The way Woody Hayes and his ex-sidekick Bo Schembechler have the game diagrammed, the meek shall not inherit the Rose Bowl berth and anyone who thinks that the Big Ten season is open for more than 60 minutes a year has not been reading the annual casualty reports out of Iowa City and Champaign and Madison, among other places. For six years now, with one exception, the conference championship has come down to a private bloodletting in late November between Ohio State and Michigan, with the victor moving on to spend New Year's Day in Pasadena and the loser remaining behind to bugle Taps over the late Little Eight. As expected, this season brought no relief for the mini-members, and even Michigan State, which had managed a modicum of respectability, last Saturday had its nuisance value reduced to zero. After stinging Ohio State the last two years, the Spartans were swatted by the Buckeyes 35-0.
And so with the expected executions of Purdue and Iowa this Saturday, the two powers of the Big Two-plus-Eight will hunker down in the pits at Ann Arbor next week for college football's version of a heavyweight championship fight.
Lee Corso, the Indiana coach just recently initiated into the real world of the Big Ten, first by Ohio State 37-7 and then by Michigan 49-13, said, "If things aren't going too good for us, I may go to that game myself and let somebody else coach against Purdue that week."
This one should drive the gamblers mad. Which twin has the Toni? The two are so evenly matched that Corso said he could tell them apart only by remembering Michigan wore blue jerseys. "They are well-conditioned," he summarized, "well-coached, talented, disciplined. They are so darn similar they look like they all came out of a duplicating machine. You know, Woody gets one quarterback, Bo the other. Woody one fullback, Bo the other. The tackles, the guards, the linebackers, they are all the same: good. In a situation like that, you have to guess that in the last few minutes somebody's kicker is going to make a mistake and the other guy will win."
That sounds good for Ohio State because its kicking game has been phenomenal. Opponents have been able to return only 10 of Tom Skladany's 30 punts, and the 10 netted only 21 yards. Michigan's Barry Dotzauer has the more impressive punting average, 39 yards to 33, but 15 of his kicks were returned 111 yards. The edge in placekicking is Michigan's: Mike Lantry has hit on seven of 10 field-goal tries and on all of his 37 extra-point attempts. Lantry's counterpart, Blair Conway, has connected on four of eight field-goal attempts and on 34 of 42 extra-point tries. Still, the advantages either way are slim, and they balance out.
Unless a thunderbolt strikes this Saturday, Michigan will be 10-0 and Ohio State 9-0 when they meet, but just how good they are no one really knows. Ohio State's first eight opponents are only 28-43 for the season, while Michigan's first nine rivals are 28-53. People in the Pacific Eight are quick to point out that while the pair may have outplayed the rest of the Big Ten 60-4 since 1968, they have not won in Pasadena in their last four tries.
There is a feeling within the conference this year, however, that no matter which of the teams ends up in the Rose Bowl, the people from the Pacific are in for a lot of woe. Woody Hayes, for example, has so deep a supply of talent that when Ohio State lost its first two fullbacks, including Champ Henson, the nation's scoring leader, the offense never missed a stride. Hayes simply dipped into his defense and came up with a linebacker, Bruce Elia, who scored three times last Saturday against Michigan State.
What everyone expects of the game is this: Michigan's hard-nosed rushing offense. No. 11 in the nation, will take it to Ohio State's hard-nosed rushing defense, No. 12 in the nation. And when they exchange the ball, Ohio State's hard-nosed runners, No. 4, will take it to Michigan's hard-nosed rushing defenders, No. 3. And Ohio State and Michigan, who rank 5-10 in scoring, will be going against defenses that rank 1-2 in fewest points given up per game. Without a program you won't be able to tell all those unstoppable forces from all those immovable objects.
Michigan's pass defense, on the other hand, has its moments of vulnerability, but it doesn't matter. When Woody Hayes says, "They Shall Not Pass," he is speaking both to his defense and of his offense. When Ohio State puts the ball in the air, it had better be coming off someone's foot. The Buckeyes' spirited little quarterback from Washington, D.C., Cornelius Greene, sorely wounds people with his running, but his passing arm is more shotgun than rifle. In the Big Ten, Ohio State is last in passing.
"But don't think it's still the same old three yards and a cloud of dust," said Minnesota Coach Cal Stoll. "Now it's 12 yards and a mass of humanity."
While Hayes never lets the pass rise above the rank of leprosy, Schembechler considers it no worse, say, than a bad chest cold. Michigan's passing offense ranks a modest eighth in the conference, but Quarterback Dennis Franklin can throw well when he has to, and last year passed 23 times against Ohio State, completing 13 for 160 yards. It is doubtful that Michigan will be that adventuresome again next week. Ohio State's passing defense ranks fourth in the nation.
No matter how it goes, the Big Ten champion still will be either Michigan or Ohio State and there is little evidence that anyone will be seriously challenging the pair for a long time to come. Not that everyone has given up trying.
"People tend to have short memories," said Alex Agase, now in his first year at Purdue after a long term at Northwestern. "In 1970 Northwestern came within a fumble of winning the championship. We were playing Ohio State and we were leading 10-7 and had them really subdued until we fumbled on our 28 in the third quarter. Ohio State beat us 24-10 and won the championship with a 7-0 record; we tied with Michigan for second with a 6-1 record. And in 1971 Michigan won the title with 8-0 and we were second ahead of Ohio State. These things travel in cycles. Twenty years ago when I worked at Iowa State, the Big Eight was known as Oklahoma and the Seven Dwarfs. I guarantee you that changed."
The answer, said Wisconsin's John Jardine, is recruiting. So much for the answer. The problem is how do you get a top athlete to pass up Ohio State and Michigan, which have been going to the Rose Bowl every other year, and come, say, to Wisconsin, which hasn't been to Pasadena since 1963?
"It's tough," Jardine said. "The thing that marks Ohio State and Michigan is depth, and you have to recruit to match that. We certainly try. We tell a kid to come to our school and he'll have a chance to beat the Ohio States and the Michigans. But he says, 'I can go to those schools now and win. I've only got four years.' A lot of people wonder how they keep winning. I'll tell you: every guy at every position is worried about the guy behind him. Every starter wants to have a good game because he knows he won't be playing the next week if he doesn't. We have the same kind of competition here. At offensive guard."
Then there is the problem of economics. Iowa had cut into the Ohio State-Michigan monopoly in the late '50s under Forest Evashevski, but lately they have fallen on hard financial times. Illinois has made some gains since Bob Blackman arrived from Dartmouth in 1971, but there are rumors that the conference and the NCAA are investigating the school's basketball program and some of the slop could spill over onto the gridiron. If it does, forget everything. Northwestern is in financial trouble. So is Minnesota. Wisconsin is feeling the pinch. With its semi-magic name, Michigan State could move upward but seemingly is hung up in neutral gear.
"I'm sure we'll see a definite change in five years," said Corso, who isn't off to the best start at Indiana. "I heard that the Chicago Bears are trying to get into the conference. That will make it a three-team race."