Bye weeks are boring. Championships are not.
With the Northwestern Wildcats around the corner, the No. 3 Ohio State Buckeyes stand at 6-0. OSU looks in form for another conference championship run and maybe much more. The SP+ model forecasts a one in three chance for an undefeated season.
As we look forward, we might also take a moment to look back. The first ever OSU team to reach the 6-0 mark (well, 6-0-1 to be precise about it — ties were still a thing then) was also under a first year head coach. The 1899 OSU squad saw coach John Eckstorm take on the task of turning around a then struggling program.
Ohio State football was just a child of ten years old then. The program, which started in 1890, was coming off a single win season in 1897, and an improved but still abysmal 3-5 record in 1898.
The Lantern, Ohio State’s student newspaper, reflected on a home loss to Kenyon (yes, Kenyon) — a loss emblematic of many for the Buckeyes during those down years:
“The visitors outplayed the varsity at every point, and showed the finest form in both their team and individual work...Every man was in every play, and every play was fast and hard.”
OSU couldn’t beat Kenyon that year, so they did the next best thing — they hired Kenyon’s head coach John Eckstorm. Eckstorm grew up in Chicago and captained his high school team to a championship. At Dartmouth, he played football for four years — proving himself one of the leading halfbacks in college football’s highest level of competition on the East Coast.
Coach Eckstorm inherited an OSU program that was nearly broke. The athletic department had empty pockets after the poor showings on the gridiron. Was Ohio State bound to be mediocre forever? Was Eckstorm, the fourth head coach in as many seasons, really going to prove any better than those that had come and gone before?
Today, Eckstorm’s name has been all but forgotten around Columbus. It shouldn’t be. What he did in the 1899 season would change the course of Ohio State football history — elevating a program moored to mediocrity to new heights. He set a new standard for OSU football that lives on today, 120 years later.
Listen to the second episode of I Want to Go Back: Champions. I Want to Go Back is Land-Grant Holy Land’s new podcast series on the lost stories of Ohio State football. Stay tuned for season one throughout the fall, and an expanded season two this spring.