By Jim Naveau
COLUMBUS — A long time ago Ohio State’s opponent today, Western Michigan, was involved in a part of Ohio football history.
A very forgettable part of Ohio football history.
The Broncos haven’t been to many bowl games. They’ve played six in their football program’s history and lost them all. Their most recent bowl trip ended with a 38-24 loss to Air Force last year in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
But their first bowl appearance came in the first – and last – Aviation Bowl in Dayton on Dec. 9, 1961.
The Aviation Bowl got its name because Dayton was the hometown of Orville and Wilbur Wright, the inventors of the airplane.
It was the brainchild of the Dayton Junior Chamber of Commerce. The idea was to match the champion of the Mid-American Conference against a team with at least a moderately high national profile.
Bowling Green and Ohio University were the favorites to win the MAC that year and five of the seven MAC teams were from Ohio. So the organizers felt good about getting an Ohio team in the bowl and selling tickets to its fans.
Bowling Green won the MAC, but the Falcons chose to play in the Mercy Bowl, a charity game in the Los Angeles Coliseum, instead of going to Dayton. That game was organized to benefit the Cal-Poly football team, whose plane crashed on takeoff at the Toledo airport after a 1960 game at Bowling Green, resulting in the death of 16 players.
So Dayton ended up with Western Michigan in one slot and was still scrambling to fill the other position three weeks before the game after being turned down by Colgate, Florida State, Wyoming, The Citadel and Rutgers.
Bowl organizers reached out to Xavier, which still played football at that time, but didn’t offer enough money to entice the Musketeers. Finally, desperation kicked in and New Mexico agreed to play for $18,000, reportedly three times what Xavier was offered.
Things went from bad to worse on game day when temperatures fell below freezing and Dayton was hit with two inches of snow, followed by sleet.
With no television contract, bowl organizers were dependent on ticket sales, corporate backing and donations.
Needless to say, they lost money. Needless to say, there was no second Aviation Bowl. The Wright brothers flew repeatedly but the Aviation Bowl had only one flight, a 28-12 win by New Mexico.
As bowl stories go, that is one of a kind. But the story of today’s Ohio State-Western Michigan game is familiar. As familiar as last week.
Once again the No. 1 Buckeyes (3-0) will face a MAC team trying to become the first team from that conference ever to take down Ohio State.
Yes, Akron beat Ohio State in the 1890s, 50 years before the MAC existed. But that would be like the United States counting the French and Indian Wars as a win over France even though it happened before the U.S. was a country.
On the surface, Western Michigan (1-2) doesn’t look as formidable at Northern Illinois did last Saturday when Ohio State struggled to a 20-13 win over the Huskies. But the Broncos’ two losses were against No. 2 Michigan State and Sun Belt Conference favorite Georgia Southern.
Western Michigan is a solid team, not a great team. If Ohio State’s offense shows up and plays close to the level its defense is playing, it won’t be a close game.
But Ohio State’s offense playing well is a big “if.” After a sluggish game in a 38-0 win over Hawaii, most people expected a big game from the Buckeyes’ offense last Saturday. Instead, OSU’s offense was, except for one touchdown drive, nothing to get excited about.
Who should start at quarterback dominated the conversation about Ohio State this week. But the problems extended to almost every area of the offense.
Coach Urban Meyer promises OSU will get the offense fixed. The question today is if it will be a quick fix or a more gradual one.
The prediction: Ohio State 35, Western Michigan 17.
Reach Jim Naveau at (567) 242-0414 or follow him on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.