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Buckeye history: We look back at what made Ohio State a national power

Buckeye Xtra
Ohio State Buckeyes quarterbacks helmets belonging to quarterback Tate Martell (18), Dwayne Haskins (7) and Kory Curtis (16) sit on the sideline as the team warms up prior to the NCAA football game against Oregon State at Ohio Stadium in Columbus on Sept. 1, 2018. [Adam Cairns / Dispatch]

Here is a roundup of the stories published so far from our 14-part series on different aspects that shaped OSU's evolution as a football program through its history. 

Coach Urban Meyer and running back Ezekiel Elliott hold up the trophy following a College Football Playoff semifinal win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans on Jan. 1, 2015. Not every Ohio State season ends in a title, but they rarely end with losing records. Not since 1922-24 have the Buckeyes had consecutive losing seasons.


Ohio State has avoided the extended slumps that have befallen every single other powerhouse. Only three times in the past 73 seasons has Ohio State lost as many as six games. Not since 1922-24 have the Buckeyes had consecutive losing seasons.

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Chic Harley's running, passing, defending and kicking led Ohio State to a 21-1-1 record in his three seasons. The Buckeyes also captured the program's first two Big Ten championships.


Chic Harley was the flint that created the spark that started the fire that fueled the passion for a sport that had received only tepid interest before his arrival.

Harley was not an imposing figure, but it is no stretch to say that it is on his narrow frame that Ohio Stadium, completed in 1922, and Ohio State’s reputation as a national football powerhouse solidly stand today. 

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Ohio State running back Archie Griffin picks up 12 yards and a first down against UCLA in a 1975 regular-season game. Ranked No. 1 entering the Rose Bowl, the Buckeyes were upset by the Bruins in a rematch.


Some Ohio State fans are too young to recall when a successful season could be defined by a win over Michigan and playing in the Rose Bowl. These days, anything short of a College Football Playoff appearance, culminating in a national championship, leaves many fans, players and coaches feeling frustrated.

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Cornelius Greene


The Buckeyes had their first Black player in only their second year of existence. They also went decades without any Blacks on the roster. Ohio State didn’t have a Black assistant coach until 1968. 

The program’s history with race is a complex one, but it also is filled with glory, starting with Bill Bell 90 years ago and Bill Willis in the early 1940s. More recent times have included illustrious stars whose last names are unnecessary to Ohio State fans: Archie. Eddie. Troy. All won Heisman Trophies. 

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More:Rudy Hubbard reflects on his time at Ohio State and the issue of race

1985 -- Black and white file photo -- Thomas "Pepper" Johnson leads a swarm of Ohio State tacklers against Pittsburgh in a night game in Ohio Stadium on Sept. 14, 1985.  (Dispatch file photo)

*** NOTE:  On Sept. 14, 1985, the FIRST night football game was played in Ohio Stadium. The Buckeyes opened the season with a 10-7 victory over Pitt. ***


Ohio State had played in the early afternoon on fall Saturdays for almost a century, a seemingly fixed time slot that offered a familiar routine for spectators.

But as the season opened in 1985, the Buckeyes hosted Pittsburgh in a game that began much later. Kickoff came at 8:08 p.m. In order to stage the contest after the sun faded, portable lights were installed at the stadium.

It remains a watershed moment in the Buckeyes’ history as one of the earliest instances when a television contract dictated when a football game at the Horseshoe would start.

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Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer brings his team onto the field before Saturday's NCAA Division I football game against Cincinnati at Ohio Stadium in Columbus on September 27, 2014. (Columbus Dispatch photo by Jonathan Quilter)


It’s right there on the university seal. One little word that, like a pinch of cayenne, creates a spicy stew when tossed into any college football conversation.

The Ohio State University. Depending on fan affiliation, it comes off as arrogant or awesome. The Buckeyes are admired for their consistent success — they rank first all-time nationally in winning percentage (.729) and have had only two losing seasons (1988 and 2011) in the past 54 years — but they also have their share of critics who want the pretentious bully to get his comeuppance.

Hating teams at the top is natural. Jealous wannabes want what they don’t have.

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(OSUNWEST SQUILLANTE 09/22/07) Ohio State's Jim Tressel walks the sidelines vs. Northwestern in the 1st half at Ohio Stadium Sat. Sept. 22, 2007. (Dispatch photo by Fred Squillante) Game Day Moments


The opportunity to be the head football coach at Ohio State mattered to Jim Tressel almost on a molecular level.

The son of a coach, Tressel was raised in a family with an appreciation for what the Buckeyes meant to Ohioans even without attending the university. That feeling of responsibility was one he brought with him when he was hired to replace John Cooper in January 2001. When Cooper was fired, it made him the sixth consecutive Ohio State coach to either quit or be fired, a streak stretching back to Paul Brown in the early 1940s.

For the next decade, Tressel would take his turn before resigning on May 30, 2011. His tenure was marked by the program returning to its place as a perennial national power, and the responsibility of leading the Buckeyes was not lost on him, Tressel said.

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Ohio Stadium, also known as the Horseshoe, the Shoe, and the House That Harley Built, is on the campus of The Ohio State University.  Photographed Tuesday, June 16, 2020.  (Doral Chenoweth/Columbus Dispatch)

The Horseshoe

Ohio Stadium was born a century ago as a leap of faith.

It now stands as an iconic structure, the home and symbol of Ohio State football. The program and its stadium are inseparable, each making the other stronger.

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