Current Buckeyes resemble Woody’s 1968 squad in many ways

Woody Hayes, pictured here in 1959, had a team perhaps even younger than Urban Meyer's in 1968.

Paul Shane/AP

Even before Ohio State announced the Buckeyes will wear uniforms reminiscent of those from the 1968 season when they play Oregon, the 2014 team and that campaign had more than a few similarities.

First the obvious: Both teams won Big Ten championships, running through the league schedule without a loss before facing a Pacific 12 (then Pac-8) team with the national championship on the line. While this team will play Oregon in the first College Football Playoff National Championship Game, the ’68 Buckeyes stopped USC 27-16 in the Rose Bowl. The Ducks will be led by reigning Heisman Trophy winner quarterback Marcus Mariota, and the Trojans boasted their own owner of the stiff-arm trophy: tailback O.J. Simpson.

Then there is the way each Ohio State team is or was composed. While Urban Meyer has called this Ohio State team a year ahead of schedule in part because of 11 current starters who are sophomores or redshirt freshmen, that is one less than Hall of Fame head coach Woody Hayes had in his regular starting lineup in 1968. Four other sophomores also started at least one game in 1968 while Meyer has had a handful of other players from the past two recruiting classes make significant contributions as well.

At one point or another, injuries caused both coaches to play multiple quarterbacks. While Cardale Jones has become a sensation as the starter in place of surprising second-year star J.T. Barrett this season, it was Ron Maciejowski spelling starter Rex Kern at various times during the ’68 campaign when Kern was hurt. The highlight of Maciejowski’s sophomore season came — you guessed it — against Wisconsin as the Bedford product passed for 153 yards and ran for another 124 while scoring three touchdowns in a 43-8 rout of the Badgers.

Both teams led the nation in attendance, and fans of today might be surprised to learn both teams ran fast-paced offenses. In fact, Hayes’ 1968 outfit had a clear advantage in the latter department, averaging 10 more plays per game than the 2014 team has so far. According to the Ohio State media guide, the Buckeyes’ 84 plays per game were second in the country in 1968 while these Buckeyes are faster than most teams but not among the leaders in that category.

While sophomore Michael Thomas leads the current Buckeyes with 50 catches, it was sophomore Bruce Jankowski in 1968 with 31 grabs. Underclassmen led both teams in rushing, although Jim Otis was a junior in ’68 while his 2014 counterpart is sophomore Ezekiel Elliott.

On the other side of the ball, both teams boast young stars at every level of the defense. The 1968 team’s answer to Joey Bosa? Try Jim Stillwagon, a multitalented sophomore middle guard from Mount Vernon who also played linebacker when the Buckeyes shifted to a four-man front. At linebacker, Darron Lee could be the modern-day Doug Adams while both teams were led in interceptions by a sophomore safety — Vonn Bell now and Mike Sensibaugh then.

Of course, the 1968 team also boasted sophomore Jack Tatum as the rover or monster back, but we’re not ready to declare any of Ohio State’s current defensive backs a Hall of Famer or future NFL great yet.

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Lastly, both teams share a mix of contributors from within Ohio and beyond. Of course Ohio had long been a source of talent for Ohio State, but the fallout from the University Faculty Council’s decision to turn down a bid to the Rose Bowl in 1961 had hurt Hayes’ recruiting in the Midwest. As a result, he went to New Jersey to recruit Tatum and Jankowski while luring standout fullback John Brockington from Brooklyn, N.Y., cornerback Tim Anderson from West Virginia and end Jan White from Pennsylvania. Still, the core of the "Super Sophs" called Ohio home, including Stillwagon, Kern (Lancaster), Adams (Xenia), Sensibaugh (Cincinnati), Maciejowski (Elyria), running backs Leo Hayden (Dayton) and Larry Zelina (Cleveland) and offensive tackle Dave Cheney (Lima).

Similarly, Meyer’s freshmen and sophomore starters include out-of-state standouts Bosa (Florida), Barrett (Texas), Bell (Georgia), Thomas (California), Elliott (Missouri) and cornerback Eli Apple (New Jersey) along with young Ohioans Lee (New Albany), Jones (Cleveland Glenville), offensive linemen Billy Price (Austintown Fitch) and Pat Elflein (Pickerington North), receiver Jalin Marshall (Middletown) and safety Tyvis Powell (Bedford).

That leaves only two more common threads to establish, and they are now intertwined. For the 2014 Buckeyes to join the ’68 squad as a consensus national champion, they will have to beat Oregon — something the ’68 team did by a 21-6 score in its second game of the season.

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