Decades before we all turned on our television sets and watched a white Ford Bronco being followed by the police, OJ Simpson was the best player in college football. He was a gigantic billboard, that was blocking the view of drivers along the highway, of the destiny of football in decades to come. He introduced the game to the thrilling concept of speed and that would change the game of American football forever.
Simpson grew up in the beautiful coastal city of San Francisco and spent his first two years of college football at San Francisco City College before transferring to USC. Simpson was involved with gangs and was a troubled youth which everyone thought he escaped. But, apparently everyone had been wrong, as he currently makes his bed in a prison cell. Simpson was a crazy good and talented football player that made the Pro Football Hall of Fame and then his way onto our television screens, but his heart never left the ghetto where he had grown up, apparently.
OJ Simpson won the Heisman Trophy in 1968 after coming up short in 1967 to cross town rival Gary Beban of UCLA. The Trojans and the Bruins played for the conference title during the 1967 season and for the national championship. The Trojans won. USC vs UCLA
In spite of winning the national title in 1967, the USC Trojans started the 1968 college football
season ranked second behind the Purdue Boilermakers.
USC lost some great players from their title team, but they returned super star senior Running Back OJ Simpson and plenty of other talent.
Their Offensive leader was veteran Quarterback Steve Sogge. But, Tight End Bob Klein was a future 1st round draft choice and Bob Chandler was a future NFL Wide Receiver.
The Trojans had 6-8, 250 Bill Hayhoe at Defensive End, and Al Cowlings, Jimmy Gunn and Willard Scott on the Defensive Line.
USC started their 1968 season on the road against 16th ranked Minnesota and managed to beat them, 29-20. The Gophers were one of the champions of the Big 10 in 1967, so they were no pushover. The Men of Troy were back in Big 10 country the following week to play unranked Northwestern. The Trojans won, 24-7.
The Miami Hurricanes were not the same dominating team that they became in the 1980s and in later seasons, but they were ranked 13th before the Trojans took them down, 28-3.
On October 12th, USC barely beat conference rival and 18th ranked Stanford, 27-24. They handled Washington and Oregon next before their next ranked opponent came to Los Angeles. 11th ranked California proved to be no problem, but 13th ranked Oregon State was a tough game before USC prevailed, 17-13. It was a small measure of revenge for the loss in the mud the previous season. Giant Killers
The Bruins of UCLA were next and weren’t that much of a problem meaning a 28-16 win for the top ranked Trojans.
Beating USC on the football field is a high priority for most, but Notre Dame is their biggest rival and the 9th ranked Fighting Irish came to the west coast and tied USC 21-21.
Their opponent for the Rose Bowl game would be the champion of the Big 10 Conference.
Much further to the east, the Purdue Boilermakers started the season off ranked number one and was obviously the preseason favorite to win the Big 10. They tied with Minnesota and Indiana the year before for the championship with the Hoosiers getting the trip to the Rose Bowl based on them having never been before.
With Running Backs Leroy Keyes and Perry Williams, plus Quarterback Mike Phipps, this team was loaded.
The Boilermakers destroyed Virginia in their opening game, 44-6.
The Fighting Irish have always been a big arch rival of the Boilermakers and the Irish were ranked 2nd. It was the classic #1 vs #2 match up and Purdue proved themselves by roughing up the Irish somewhat, 37-22. This further strengthened the Boilermakers hold on the top position in the polls.
Next up was Northwestern. The Wildcats of Northwestern had been drilled by Miami in their opening game, 7-28. Then, they played the USC Trojans and were beaten, 7-24.
Then, they played top ranked Purdue and they were just obliterated, 6-43. You have to understand that this was the 1968 season and football was much different in the 1960s. Getting beat 43-6 back in those days was the equivalent to a 70-14 type of beating in today’s game. There were no hurry up offenses and the passing games were primitive compared to current football. Coaches loved to run the ball and eat up clock. There were no Chip Kelly kind of coaches back then.
This win, even against a team with no wins, did nothing but solidify the top ranking for the Purdue Boilermakers.
Next up for Purdue was the 4th ranked Ohio State Buckeyes. No sweat, the Boilermakers had beaten the Buckeyes the season before 41-6. This season was just a bunch of sophomores playing for the
For some reason, the game was in Columbus for the second year in a row.
But, the number one ranked Purdue Boilermakers were seasoned and they were confident and going back to play in Columbus was not a big deal. This was going to be their year.
Ohio State, on the other hand, had different ideas and they shut down the Boilers, 13-0. It was something of a stunning defeat at the time. Ohio State not only beat the top ranked team, but they dominated them and shut down Purdue’s high powered offense.
The win propelled the Ohio State Buckeyes to the number 2 spot in the poll behind only the USC Trojans. The nation took notice of the Super Sophomores. Super Sophs
The Buckeyes beat Northwestern just like everybody else, 45-24. But, then they traveled to Champaign, Illinois and had a fight on their hands before beating the Fighting Illini, 31-24.
16th ranked Michigan State was next. The Spartans had been national champions in 1966, tied up with Notre Dame from their famous 10-10 game. Michigan State had dropped out of sight in 1967, but they were back in 1968 and were looking for a battle.
They brought it to the Buckeyes before Ohio State prevailed, 20-16.
Wisconsin was no problem at Camp Randall with the Bucks blowing them out, 43-8. The Ohio State Buckeyes then had another battle and this one involved the Iowa Hawkeyes, which was something of a surprise. They may have been thinking ahead to the Michigan Wolverines.
That school up north also known as the Michigan Wolverines were no pushover and ranked 4th in the country coming into Columbus for their annual showdown.
The Wolverines had been beaten in their opener against California, but then they got on a roll and
won 8 straight games. Some of those wins were impressive such as a 35-0 win over Northwestern and a 36-0 win over Illinois. You can’t compare scores, but the Buckeyes struggled with Illinois earlier.
The Ohio State versus Michigan game turned into a rout with the Buckeyes winning 50-14. But, what’s more is the ending of this game is famous for Ohio State coach Woody Hayes going for the 2 point conversion when they had 50 on the board already. When asked why he went for two, Woody supposedly said because I couldn’t go for 3. 2 Point Attempt
That game was also partly responsible for the start of the 10 Year War. 10 year war
The sophomore led Buckeyes were a suitable opponent for the Trojans with Ohio State grabbing the top ranking over USC with their impressive showing against Michigan.
The Buckeyes were young, but they were very talented led by Quarterback Rex Kern, Offensive Tackles Rufus Mayes and Dave Foley, Running Backs Leo Hayden and John Brockington and Fullback Jim Otis on offense and super Nose Guard Jim Stillwagon, Linebacker Doug Adams and an outstanding Defensive Backfield in Jack Tatum, Tim Anderson, Mike Sensibaugh and Ted Provost.
The showdown was set. It was the classic number one versus number two and in the Rose Bowl for the national title on national television.