At the start of one of my classes on Monday, my professor asked everyone if they thought Michigan would beat Ohio State this weekend. Almost everybody raised their hands. Then she asked if anyone had their doubts.
Of the approximately 35 people in the room, I was one of two that raised a hand.
Not that I don’t think Michigan can win on Saturday, but with the optimistic feeling all over campus these days, it is apparent that a history lesson is in order.
Yes, Ohio State is having a down year. Yes, Michigan hasn’t lost since September. But to everyone who is already looking for plane reservations to southern California, I have one thing to say:
This is Michigan-Ohio State.
This is a rivalry that has been defined by the seasons that have been ruined in late November. Ohio State may be 6-4 and unranked, but this is a game that, over the years, both teams have often come in as severe underdogs and have ruined the other’s chance at a Rose Bowl or National Championship.
If you don’t remember, let me jog your memory.
91: Undefeated and top-ranked Ohio State looked to be on its way to a Rose Bowl and national title, but it first had to travel to Ann Arbor to face first-year coach Bo Schembechler and the Wolverines. The Wolverines picked off six passes and upset the Buckeyes 24-12. Michigan football was changed forever, and a rivalry was truly born in a win considered the best ever over Ohio State.
1972: This time, No. 3 Michigan traveled to Ohio State with a 10-0 record. It also dominated. It threw for 160 passing yards compared to Ohio State’s 17. It made 21 first downs compared to Ohio State’s 10. It ran 84 offensive plays, compared to Ohio State’s 44.
But Michigan also failed to score when it had a third-and-goal at the Ohio State one-yard line in the fourth quarter, and lost 14-11. The Wolverines’ season ended on that day, as just one Big Ten team was allowed to go to a bowl game until 1975.
1973: Both schools went into this game undefeated, and the game ended in a 10-10 tie. Michigan felt it played a better game after Ohio State failed to complete a pass. But the Wolverines fell short of the Rose Bowl because of a special athletic directors’ vote, ending their season once again.
1974: Michigan was ranked slightly ahead of Ohio State as it once again entered the matchup undefeated. Kicker Mike Lantry missed a short field goal with 18 seconds left, and the Wolverines lost 12-10 on Czechoslovakian import Tom Klabon’s four field goals. For the third straight year, Michigan enters the Ohio State game unbeaten. For the third straight year, Michigan ends up short of the Roses.
1981: Ohio State comes into Michigan Stadium unranked, but Michigan settles for field goals of 19, 26 and 23 yards, while Ohio State gets in the endzone twice. The Buckeyes win 14-9. Michigan ended up in the now defunct Bluebonnet Bowl.
1982: Ohio State is unranked going into Michigan week again, but this time the Wolverines have to travel to Columbus. Michigan quarterback Steve Smith throws three interceptions and loses two fumbles. But it was the fumble by Anthony Carter at the Ohio State 14-yard line in the 4th quarter that dealt Michigan a 24-14 defeat. The Wolverines ended up going to the Rose Bowl anyway, but lost to UCLA.
1993: Ohio State came into Ann Arbor needing either a win over unranked Michigan or a loss by Wisconsin against Michigan State in Tokyo (yes, Tokyo) two weeks later to head to Pasadena. It got neither. The Buckeyes threw four interceptions, and were shut out for the first time in 11 years in the 28-0 loss. The Badgers went to their first Rose Bowl since 1962.
1995: No. 2 Ohio State came to Ann Arbor undefeated, trying to prevent Northwestern from heading to its first Rose Bowl since 1948. But Tim Biakabutuka ran for 313 yards, dwarfing Heisman Trophy candidate and eventual winner Eddie George’s 104, and Michigan won 31-23.
1996: Having blown chances at the Rose Bowl in 1993 and 1995, no one thought another undefeated Ohio State team would let another Rose Bowl opportunity slip away again. The Buckeyes entered the game as 17.5-point favorites. Ohio State had a 9-0 lead at halftime, but a 61-yard touchdown strike from Brian Griese to Tai Streets started the comeback. No. 21 Michigan won 13-9, ending another Ohio State national title bid.
2001: No. 11 Michigan needed a win against unranked Ohio State to head to a BCS bowl. It fell down 23-0 at halftime. Quarterback John Navarre was even pulled from the game for Jermaine Gonzales, but had a shotgun snap went over his head for a safety. The Wolverines got within 26-20 after a Marquis Walker touchdown catch with 2:26 remaining, but that’s how the game would end. Michigan lost to Tennessee in the Citrus Bowl.
Saturday’s game has some strange similarities to many of these battles. Michigan has the Rose Bowl in its grasp, and this game will constitute Ohio State’s season. So don’t plan your holiday break just yet.
Bob Hunt is looking for things to do for “On the Road” Friday night in Columbus. If you would like to give him any ideas, you can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.