Playoff champion Ohio State suffered more starting QB games missed due to injury than every other national champion since 1985 combined, including legit co-champs.
Those numbers, according to NCAA stats and a records review:
- Ohio State lost 18: 15 by Braxton Miller, the Heisman contender who went down in August camp, and three by J.T. Barrett, the redshirt freshman lost in November. Third-string Cardale Jones stepped up and won three postseason games.
- The previous 31 champions lost 16: nine by 1994 Nebraska's Tommie Frazier, two by 2007 LSU's Matt Flynn, two by 1991 Washington's Mark Brunell, one by 1993 Florida State's Charlie Ward, one by 1990 Colorado's Darian Hagan, and one by 1989 Miami's Craig Erickson.
Four almost similar champions
Based on that, the most QB-depleted champion in decades had been the 1994 Huskers, until the Buckeye group finished twice as injured. And the Huskers had third-year Brook Berringer, who'd already played in 19 career games, to take over for Frazier. Ohio State's replacements had thrown a combined 16 career passes before their turns.
The 1991 Huskies lost Brunell in spring camp, but he was healthy enough to play by Week 3. Billy Joe Hobert's performance in relief was comparable to Barrett's for Ohio State, but if he'd missed a game, he would've been replaced by the original starter, not a third-stringer. And he didn't miss a game.
1985 Oklahoma finished 8-0 under freshman Jamelle Holieway after Troy Aikman broke his ankle in Week 4. OU's new offense was a better fit for Holieway anyway. Aikman transferred to UCLA.
Before that was Matt Cavanaugh for 1976 Pitt, who filled in for Robert Haygood in Week 2. Cavanaugh himself missed three midseason games. But he was a junior who'd already had 121 career combined passes and rushes before taking over, almost 10 times as much experience as OSU's Barrett and Jones combined.
Only one of those four had to rely significantly on its third-stringer, and none of them had to win multiple postseason games in a 15-game season.
You can only find a minor championship QB injury here and there; in 1968, Ohio State sophomore Ron Maciejowski filled in for Rex Kern for one game. Hey, another young Ohio State backup blowing out Wisconsin!
We'll end that with 1968, as that's the year the AP poll started crowning its champion after bowl season, rather than before. Before 1968, most title claims are giant messes.
That's 47 years, with only a few champions overcoming anywhere near the QB injuries Ohio State overcame. But we can still take it another step.
Before the '70s, teams often played 10 or fewer games, not 15. Those '68 Buckeyes played 10. 1954 Coaches champion UCLA played nine. 1941 champion Minnesota played eight. In 1918, co-champs Michigan and Pitt played five each. (1894 champ Yale won 16 games, because college football abhors consistency.)
So even if a pre-modern champ had similar QB injuries, it didn't have to win near as many games as OSU just did.
Where these numbers came from
I've looked at games-played stats via Sports Reference and school sites and checked each bowl game, since NCAA records didn't account for those until 2002. I've also tried to find articles on injuries for each starter. If any others missed games, it's not in the records. I can't count partial games, or games during which the starter left due to injury at some point, since that level of detail isn't in 2014's play-by-play records, let alone 1969's.
Let me know if I've missed any, though.
I've also tried to find any anticipated starters who went down before their seasons began, but it appears that in every other case, each starter was entrenched from the previous season, ascended from backup status before the season (like Mike Rae for 1972 USC), won a position battle (like Bernie Kosar over Vinny Testaverde for 1983 Miami), or took the job from a healthy incumbent midseason (like Joe Montana for 1977 Notre Dame).
You simply do not win a championship if you lose your starting QB for the year before the season begins.
Topping that by losing your second-stringer and then winning it all anyway in a long season is a level beyond unprecedented.
Another way to appreciate what Ohio State did
Here's a chart, which ends at 1990, because teams were more likely to use two-QB systems before then: