Just as critics began to doubt Schmidt’s new-fangled offense, the Buckeyes went 6-2 and captured an undisputed Big Ten Championship, the fifth in school history. When asked if dropping the season finale to Michigan tainted OSU’s conference title, Schmidt, referring to the “Golden Pants Club,” ruefully snapped, “Michigan stole our pants, but we’ve got the championship.”
After finishing 4-4 and tied for fourth place in the Big Ten, Schmidt, one of Ohio State’s greatest offensive minds, resigned. Howard Roberts, a Chicago Tribune writer, later wrote that “His (Schmidt’s) teams were without question the most spectacular to roam Conference gridirons, and were involved in some of the most exciting games.”
After a dominant high school coaching career in Massillon, Ohio, Paul Brown was named Ohio State’s 15th head coach. An incredibly organized, meticulous man, Brown led Ohio State to a 6-1-1 mark in his debut season. He also earned OSU’s first-ever west coast win, a 33-0 trouncing at Southern California in only Brown’s second collegiate game. The season ended with a 20-20 tie at Michigan where Brown was hailed as a mastermind coach. As the Wolverines came to the line of scrimmage to attempt the game-winning extra point, Brown called two consecutive time outs. The UM kicker missed, and Brown was labeled a genius.
Though World War II loomed over the nation, Ohio State football fans reveled in one of the most glorious seasons ever. The Buckeyes captured the school’s first national championship as well as a Big Ten title, finishing the year 9-1 and ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press poll. Led by a star-studded backfield that included Les Horvath, Paul Sarringhaus, and Gene Fekete, OSU rolled to 337 points, a record that would stand until 1969. The only loss of the season, a 17-7 decision at Wisconsin, even had an asterisk. Several key players and coaches caught a debilitating virus from a drinking fountain on the train from Chicago to Madison..
With a game apparently ending in a 26-26 tie, Ohio State and Illinois left the field. But the teams were called back 20 minutes later when it was discovered the Illini were called for a penalty on the Buckeyes’ final play. With little of the crowd remaining, John Stungis kicked a 27-yard field goal – the first of his career – for a 29-26 OSU win. Brown, a Lieutenent Junior-Grade, left Ohio State for the Great Lakes Naval Training Station in April of 1944. He later went on to found and coach the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals. While accepting the National Football Foundation Gold Medal award in 1989, Brown notes, “the most exciting of all jobs I had was at Ohio State.”
Carroll Widdoes, an assistant of Brown’s at Massillon and Ohio State, was named acting head coach. In his first season, the Buckeyes finish 9-0 and claim the Big Ten Championship, but finish No. 2 in the Associated Press behind Army. OSU fans claim an unofficial “civilian national championship.” Les Horvath became the school’s first Heisman Trophy winner. Ohio State receives an invitation to the Rose Bowl, but faculty representatives from around the Big Ten disallow the trip.
Fullback Ollie Cline is named the Big Ten’s Most Valuable Player – the third Buckeye in five years to earn the award.
In one of the program’s more unique coaching moves, offensive coordinator Paul Bixler and head coach Carroll Widdoes switch roles prior to the season. Warren Amling earns All-America honors at tackle, just a year after being named an All-American guard. Following the season, Bixler turns in his resignation.
In the same meeting Bixler announces his intentions to resign, L. W. St. John proposes to the Athletic Board that Wes Fesler be the next head coach at Ohio State. The Board concurs, and Fesler, a three-time All-American at Ohio State in the 1930s, becomes the program’s fifth head coach in eight years. In one of the stranger games in the past century, Ohio State was afforded three plays after time had expired because of Northwestern penalties and came away with a 7-6 victory in Ohio Stadium.
All eyes were focused on the Registrar’s office as opposed to the field. Ohio State won national acclaim for winning one of the most intense recruiting wars of that era. Over 60 schools showed interest in the Elyria, Ohio, high school All-American, but in the end, Vic Janowicz decides to attend Ohio State.
Ohio State captures a share of the Big Ten Championship and collects its first Rose Bowl win, beating California, 17-14.
Vic Janowicz puts on arguably the greatest individual display in college football history against Iowa. He sent two kickoffs out of the endzone for touchbacks, recovered two fumbles on defense, scored on an 11-yard touchdown run, returned a punt 61 yards for a touchdown, threw a 12-yard scoring strike, and kicked three extra points – all in the first five minutes of the game. The famous “Snow Bowl” game with Michigan was played in late November. Somehow, between the swirling winds and zero visibility, Janowicz boots a 38-yard field goal in what would later be called one of the “Greatest Feats in American Sports” by a panel of sportswriters. To no one’s surprise, Janowicz wins the Heisman Trophy. On Dec. 9, Fesler submits a lengthy resignation statement.