Ohio State and Akron Have a Long, Historic Rivalry

2021 Week 12 College Football Watch Guide
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Ohio State returns to the Shoe to face Akron on Saturday.

Akron has struggled to an early 1-2 record. They lost to Auburn in the season opener. Then they blew an early against Temple, leading 14-0 in the first quarter. By halftime, the Owls had come back and were ahead 21-17. By the third quarter, the game was out of hand, and the final score was 45-24. They beat Bryant last week for their lone win.

Even with the inexperienced C.J. Stroud at quarterback and things to figure out on defense, this game should be an absolute blowout.

However, the first time these two teams met, the game was a narrow 4-0 victory for Ohio State.

Ohio State and Akron have a Long, Historic Rivalry

The Early Years of Ohio Football

In the 1890s, Ohio State and Buchtel College (which was later renamed the University of Akron) began a five-year-long rivalry.

The two independents first played on December 5th, 1891 in Akron. Ohio State went on to win 4-0, only its third victory in program history.

In 1982, Ohio State improved from 2-3 to 5-3 and won a much more decisive 62-0 victory against Buchtel. This was their second of three straight 50-plus point losses, so head coach Frank Cook didn’t make it past the 1892 season.

The 1893 Buchtel football team needed a coach, so they reached out to the head coach of nearby Oberlin College, John Heisman.  Yes, that John Heisman.

Fresh from building a program at Oberlin, Heisman traveled 60 miles east to Buchtel. It was at Buchtel where Heisman invented the snap, an action so ubiquitous in today’s game that it goes unnoticed. Prior to the snap, the center would roll or kick the ball to the quarterback. This was difficult for Buchtel’s quarterback, Harry Clark, who was too tall to reach down for the ball. Heisman told his center to throw it to Clark, and the snap caught on across college football immediately.

Heisman had defeated Ohio State twice while at Oberlin. His first meeting against the Buckeyes did not go so well, as it was a 38-12 victory in Columbus. The next season, Heisman won the only Buchtel victory in the entire series, 12-6. This was the only game that Buchtel played all season, so they were a perfect 1-0.

Heisman returned to Oberlin for the remainder of 1894, and then went on to Alabama Polytechnic Institute (now known as Auburn University).

After Heisman left, Buchtel played against Ohio State in 1895 without a head coach. They also played without a coach in the 1891 matchup, and both games ended up in a loss for Buchtel. Ohio State won the 1895 game 14-6 to open their season.

That would be the last game between the two teams for more than 100 years.

The Twentieth Century

Buchtel only played one game in 1896, a 32-0 loss to Mount Union (who are now in Division III). They didn’t play football again until 1899.

By that time, Ohio State had become a regional powerhouse. Head Coach John B. Eckstorm went 17-1-2 in his first two years with the Buckeyes, including an undefeated 9-0-1 season in his first year. In 1902, Ohio State joined the Ohio Athletic Conference, along with other schools like Oberlin, Case, and Oberlin. They also played out-of-state non-conference opponents, like Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, and West Virginia. The Buckeyes finished second place or better for the majority of their OAC membership. They won the Conference Championship in 1906 and again in 1912.

Buchtel remained independent, and while they occasionally played against mutual opponents, they often tangled with lower-tier Ohio-based programs.

Later, teams like Ohio, Wooster, Denison, and Wittenberg joined the OAC. College football in Ohio was moving quickly and leaving Buchtel behind.

In 1913, Buchtel College became the University of Akron, and in 1915 Akron was joined the OAC. By that time, Ohio State had joined the Western Conference, which would later become the Big Ten. The Buckeyes played on both conferences following their OAC title in 1913. However, they only played a limited number of OAC games and didn’t compete for conference championships. As a result, Ohio State and Akron would never cross paths.

Ohio State’s final year in the OAC was 1921, after their first Big Ten Conference Championship.

Akron had some winning years but was by and large in the middle of the pack in the OAC. They became independent again in 1936, join the OAC again in 1948, go independent again, join the Ohio Valley conference, go independent yet again, and finally settle in the Mid-American Conference.

Ohio State and Akron would go their separate ways and their programs would grow at their own respective rates. The Buckeyes went on to become a national powerhouse, while the Zips nearly became an afterthought in Ohio football. Akron went from being a team that could hang with, if not defeat, Ohio State to being a below-average Group of Five teams.

Akron would go on to win only one conference championship in its history, a 2005 MAC title. The Zips have one consensus All-American in their history, Dwight Smith. They have one bowl game win, a 23-21 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl victory over Utah State in 2015. Akron has had no first-round draft picks and has never appeared in the AP Poll.

Ohio State, on the other hand, has had wild success since the 1895 game against Buchtel. The Buckeyes are obviously ahead of the Zips in every conceivable category. Ohio State even has had seven players to win the Heisman Trophy, an award named after the only Akron head coach to beat them.

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The Ohio State-Akron Series Resumes

Jim Tressel exhumed the series between Akron and Ohio State in 2001.

During their 106-year hiatus, the Ottoman Empire collapsed, there were two world wars, an Ohio man set foot on the moon, and extreme Islamic terrorists were only days away from a brutal attack on American soil.

On September 8, 2001, the two teams met for a 28-14 Ohio State victory. Steve Belisari passed for two touchdowns, and his Akron counterpart Charlie Frye added another score. Jonathan Wells rushed for 119 yards and added another two touchdowns for the Buckeyes.

Akron went to Columbus again in 2007, this time facing a 20-2 loss. The Buckeyes’ leading rusher was Beanie Wells, alongside Todd Boeckman‘s air attack. The only score for Akron in that game was a safety.

The most recent game between these two sides, in 2011, was the worst blowout since 1892. Luke Fickell led the Buckeyes to a 42-0 victory against the Zips, and Braxton Miller completed eight of twelve passes in his debut.

The Next Game in the Series

The Buckeyes and the Zips took a ten-year, break, which is the second-longest break in the history of the series.

Ohio State will be looking to rebound against Oregon. While the offense will score dozens of points on the worn-down Zips, the defense will be the focus. Ryan Day has made vague promises of changes on defense but is naturally keeping things close to the vest. The obvious area of scrutiny was the linebackers against the Ducks, so some scheme or personnel adjustments are likely coming there.

Akron will try to exploit an underwhelming defense with quarterbacks Kato Nelson and Demarcus Irons. They have split time so far this season, and it’s been roughly even. Irons has 51 rushing and passing attempts to Nelson’s 47. Nelson and Irons are second and third on the team in rushing attempts, respectively, though the team only rushes for 2.5 yards per attempt. Both quarterbacks like throwing to Michael Mathison, who has 169 receiving yards. Mathison is the clear leader in scrimmage yards for the Zips and will be the center of Ohio State’s focus.

Akron’s defense isn’t intimidating at all. Bubba Arslanian leads the team with 25 tackles in two games, but other than that no names stand out. The Zips defense has no sacks or turnovers this year and has already given up 105 points.

All of the games in the series so far have been low-scoring but close, or have been blowouts in Ohio State’s favor. After 130 years, we might see the first shootout in the history of the series.

However close the game may be, Ohio State should look to extend their 126-year old winning streak.