As it turns out, starting a new quarterback despite the return of an experienced senior has turned out pretty well for Ohio State over the past 50 years or so. Most of the time, at least.
Of course things can't go much better than it did in 2014 for the Buckeyes, who won the national championship despite having to change signal-callers before and during the season, but this was not even the first season in which a senior watched while a sophomore led Ohio State to the promised land. In fact, 2014 is not even the first time the Buckeyes had to rely on two different sophomores en route to the national title.
Both also happened in 1968, when sophomore Rex Kern replaced senior Bill Long as the starter and was spelled on multiple occasions by Ron Maciejowski as the Buckeyes went 10-0 and won both the Big Ten and national championships.
That year new offensive coordinator George Chaump convinced head coach Woody Hayes to install the I formation to go along with Hayes' beloved T formation, and Kern turned out to be a great fit thanks to his athleticism, ball-handling and quick decision-making ability.
The Lancaster, Ohio, native passed for 972 yards and ran for another 534, but the Buckeyes might not have hoisted those trophies at the end of the season without contributions from Maciejowski, a fellow sophomore who marched Ohio State 74 yards for the tie-breaking score in the fourth quarter of a 31-24 win at Illinois in late October. Two weeks later, he started in place of an injured Kern at Wisconsin and completed 13 of 19 passes for 153 yards and ran for another 124 as the Buckeyes whipped the Badgers 43-8 to keep their undefeated season going.
That turned out to be only the first of three times in an 11-year span Hayes sat a veteran to start an underclassman at quarterback. He did so again in 1973, when he went with sophomore Cornelius Greene over Greg Hare, and in 1978 when heralded freshman Art Schlichter became the starting quarterback while Rod Gerald (the starter in '76 and '77) moved to wide receiver. In both cases, Ohio State had won a share of the Big Ten title the previous season, and the moves had varied results -- to say the least.
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 '78, Ohio State went 7-4-1 and Schlichter set school records for interceptions in a game (five) and season (21). His last pick ended up costing Hayes his job as the coach lost his famous temper and was fired for throwing a punch at Charlie Bauman, the Clemson linebacker whose interception in the waning minutes sealed a Gator Bowl victory for the Tigers.
Thirty years later, head coach Jim Tressel followed in Hayes' footsteps by benching a senior who had a Big Ten championship on his resume in favor of Terrelle Pryor, a ballyhooed recruit like Schlichter. Unlike Gerald or Hare, Boeckman began the season as a starter but was eventually replaced due to ineffectiveness, and Pryor turned in a season far more like Greene's than Schlichter's. The Jeannette, Pa., product threw for 1,311 yards, ran for 631 more while leading the Big Ten with a pass efficiency rating of 146.5. At the end of the season, the Buckeyes again were Big Ten champions, and Boeckman was afforded one last hurrah at Ohio Stadium when he threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to Brian Hartline in the 42-7 season-ending romp against Michigan.
Finally there was 2011, when Pryor missed spring practice while recovering from an offseason surgery then decided to leave school amid an ongoing NCAA investigation. Though he began the season backing up senior Joe Bauserman, Braxton Miller eventually became the starter and like Pryor was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year.
Miller's 1,159 yards passing, 715 yards rushing and 20 total touchdowns weren't enough to prevent the Buckeyes, who also lost Tressel as head coach prior to the season, from posting their first losing season since 1988 -- an outlier in more way than one.