Jack looks back | Four teams have dominated first six College Football Playoffs

Jack Park For The Columbus Dispatch
Ohio State quarterback Art Schlichter (10) runs the ball in the 1978 Gator Bowl, a 17-15 loss to Clemson. Tigers defensive tackle Jim Stuckey dives to try to make the tackle. [Dispatch file photo]

Ohio State (13-0) will combat Clemson (13-0) and LSU (13-0) will tackle Oklahoma (12-1) in the semifinals of the 2019 College Football Playoff on Saturday. The winners will square off Monday, Jan. 13, for the national championship.

Clemson enters the playoff after winning its last 28 games, while Ohio State brings a 19-game winning streak to the contest. Alabama dealt the Tigers their last loss, 24-6, in the semifinals of the 2017 playoff on Jan. 1, 2018. The Buckeyes’ last setback was 49-20 at Purdue on Oct. 20, 2018.

Ohio State captured the first playoff national championship in 2014 with a 42-35 come-from-behind defeat of Alabama, followed by a convincing 42-20 victory over Oregon in the championship game. Four teams have dominated play in the first six playoffs. Alabama and Clemson have each appeared five times, Oklahoma is making its fourth journey to the playoff, and Ohio State is making its third trip to the chosen four. These teams have been awarded 17 of the 24 placements over the first six years. Seven other teams have each been selected once: Oregon, Florida State, Michigan State, Washington, Georgia, Notre Dame and LSU. This year’s playoff is the first time Alabama has not been selected for one of the four positions.

Alabama and Clemson have alternately claimed the last four national championships. The Crimson Tide defeated Clemson 45-40 in 2015 and Georgia 26-23 in double overtime in 2017. Clemson has twice nailed Alabama for the crown, 35-31 in 2016 and 44-16 in 2018. There have been two shutouts during the first five playoffs, both in the semifinals. Alabama triumphed over Michigan State 38-0 in 2015, and Clemson overpowered Ohio State 31-0 in 2016.

Saturday night’s game will be Ohio State’s fourth all-time against Clemson. The Tigers own a 3-0 record in the series. In addition to its 2016 playoff victory, Clemson won 40-35 in the Orange Bowl at the end of the 2013 season and 17-15 in the 1978 Gator Bowl.

The Gator Bowl of 1978 was an exciting game, yet is best remembered for “the punch” that ended Woody Hayes’ 28-year head coaching career at Ohio State. Almost forgotten in all the media coverage after the game was the Ohio State basketball team’s stunning upset of top-ranked Duke, 90-84, earlier that evening at Madison Square Garden in New York.

Clemson’s 1978 Gator Bowl squad was directed by Danny Ford, who had been elevated to the team’s top job just three weeks earlier after coach Charlie Pell left Clemson for the same position at Florida. The 30-year-old Ford was serving as a head coach for the first time at any level.

Clemson led 10-9 after a well-played first half. The third quarter belonged to the Tigers, who used a 19-play, 84-yard touchdown drive to increase their lead to 17-9. In the final period, freshman quarterback Art Schlichter scored his second TD of the evening with a 2-yard run, and OSU trailed 17-15 with 8:11 remaining.

Middle guard Tim Sawicki gave the Buckeyes new life by recovering a Clemson fumble at the OSU 24-yard line with 4:22 remaining. Schlichter rapidly moved his Ohio State team downfield. On a third-and-5 at the Clemson 24, Schlichter fired a short pass over the middle, intended for tailback Ron Springs. Tigers middle guard Charlie Bauman intercepted and was run out of bounds in front of the Ohio State bench with 1:59 to play. In an obvious fit of frustration, Woody Hayes struck Bauman and had to be physically restrained by his players and assistant coaches — the rest is history.

Early the following morning, OSU athletic director Hugh Hindman met with Hayes and told the coach he could “resign or be relieved of his position.” Hayes had many times stated that when he elected to retire, his close friend Paul Hornung, sports editor of The Columbus Dispatch, would be the first to know. Hayes called Horning at approximately 8:00 a.m. that morning and told Hornung, “I have resigned as of now.”

The 1978 Gator Bowl brought to a close one of the most colorful and successful coaching careers in college football history. Hayes’ 28-season Ohio State record was an outstanding 205-61-10, and his 33-year lifetime college coaching record was 238-72-10. After football, Hayes continued to be a vigorous goodwill ambassador for Ohio State. He died on March 12, 1987, at the age of 74, and his positive influence will thankfully continue for many future generations.