For several months red-blazered disciples of that megaschool on the banks of the mighty Olentangy have been addressing themselves to college football's most intriguing question: Who's No. 1? Their conclusion, though it will likely be untested until Michigan's visit on Nov. 23, is a resounding, "We are."
Ohio State will be national champion because Woody Hayes says so. "We're not shooting for anything less," he informed a congregation of Buckeyes on the first day of spring practice. "We've come close a couple of times lately but we haven't done it. This time we will."
The Big Buckeye having spoken, all the little Buckeyelets clamored in agreement. "I'm kind of dying for it," says Bruce Elia. "We ain't going to miss it this year." To which fellow Linebacker Ken Kuhn adds, "We're going to kill people while we're doing it." So sleep tight, all you Iowas and Indianas.
The prospect of a national championship has stirred even low-keyed, high-powered superback Archie Griffin. "It would be cool," says Griffin, the only sophomore in half a century to be named the Big Ten's Most Valuable Player.
Next week, when the Buckeyes open their quest against Minnesota, Griffin will most likely become Ohio State's leading career rusher and runner-up in total offense. Ninety-nine yards will accomplish both, a very makeable total since he averaged 143 a game last year and never gained fewer than 105. Griffin already holds the Big Ten single-season (1,577) and Ohio State single-game (246) rushing marks.
Archie is only one of 16 returning starters. The depth and breadth of Ohio State's talent is so great that Tackle John Hicks, the Outland and Lombardi trophies winner, and All-America Linebacker Randy Gradishar will hardly be missed. "We don't need them," says Defensive Tackle Pete Cusick.
This preponderance of talent has mellowed Hayes, the tempestuous World War II historian who chews up sideline markers and spits them out whole. "I'm getting to be a grandfather figure to these guys," Woody grumbled not long ago. "I think sometimes we get along too well, that maybe I'm too nice to them."
Although the 61-year-old Hayes can still "land on you and get outrageous," as Quarterback Cornelius Greene marvelously describes it, there does seem to be crumbling at the edges of his brick-and-mortar exterior. The signs were there even before his June heart attack. "He's not yelling at us as much," one player says, "because he doesn't have to."
The Ohio State offense looks as if it could be even better than the one that placed fourth nationally in rushing last year and fifth in scoring. The rapid development of sophomore Pete Johnson at fullback hastened Elia's return to linebacker and keeps Champ Henson frustrated as the No. 2 man. Elia scored 14 touchdowns after Henson injured his knee early last season, and Champ, who has since recovered from surgery, was the nation's leading touchdown scorer two years ago. But Johnson scored three TDs in the 42-21 Rose Bowl win over Southern California and he gained 162 yards in the spring game. "He's the strongest running and best blocking fullback I've ever had," says Hayes, who has had some beauties.
Johnson is a devastating addition to a backfield that already includes Griffin, the quicksilver Greene and versatile Wingback Brian Baschnagel. Although Hicks is gone, the blocking front remains strong with All-Big Ten Tackle Kurt Schumacher and Center Steve Myers.