With another football season winding down, I was reflecting on the greatest rivalry games. Michigan and Ohio State has always been one of the very best and I am sure to watch it every season.
Which of those games have been the best? A topic like that is always open for debate and it might also depend on which side you are on.
People find it unbelievable when I say I truly like both teams.
These are the games that I think were either the best, or the most important:
1. 2006: This was a classic featuring number 1 versus number 2 with Ohio State coming in as the top team in the country. I’ve said this many times, but I always thought the 2005 Buckeye team was better than the 2006 team because their defense was outstanding that season led by linebacker AJ Hawk. But, the 2006 team did feature Heisman winning quarterback Troy Smith. Ted Ginn Jr was one of their top players on offense and the defense was led by first year starter at linebacker James Laurinaitis.
Michigan countered with running back Mike Hart, quarterback Chad Henne, wide receivers Mario Manningham and Steve Breaston. The offensive line featured Jake Long who would be taken with the very first pick in the NFL Draft. In typical Michigan fashion, they also had one of the best defenses in the country.
In spite of defensive statistics coming in, this game turned out to be a wild one with Ohio State coming away with a 42-39 win.
2. 1969: Ohio State fans won’t like this pick, but this game was huge. In 1968, the Super Sophomores
slaughtered Michigan and then went on to win the national title by beating favored USC in the Rose Bowl. This game was the first of the 10 Year War games, and Bo Schembechler’s first as head coach at Michigan. The Michigan defense intercepted the Ohio State quarterbacks 6 times on the way to what many have called the greatest upset of all time. This game not only sent Michigan to the Rose Bowl, it allowed the Texas Longhorns to sweep in and beat Arkansas and then Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl and win the national title.
Michigan won by 24-12 which was also the score at half time. It was the first loss at Ohio State for the Super Sophomores and one of only 2 losses in three varsity seasons. The 1969 Ohio State team was even better than the 1968 version, but because of strange Big 10 rules at the time, they stayed home for Christmas.
3. 1973: This game ended in a 10-10 tie. It was interesting for the great defense played, but also for the controversy surrounding it. The Big 10 schools voted for Ohio State to represent them in the Rose Bowl and that made Bo Schembechler extremely angry and supposedly it was something he never got over. Both teams were unbeaten going into the game and either could have had a legitimate shot at a national title with a win here. But, the tie knocked them both out of the picture. There were numerous unbeaten teams in 1973 and Notre Dame finished the year as champion after beating Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.
Ohio State represented the Big 10 well in the Rose Bowl when they blasted USC. This 1973 version of the Ohio State Buckeyes was one of their best.
4. 1986: Michigan quarterback Jim Harbaugh guaranteed a win in this game and it was already
interesting to begin with. Michigan running back Jamie Morris ran for 210 yards, but it still came down to a last minute field goal which Ohio State kicker Matt Frantz just missed to hand the Wolverines a 26-24 win.
Ohio State’s Vince Workman ran for 126 yards and with wide receiver Chris Carter, this game was something of an offensive explosion considering the history of the game.
Harbaugh’s guarantee came true, but he was lucky. He was very, very lucky.
5. 1996: The Buckeyes had national championship aspirations in their heads in 1996. The Wolverines were huge underdogs in this game. When starting quarterback Scott Driesbach was playing poorly, Michigan inserted Brian Griese and he led the Wolverines to a shocking 13-9 upset of the Buckeyes. Well, it was the defense that led the way, mostly. Even though Ohio State was disappointed with this loss, they still had the Rose Bowl and a thrilling win over Arizona State to finish up the year. Michigan went to the Outback Bowl where they lost to Alabama in a close one to finish 8-4.
6. 1995: No, Buckeye fans, I am not showing favoritism to Michigan. Both 1995 and 1996, the Ohio State Buckeyes came into this game unbeaten and with desires to win a national title. But, both seasons, they were upset by the Michigan Wolverines. This time, it was Tshimanga Biakabutuka the Michigan running back. He ran for 313 yards on 37 carries and led the Wolverines to a surprising 31-21 win. Not only did Michigan knock the Buckeyes out of it’s chances to win a national title, but they knocked the Buckeyes out of the Rose Bowl as well because the Northwestern Wildcats were unbeaten in Big 10 play. This Michigan team was also a 4 loss team like the 1996 season.
7. 1968: Why is this game here? The mighty Super Sophomores decimated the Michigan Wolverines go for 3
in 1968. Ohio State won 50-14 and left no doubts, or no prisoners. Ohio State coach Woody Hayes hated Michigan with a passion and when the Buckeyes scored 50 points, Woody decided to go for 2 instead of just kicking the field goal. The 2 point try failed, but when asked afterwards by reporters, Hayes said something along the lines of ‘because I couldn’t go for 3’. That angered Michigan so much that this was really the beginning of the famous 10 Year War between these two rivals.
8. 1997: It was billed as David Boston vs Charles Woodson. The talkative Boston of Ohio State was a great wide receiver and Woodson of Michigan was a great cornerback and return man, or anything else that Michigan coaches asked him to do. Woodson won the match up and he won the Heisman Trophy this season over Peyton Manning of Tennessee. Michigan entered this game unbeaten, much like Ohio State had the two previous seasons. The thought was that the Buckeyes might get revenge and spoil Michigan’s attempt at a national title much like it had worked in reverse the two previous seasons. Ohio State came in with a loss against Penn State and ranked 4th. Michigan won the game, 20-14 and the Wolverines won a share of the national championship that season. Ohio State lost to Florida State to finish with three losses.
9. 2001: No matter which side you are on in this rivalry, Ohio State has absolutely dominated during this century. Since the year 2000, Michigan has only won 3 games against Ohio State. 2001 was not a particularly great season for either program, but it was the first year of new coach Jim Tressel’s reign in Columbus. The Buckeyes lost 4 games coming into their season ending rivalry game. Michigan, on the other hand, had two losses coming in. But, with a win over Ohio State the 11th ranked Wolverines would earn a Rose Bowl berth. It wasn’t to be, with the Buckeyes upsetting the Wolverines 26-20 and the century of dominance began. Buckeye quarterback Craig Krenzel got his first start in this game because of a suspension to starter Steve Bellisari and Krenzel would lead Ohio State to a national championship in 2002. Ohio State built up a big lead and then held off the Wolverines to win.
10. 1974: This game was right in the middle of the 10 Year War. Michigan was 10-0 and ranked number 3 in the Polls. Ohio State was 9-1 and ranked 4th. The Wolverines, of course, had Bo Schembechler as head coach. While the Buckeyes, equally of course, had Woody Hayes. If you wanted a game with a lot of scoring and offense, this game would not have been for you. If you wanted a game with outstanding defense, this was definitely a great game. Ohio State had Heisman winner Archie Griffin and they had to settle for 4 field goals. Griffin ran for 111 yards in this game, but was countered by Michigan’s Gordon Bell who had 108 yards rushing. The score was 12-10 in favor of Ohio State when Michigan kicker Mike Lantry missed a 33 yard field goal with 18 seconds left to give the win to Woody and his Buckeyes. What a game.