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It was all too obvious that the Buckeyes missed Schlichter terribly. What happened to the four great quarterbacks Bruce had recruited to replace him? One Columbus reporter wanted to find out and asked permission to interview Tomczak and Offenbecher, plus freshman Jim Karsatos, a big California passer, and junior Tim Stephens. Bruce blew up. The reporter could talk with the two who had played, but not with Karsatos or Stephens. "They have nothing to say," said Bruce. "They're not news yet. They'll be news when they play."
But the news is the quarterback situation because, other than Schlichter, virtually everyone else is back from Bruce's 9-3 teams. Schlichter was a first-round draft choice of the Baltimore Colts, and before the NFL strike, he was playing backup to fellow rookie Mike Pagel of Arizona State. Though Schlichter has never acknowledged it publicly, people close to the Buckeyes say there was a constant struggle between Bruce and the quarterback.
"When Woody recruited him, he promised to build the offense around Arthur's talents," said Schlichter's father, Max, last week. "When Earle came in, that went out the window. The offense isn't built around the quarterback at Ohio State."
What's wrong, then, with the Buckeyes? "There are a lot of starters back," said Max. "Draw your own conclusions." In case you have trouble: "It's obvious they miss Arthur more than they thought they would."
Was, or is, Bruce's job in trouble? No one in the Buckeye hierarchy would say yes last week, but no one would come forth with a vote of confidence, either. For his part, Bruce said, "There's always a lot of pressure when you've lost three in a row in Columbus, Ohio." Only he would know, because in the 92 years of Buckeye football, Bruce's winless streak on consecutive Saturdays at home is unique.
White was naturally concerned about facing Ohio State after the Buckeyes' three straight losses. He hadn't beaten Ohio State in his two previous seasons at Illinois, but in the '80 game Dave Wilson, the first of White's California junior college-bred quarterbacks, threw for an NCAA-record 621 yards and got a standing ovation at Columbus. "That really told the Big Ten and the country who we were and what kind of football they should be expecting out of us," says White.
White, 46, a fast-talking, young-looking Californian, was a prot�g� of John Ralston at Stanford, a Bill Walsh assistant with the San Francisco 49ers and head coach at Cal. And what he brought to Illinois and the Big Ten was the wide-open passing offense he had learned in the wild west, along with a cadre of California J.C. transfers to run it. "Now wait a minute," says White, somewhat defensively. "I didn't just drive a truck in here filled with jukes." But that is precisely what he did. Along with tough Chicago kids—like Tackle Mark Butkus, nephew of Chicago Bear Hall of Fame Middle Linebacker Dick—came 20 California flashes from such bastions of higher education as Pasadena City College, Los Angeles Harbor J.C., Long Beach C.C. Let the Illinois boys do some line work and headhunting; let the California kids do the throwing, and catching; let the Big Ten do all the griping it wanted. That was White's feeling.
And indeed the Big Ten struck back. Right away it jumped all over Illinois, questioning the matter of Wilson's eligibility, combing through transcripts. The conference said Wilson would have to sit out for a year. Wilson said the heck with that, filed suit and got a court injunction that allowed him to play. The Big Ten retaliated by slapping the Illini with three years' probation, a two-year ban on postseason play for all men's teams and the withholding of all conference TV revenue for two years (a sum of more than $1 million). Illinois appealed. Later the penalties were reduced to two years' probation, with the provision that it could be cut to one year for good behavior (it was), a one-year ban on bowl appearances and the withholding of TV revenues for a year.
Some of the newer coaches in the conference liked White's moxie, though. During the Wilson ordeal, Iowa's Hayden Fry, who had polished his skills at North Texas State and SMU before coming to Iowa in 1979, told White he was sorry and he hoped things would work out for Wilson. Says Fry, "Mike said, 'That's okay, Hayden, because I have a guy redshirted who can throw the ball better than Wilson.' I thought he was crazier than hell."