So, Ohio State is going to play the 2014 season with a new starting quarterback despite starting an underclassman the previous season. This might seem unusual, but it has happened for the Buckeyes what seems like a rather remarkable five times in the past 50 years. The reasons have varied but don’t include the previous season’s starter going pro (at least not for positive reasons).
Braxton Miller is the first one to be replaced because of injury. He ended up being the starter in 2011 after Terrelle Pryor left school in June amid questions about additional NCAA violations (he was already facing a five-game suspension for violations previously admitted). Like Miller, Pryor became a surprise true freshman starter in 2008 after senior Todd Boeckman struggled early in the season.
You might have already known about those circumstances, but what about the three that came before?
They were all in an 11-year span at the conclusion of the Hall of Fame career of head coach Woody Hayes, who three times opted for a younger player with a senior returning starter on his roster. In 1968, Hayes replaced senior Bill Long with sophomore Rex Kern (freshmen were not eligible at that time). Five years later, Hayes benched Greg Hare in favor of sophomore Cornelius Greene in 1973. Finally there was 1978, when heralded freshman Art Schlichter became the starting quarterback and Rod Gerald (the starter in ’76 and ’77) moved to wide receiver.
How did all these moves work out? Pretty well, actually.
Three of the five new starters led the Buckeyes to Big Ten titles. Two led undefeated campaigns, and one (Kern) won a national championship in his first season at the controls.
The last time this happened did not go so well, however, as the Buckeyes stumbled to 6-7, their first losing record since 1988. Miller was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year, but he endured more than a few growing pains. The team as a whole had larger issues, of course, with head coach Jim Tressel having been forced out shortly before Pryor left and multiple returning starters facing suspensions all related to an NCAA extra-benefits case.
The ’78 campaign also had its share of negative, including the firing of Hayes after he punched a Clemson player in the Gator Bowl. That player, Charlie Bauman, had intercepted a Schlichter pass to end the Buckeyes’ last hopes of rallying for a victory, and Hayes could not contain his famous temper.
Kern, Greene and Pryor were integral parts of Big Ten championship runs, all validating their coach’s decision to make a change under center.
Kern passed for 972 yards and ran for another 534 in an offense revamped to take advantage of his athleticism in 1968. Also worth noting: Kern’s backup, fellow sophomore Ron Maciejowski, played an important role in that ’68 season and the ones that followed by filling in for the injured starter on more than one occasion. “Mace” started the Buckeyes’ 43-8 win over Wisconsin in ’68 and ran for 124 yards. He also completed 13 of 19 passes for 153 yards, keeping the Buckeyes undefeated and on track to be named the consensus No. 1 team in the country.
In ’73, Greene led the Buckeyes to 10 wins and a Rose Bowl victory. The only blemish on the record was a 10-10 tie with Michigan, but Ohio State followed that up by thrashing USC 42-21 in Pasadena. Greene threw for only 343 yards on the season, but the Washington, D.C., native was second on the team with 720 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns.
In 2008, Pryor threw for 1,311 yards, ran for 631 more and led the Big Ten with a pass efficiency rating of 146.50 after replacing Boeckman, who was afforded a nice finale at Ohio Stadium when he threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to Brian Hartline in the 42-7 season-ending romp against Michigan.