What was Ohio State's greatest football team?
Many Buckeye fans might select Urban Meyer’s 2014 (14-1) squad that claimed the CFP’s first national title. Was it Jim Tressel’s 2002 squad that captured the national title with a record of 14-0? How about Woody Hayes’ 1954 (10-0) or 1968 (10-0) teams, or the school’s first national championship team of 1942 (9-1) coached by Paul Brown? However, the 1973 squad (10-0-1), that is celebrating its 45th anniversary this fall, may well have been the finest Ohio State team ever assembled.
Some teams are remembered because of either a high-scoring offense or a stingy defense, but the Buckeyes of 1973 were truly outstanding at both ends of the field. They outscored their opposition 413-64 while leading the nation in scoring defense, surrendering an average of only 4.3 points-per-game during the regular season.
Except for a 10-10 tie at Michigan, their "closest call" was a 21-point Rose Bowl triumph over Southern California, 42-21. The offense averaged 37.5 points-per-game. Ohio State entered the '73 campaign with high expectations, since a large nucleus returned from the '72 squad that was 9-2. Ohio State's ground-oriented attack was led by sophomore tailback Archie Griffin, who rushed for a then school single season record with 1,577 yards. The offensive line was anchored around tackle John Hicks, who captured both the Lombardi Award and Outland Trophy, and finished second to Penn State's John Cappelletti in the Heisman Trophy chase.
The defense featured three exceptional linebackers in seniors Randy Gradishar, Vic Koegel, and Co-Captain Rick Middleton. All three were All-Big Ten and Gradishar, who had great speed and excellent lateral pursuit, was a consensus All-American for the second time. Koegel led the team in tackles in 1971 (126), Middleton in 1972 (112), and Gradishar in 1973 (134).
End Van DeCree was an All-American, while tackle Pete Cusick and cornerback Neal Colzie were two of the finest Buckeyes ever to play their positions. Both became All-Americans in 1974. Colzie established school single-season records in 1973 with 40 punt returns for 679 yards and two touchdowns.
Ohio State and Michigan tied for the Big Ten title with identical 7-0-1 league records, forcing the Athletic Directors to select the league’s Rose Bowl representative. This may well have been the most famous "vote" in conference history. To the surprise of many, including many Buckeye fans, Ohio State was selected. The league office would not release the vote count, but the Detroit Free Press reported it to be six-to-four. The Free Press stated Ohio State received votes from Illinois, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Purdue, and Northwestern, while Michigan got the support of Indiana, Iowa, and Minnesota.
Michigan coach Bo Schembechler was extremely bitter, stating his team deserved the trip because he felt his team had outplayed Ohio State during their tie game. He also protested that Ohio State had been to Pasadena the previous season. Ironically, Michigan AD Don Canham strongly supported abolishing the Rose Bowl "no repeat" policy which had been in effect until this 1973 season.
Griffin became the first sophomore to be chosen the Big Ten's "Most Valuable Player,” and Hicks became the first Big Ten player to play in three Rose Bowls. Fullback Bruce Elia tied with Wisconsin's Billy Marek for the conference scoring title with 66 points.
Gradishar, Griffin, and Hicks are all members of the College Football Hall of Fame. The 1973 Buckeyes finished second behind undefeated Notre Dame in the final Associated Press poll.