Los Angeles — Earl Bruce, coach of the Ohio State team that meets Southern California in the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day, is basically as set in his ways as Vince Lombardi was in his, although their personalities are nothing alike.
Where Lombardi liked to mix a little mystique in with his coaching and discipline, Bruce keeps everything simple and straightforward. Earl's teams play football by the book and usually win, not because the book is infallible but because his teams, like Lombardi's, always execute so well.
The 1984 Buckeyes started the season woefully inexperienced in the defensive secondary. But with the coaching they got from Earl and his staff, that last line of defense developed into a plus almost overnight. Ohio State held its last three opponents - Indiana, Northwestern, and Michigan - to a total of 13 points.
Offensively, the Buckeyes like to give the ball to 6 ft. 2 in., 230-lb. tailback Keith Byars and take their chances - a plan that's hard to argue with in games such as this year's Illinois contest in which Byars rushed for 274 yards and scored five touchdowns. Keith is also an excellent pass receiver, and his combination of talents impressed the Heisman Trophy voters enough that they made him the runner-up to Boston College quarterback Doug Flutie in this year's balloting. Pats got a bargain; Ditka's future with Bears uncertain
* Best off-season trade by a National Football League team? Who knows? But New England got quite a bargain in acquiring placekicker Tony Franklin from Philadelphia for an undisclosed 1985 draft choice. Franklin, who had to beat out five rivals for the job, has made good on 22 of 28 field goal plus all 42 extra point tries. Tony is a barefoot soccer-style booter who started kicking without a shoe as a high school sophomore in Fort Worth, Texas. He is the only player in NCAA history to kick two field goals over 60 yards in the same game, a feat he accomplished for Texas A&M against Baylor in 1976.
* The Chicago Bears, one of the first teams to clinch an NFL playoff berth, still haven't offered a new contract to coach Mike Ditka. The problem seems to center on Ditka's fiery outbursts when things don't go the way he thinks they should. Mike's reactions haveobviously rankled team president, Michael McCaskey, who took over the club when his grandfather, George Halas, passed on partway into last season. ''Since the people who are running the Bears now didn't hire me originally, I don't know what to expect,'' Ditka told reporters, although Mike indicated he'd like to continue in the job. Kareem's reasons for staying; Dr. J's outlook
* Perhaps the chief reason Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is coming back for a 17th National Basketball Association season next year with the Los Angeles Lakers, after having previously announced his retirement, is that his film career hasn't taken off the way he hoped it would. Like Boston's Bill Russell before him, who also had a yen for life in front of a movie or TV camera, Kareem has discovered that there aren't that many character parts for a 7 ft. 2 in. athlete with limited acting ability.
* No announcement has been made yet, but all-star forward Julius Erving reportedly also will sign another multi-year contract with the Philadelphia 76 ers.