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Ohio State’s history against USC, UCLA

History suggests the Buckeyes won’t like the expanded B1G

1979 Heisman winner Charles White ruins Earle Bruce’s best chance at a national title

I’m sure you are breathlessly wondering “wait, where are the articles for Minnesota and Michigan State?” Fear not, they’ll be covered along with next week’s team in one mega-installment that will include, get this:


So, um, look for that next week. For now, let’s look at the defining series matching USC and a B1G team.

10-13-1 vs. USC

Of 24 Buckeyes/Trojans showdowns, eight have come in bowl games. Seven of those were Rose Bowls. The first overall matchup was 1937, the last 2017. USC won a pair in ‘37 and ‘38 before OSU won three straight (‘41, ‘42, ‘46). USC evened things at three in ‘47, but OSU won in ‘48. The teams tied in ‘49, so it was 4-3-1 OSU when, on January 1, 1955 they met for the first time in the Rose Bowl.

It was a rather anti-climatic matchup as the Buckeyes were 10-0 and ranked #1 while USC was 8-3. This was back when the Pacific Coast Conference had a “no-repeat” rule, so UCLA, at 9-0 and #2 in the polls, was unable to play in the Rose Bowl. Thus, following OSU’s 20-7 win, the Buckeyes won the AP title. UCLA, who had defeated USC 34-0, did earn the UPI national title, though.

Following this, two home-and-homes were split, with the home team winning all four games (USC 17-0 in ‘59 and 32-3 in ‘63; OSU 20-0 in ‘60 and 17-0 in ‘64), meaning OSU had a 7-5-1 edge heading into the glory days of the rivalry: six games, all in the Rose Bowl, between 1969 and 1985. In order:

  • 1969: #1 OSU’s super sophomores let O.J. Simpson run for 171 yards, including an 80 yard bolt to stake USC to a 10-0 lead, but force 5 turnovers and pull away in the fourth quarter to defeat the #2 Trojans 27-16, earning Woody Hayes his only consensus national title. This fabled class of Buckeyes would add two more top-five finishes, but were deprived of a second national title because of upset losses to Michigan in 1969 and Stanford in the 1971 Rose Bowl
  • 1973: #1 USC was tabbed a 14-point favorite over #3 OSU, and showed why, breaking a 7-7 halftime tie with a 21-3 third quarter. Sam Cunningham added his third and fourth TDs in the fourth quarter and the Trojans won in a 42-17 rout, solidifying their claim as one of the greatest teams in CFB history. (THE greatest, according to Keith Jackson, but not according to any Nebraska fan who wants to bend your ear about the 1971 or 1995 Huskers.)
  • 1974: This Rose Bowl matched the #4 Buckeyes and #7 Trojans. The dominant story was Ohio State’s presence owing to a vote of B1G ADs following the famous tie with Michigan (ask a Michigan fan; watch the BTN documentary). This time, it was OSU who turned a halftime tie into a laugher, winning 42-21 by scoring the game’s last 28 points. That was enough to move OSU up to #2 in the final poll, behind Notre Dame. Fortunately, Bo Schembechler took this in stride and Michigan fans have totally gotten over it.
  • 1975: While not certain at the time, this showdown of #3 OSU and #5 USC would be for a share of the national title as #2 Alabama went on to lose in the Orange Bowl. #1 Oklahoma had basically clinched the AP title, but owing to being on probation, was ineligible for the UPI title. USC hung around despite losing star tailback—and Heisman runner-up (to OSU’s Archie Griffin)—Anthony Davis. Trailing 17-10 late in the fourth, USC put together a TD drive, went for two, and converted, winning 18-17. Both the TD and 2pt conversation came on pass plays from QB Pat Haden to WR John McKay, Jr., the son of HC John McKay.
  • 1980: Earle Bruce’s first Buckeye team registered a rather surprising 11-0 regular season (they were only #15 in the initial poll), but found themselves 7.5 point underdogs to #3 USC. This Trojan team is often mentioned as having one of the most talented rosters in CFB history (seriously: Ronnie Lott, Anthony Munoz, Marcus Allen, Charles White, Dennis Smith, Joey Browner, and Hoby Brenner all made Pro Bowls; the first three are in the NFL Hall of Fame), but settled for a 21-21 tie with Stanford after blowing a 21-0 lead. USC went up 10-0, but the Buckeyes rallied to tie it at 10 at the half. Two second half field goals had the Buckeyes nursing a 16-10 lead, but USC went on an 83-yard drive late, with 71 yards coming from Charles White as part of his record-setting 247 yard performance.
  • 1985: The #6 Buckeyes were upset by the #18 Trojans 20-17, thanks to four Buckeye turnovers. This was a rather non-descript game, as there were no national title implications and USC entered with a pedestrian 8-3 record. The Buckeyes featured Mike Tomczak, Keith Byars, Cris Carter, and Chris Spielman, but the offense was bottled up by a Trojan D led by Jack Del Rio (who does NOT have any opinions on Covid or anything else). This was Ohio State’s ONLY Rose Bowl appearance in the 16 year period covering the 1980-1995 seasons.

USC’s 4-2 edge in this run of Rose Bowls knotted the all-time series at 9-9-1. Since then, USC tacked on a 4-0 record in two home-and-homes (42-3 in LA in ‘89, 35-26 in Columbus in ‘90, 35-3 in LA in ‘08, and 18-15 in Columbus in ‘09). However, the Buckeyes broke a seven-game losing streak to USC with a convincing 24-7 victory in the 2017 Cotton Bowl:

4-4-1 vs. UCLA

Nine all-time meetings. A tie in the fifth one (10-10 in Columbus in 1976) with the other eight alternating perfectly between OSU and UCLA wins. The most recent meeting was in 2001, as the #14 Bruins defeated the #21 Buckeyes in the first game for each following 9/11.

The most famous meeting, by far, however, was in the 1976 Rose Bowl. Ohio State had already defeated the Bruins 41-20 in a regular season matchup in LA. The Buckeyes entered undefeated, #1 in both rankings, and a 15.5 point favorite over the #11 Bruins, who were 8-2-1. However, Wendell Tyler outplayed two-time Heisman winner Archie Griffin, and rookie head coach Dick Vermeil outcoached Woody Hayes. The Bruins surived going without a first down in the initial 20 minutes of play, and went to halftime only trailing 3-0. A 16-0 third quarter saw them surge to a multi-score lead, and Tyler put things away with a long TD run as the Bruins won 23-10, ruining Hayes’ last Rose Bowl appearance.