PUT this in the ``hard to imagine'' category: Despite last season's 10-1-1 record, Ohio State's football team, which is 1-1 after Saturday's 25-16 loss to Washington, hasn't been to the Rose Bowl since 1985. The Buckeyes appear unlikely to break the drought this season, either, since defensive anchor Dan (Big Daddy) Wilkinson, the National Football League's top draft choice, has departed. Penciled in ahead of Ohio State in preseason forecasts are Michigan, Penn State, and Wisconsin, which is coming off its first-ever Rose Bowl victory, and also Illinois in the estimation of some.
Ohio State, of course, is the school more than all others, counted on to uphold the state's football name and proud traditions. It is, after all, easily the largest college in the state (in fact, the largest in the country), and the only one that literally bears the state's name in big-time football circles.
The University of Miami in Miami, Ohio, has been called the ``Cradle of Coaches'' for producing such prominent sideline strategists as Woody Hayes, Bo Schembechler, Ara Paraseghian, and Paul Brown, but its team (4-7 last year) has been lost in the shadow of that other U. of Miami, the juggernaut from Florida. Meanwhile, the University of Cincinnati (8-3 in 1993) has shown promise, but as an independent, it claims none of the cachet associated with Big Ten Conference membership, which Ohio State has enjoyed since 1912. There are also major-college programs at the universities of Akron and Toledo.
Ohio State remains the state's football flagship, yet unknown to many out-of-staters is that Ohio boasts two national championship teams - and not just the paper variety selected in polls but honest-to-goodness winners of post-season playoffs.
Youngstown State of Youngstown won its second Division I-AA title in three years last December by defeating Marshall University on Marshall's home turf in Huntington, W.Va. The Penguins opened with a 10-to-10 tie against Stephen F. Austin State University on Sept. 1. and a 23 to 3 win over Delaware State Saturday.
Mount Union College of Alliance, Ohio, is the reigning Division III champion among the National Collegiate Athletic Association's smallest schools. It defeated Rowan College of New Jersey in the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl, which serves as the Division III championship game. Mount Union opened its '94 campaign with a 44-to-10 win over Defiance on Saturday.
Touching other bases
* It looks like this major league baseball season is going down the tubes and with it the playoffs and the World Series. The last time baseball missed having a World Series was 1904, when an intramural disagreement prevented its taking place.
* Andre Agassi has not always pursued tennis with the passion of a Jimmy Connors or approached it with the concentration of a Bjorn Borg. The talent is there, though, to win major titles, and Agassi placed it on convincing display at this year's US Open, where he waltzed away a winner Sunday with a 6-1, 7-6, 7-5 defeat of power-serving Michael Stich. His march to the title made him the first unseeded player since Fred Stolle in 1966 to win the crown and only the third in the history of the tournament. Agassi had lost his first-round match in two of the three previous Opens, yet his capabilities were evident in winning Wimbledon in 1992. In the women's final, Spain's Arantxa Sanchez Vicario defeated Steffi Graf, then collected the women's doubles crown with Jana Novotna of the Czech Republic.
* Wouldn't the Ladies Professional Golf Association, which is really a professional tournament circuit, be better off dropping ``ladies'' from its title? Women's Pro Tour would sound more contemporary and be just as respectful.
* Pop quiz: Can you name the only National Football League team without a playoff victory? (Answer appears below.)
* Among the fittest people on the field during this summer's World Cup soccer tournament were the referees and linesmen. Their stamina was tested at the Cooper Aerobics Center in Dallas last spring. Dr. Kenneth Cooper, the center's founder, says that in conducting more than 125,000 endurance tests over 23 years, only 5 percent of the people could run on a treadmill longer than 25 minutes. The referees and linesmen, Cooper says, kept going an average of 26 minutes.
* The arrival of stock car racing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway earlier this summer brought the Indy car vs. stock car comparisons out of the garage. Steering is one main difference: Stock cars have power steering, Indy cars don't. That may be one reason why Mario Andretti was quoted in Auto Racing Digest as saying Indy cars are much more physically demanding to drive. ``A stock car, by race-car standards, is fairly easy to drive...,'' he says. ``If you watch on TV, you never see those guys really gripping the steering wheel too hard, and that's why they're able to endure all those 500-mile races. Otherwise, it would kill them.''
* Quiz answer: New Orleans Saints. Since starting out in 1967, the team has made it to the post-season four times but lost on each occasion.