have any worries at all this season, not even over-confidence. The rug should take care of that.