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24 Club: Edwin Sweetland’s Buckeyes were the first OSU team to ever score against Michigan

Sweetland played under Pop Warner and coached the first Buckeye squad to ever score against the Wolverines.

1898 Cornell Rowing team photo of Sweetland

There have been 24 head coaches in the history of Ohio State football. Each has a story and legacy. This offseason, Land-Grant Holy Land’s new series 24 Club will help you get to know the coaches from past and present who built the program. Today we look at Edwin Sweetland, whose team became the first-ever OSU squad to score against Michigan.

Name: Edwin Sweetland
Seasons Coached: Two (1904-1905)
Overall Record: 14-7-2
Where Does He Rank in the 24 Club?
Overall Wins: Tied No. 16 out of 24 OSU Coaches
Winning Percentage: No. 17 out of 24 OSU Coaches

OSU football was moving up in the world. As members of the Ohio Athletic Conference, the Buckeyes now lined up against the best teams in Ohio. The football program looked a lot different entering the 1904 season than it did just a couple years earlier. John Eckstorm took over as OSU head coach in 1899 after two back to back losing years. Then, OSU turned a corner — rolling off five-straight winning seasons under Eckstorm and his successor Perry Hale.

Edwin Sweetland stepped into the top job next. Sweetland had already learned from some of the game’s best — he was coached by Pop Warner as a tackle at Cornell.

Ohio State head Edwin Sweetland’s first game — a 34-0 victory over Otterbein — recapped in the September 28, 1904 edition of The Lantern.
The Lantern

Sweetland was walking into a tough situation. OSU’s schedule for the 1904 season was one of the most challenging the program had seen in its 15-year history. It included home tilts against national powers like Michigan and the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, as well as road trips to Indiana and the always pesky Oberlin. Sweetland was a quiet presence and quickly won the respect of the players as they prepped for the season. A Sept. 21, 1904 edition of The Lantern took in the scene as Sweetland prepared the Buckeyes for opening day:

At first acquaintance (Sweetland) impresses one as a thorough gentleman, and as the acquaintance ripens the impression increases. On the field he is quiet, but forceful, wasting few words and making each one count. He does not believe that personal abuse is the best plan of getting work out of his men, but that quiet instruction is the only correct way for a gentleman to deal with gentlemen. Sweetland’s genial personality cannot fail to have a great effect on the work of the team.

OSU finished the 1904 season 6-5. What was the highlight of the year? The Buckeyes scored against Michigan to take a 6-5 lead in the second half. It was the first time any Buckeye team had scored against the Wolverines. Ever. Michigan had outscored the Buckeyes 177-0 in the five previous meetings. Even so, it was a moral victory — the Wolverines would run off 26 unanswered and win 31-6. OSU fared better in season two under Sweetland, finishing 8-2-2 in 1905. Amid a strong campaign, they fell to Michigan 40-0 — thereby returning to the tradition of Ohio State teams being shut out by the Wolverines.

Under Sweetland, OSU continued to establish itself as one of the best teams in Ohio. The Buckeyes now regularly played and beat their peers in the Ohio Athletic Conference, finishing second in 1904 and 1905. When it came to playing up against competition — Michigan or even Indiana — OSU didn’t yet have what it took to spring the upset.

But winning was now a habit. The Buckeyes seemed on the verge of something special. It was time to take the next step — not only winning, but winning championships.