Jack Park, a leading Ohio State football historian, checks in each week during the college football season with a retrospective about the Buckeyes.
This season Ohio State is celebrating the 75th anniversary of its first national title. The 1942 Buckeyes were directed by 34-year-old Paul Brown, who was in his second season as head coach. This very special team completed its season with a record of 9-1, outscoring its 10 opponents, 337-114.
Two of their key victories were a 32-21 triumph over highly-talented Indiana, and a 21-7 victory over the powerful Michigan Wolverines. The lone setback came at Wisconsin, 17-7, in the season’s sixth game. The Badgers were coached by Harry Stuhldreher who, like Brown, had grown up in Massillon, Ohio.
The 1942 backfield of quarterback George Lynn, tailback Paul Sarringhaus, fullback Gene Fekete, and wingback Les Horvath was one of the school’s finest ever assembled. Lynn was the team captain, Sarringhaus and Fekete were both All-Americans, and Fekete was the first Ohio State player to finish in the top-ten voting for the Heisman Trophy (8th). Horvath returned to the playing field in 1944 under relaxed eligibility conditions during World War II, and became an All-American and Ohio State’s first Heisman Trophy winner.
Three of the 1942 team’s linemen were chosen All-Americans --- end Bob Shaw, guard Lynn Houston, and tackle Chuck Csuri, who also was the team’s Most Valuable Player. The other starting tackle was sophomore Bill Willis, who would become a two-time All-American in 1943-44. Willis is one of only three Ohio State players to be inducted into both the College and Professional Football Halls of Fame. The others are guard/linebacker Jim Parker, 1954-55-56, and tackle Orlando Pace, 1994-95-96.
After the close of the 1941 season, the United States became totally involved in the World War II effort in both Europe and the Pacific. Many military bases fielded football teams during the war to help promote morale. The Big Ten Conference made two wartime changes, allowing member schools to play ten games rather than the previous limit of eight, and permitting games with the service teams. Ohio State added Fort Knox for its 1942 season-opener and Iowa Pre-Flight (Iowa Seahawks) to close the season. It is the only year since 1934 that the Buckeyes did not conclude their regular season against Michigan.
Heading into their final game against the Iowa Seahawks, the Buckeyes (8-1) were ranked third behind top-ranked Boston College (8-0) and second-place Georgia Tech (9-0). Iowa Pre-Flight (7-1) entered the November 28 game as a solid favorite, outweighing Ohio State 20 pounds per player. Showing no mental letdown following their celebrated victory over Michigan the previous week, Ohio State crushed the Seahawks 41-12 after jumping out to a 27-6 lead at halftime. The biggest difference in the two opponents this numbingly frigid afternoon was the Buckeyes’ enormous speed.
While Ohio State was posting its colossal triumph in Columbus, Georgia smashed Georgia Tech, 34-0, at Sanford Field in Athens. But the totally inconceivable outcome came from Boston’s Fenway Park, where unranked Holy Cross (who had won only four games this season) crushed top-ranked Boston College, 55-12. was the most one-sided game ever between these New England rivals, who were meeting for the 40th time. The Buckeyes had peaked at the perfect time to capture their first national championship by a vote of 1,432 to 1,339 over second-place Georgia Tech in the final Associated Press poll.
Coach Paul Brown and this exceptional group of young men were national champions far beyond the playing field. Their career achievements, respect for each other, and contributions to society fashioned one of the most splendid chapters in all of college football.