How quickly they forget. Last year Nebraska looked unstoppable. Then the Huskers lost to Miami in the Orange Bowl, and 4½ months later the USFL made Hurricane coach Howard Schnellenberger a rich goose. This season Ohio State may look just as unstoppable come bowl time. So take heart all you Pac-10 coaches: A Rose Bowl win could be your ticket to USFL fortunes. The wheels are humming. The Buckeyes are coming.
Or the wheels were humming, until senior quarterback Mike Tomczak broke his right leg in the final spring scrimmage. "It was an option play," says Tomczak. "I got flipped, with my leg pinned. Lucky it wasn't a knee or ankle." But it was the tibia and the fibula, a double break, both bad for Ohio State.
A two-year starter, Tomczak is an exceptional passer, runner and ballhandler. Last season he completed 131 of 237 passes (55%) for 1,942 yards and 13 touchdowns. As long as he's available to provide what he calls "the Turner Gill effect," the Buckeyes will score in bunches. "I just hope Coach [Earle Bruce] doesn't think I won't be able to handle the leg-work," says Tomczak. He should be ready for the Buckeyes' Sept. 8 opener against Oregon State.
Part 2 of the Ohio State attack is 6'2", 230-pound junior tailback Keith Byars, who rushed for 1,199 yards and scored 22 touchdowns in 1983. Both totals led the Big Ten. According to Tomczak, Byars is also "the best receiver we have. He's a franchise." Byars's pals call him Brampbell, as in Jim Brown and Earl Campbell. Says Bruce, "He's the kind of guy who'll carry a lot."
Ohio State has its usual armada of superb offensive linemen. The top performer in '83 was 6'4", 278-pound right tackle Mark Krerowicz, but he may relinquish that distinction to left guard Jim Lachey (6'6", 264, 4.8 40), who was fast enough to run several 100-yard dashes for St. Henry (Ohio) High. The Buckeye offense may be comparable, in final point production, with that classic Lincoln (Neb.) limited edition of 1983. The Ohio State receiving corps doesn't feature an Irving Fryar, but it has some small fryars, including 5'11" Jay Holland and 6-foot Mike Lanese.
On defense, "the inexperience in our secondary is overwhelming," says Bruce. "But we've got the bodies," insists Tomczak. On Bruce's desk sits a Wheaties box and the football player depicted on it—already!—is freshman linebacker Chris Spielman, dressed out in his Massillon (Ohio) High togs. "He'll be something," says Bruce of his prize recruit. "I've never seen a player with his intensity."
Compared with the death marches of Miami and Penn State, the Buckeyes have a hayride for a schedule. The three teams that beat Ohio State in '83—Iowa, Illinois and Michigan—must come to Columbus. The non-league opponents are Oregon State and Washington State, both at home. "We'll be young," says Tomczak, "but we can be like a Nebraska." Yes, the Buckeyes could be, as long as their trigger man remains an upright and mobile citizen.