OSU-Michigan 2006: The Experts Speak Out

We assembled a panel of some of the top local, state and national college football experts and asked their opinion on the 2006 version of The Game, pitting No. 1 Ohio State against No. 2 Michigan. We talked to Kirk Herbstreit, Pat Forde, Tony Barnhart, Wendell Barnhouse, Jack Park, Bill Livingston, Jerry Rudzinski, Pete Fiutak and Bruce Hooley. Click here for more.

It would be impossible to overhype this Saturday's match-up between No. 1 Ohio State and No. 2 Michigan at Ohio Stadium (3:30 p.m., ABC national telecast).

It will be the regular season finale for both teams and will give the winner the outright Big Ten championship and, most certainly, a spot as the overwhelming favorite in the BCS national championship game, set for Jan. 8 in Glendale, Ariz.

If that is all you knew, you'd say this game is really big.

But the nature of this rivalry – known as The Game – shows that this could be the biggest regular season game in college football history.

Many observers consider this rivalry as college football's greatest rivalry. And it could be decided that with this game – the 103rd rendition of The Game – serving as a de facto national semifinal game, that the stakes have never been higher when these two teams have met.

But there's more.

This game marks the first-ever regular season Division I-A match-up of two 11-0 teams.

It is also the first time in the history of this rivalry that the teams will meet when they are one and two in the national polls. It's only the third time they have met as unbeaten and untied teams. (The others were 1970 and 1973.)

In some respects, this is a match-up on par with great regular season one versus two showdowns like Notre Dame-Michigan State in 1966, Oklahoma-Nebraska in 1971 and Florida-Florida State in 1996. The Oklahoma-Nebraska game was known as The Game of the Century – a tag that could be applied to this game, scheduled just six years into the 21st century.

That 1996 Florida-FSU match-up, won by FSU, is notable because the teams were rematched six weeks later in the Sugar Bowl to determine the national title with Florida winning. A similar scenario could unfold this year as well if OSU and Michigan end up as one and two in the final BCS standings Dec. 3.

With all of this in mind, we set out this week to poll local, state and national college football columnists and media members for their take on this once-in-a-lifetime match-up of two of college football's biggest programs.

Below are thoughts from some of the brightest minds following college football on this weekend's showdown in Columbus, followed by a look at past one versus two match-ups:

Tony Barnhart, Atlanta Journal-Constitution and CBS

For my money, one of the greatest regular season games ever played was No. 1 Nebraska vs. No. 2 Oklahoma in 1971. The Michigan-Ohio State game has that kind of feel. Just as it was in 1971, a conference championship and a potential national championship will be on the line. Two great programs playing their very best. It's going to be a special day.

Wendell Barnhouse, Fort Worth (Texas) Star-Telegram

This is the biggest game in the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry since the 2002 game in Columbus. Arguably, this is the biggest game ever in the rivalry because the teams have never met as the nation's top two ranked teams. Typically, this is a good-to-great game simply because of the rivalry.

The potential is there for being a great-to-greatest game because of the rivalry, the Big Ten championship on the line, the chance to play for a national title, Troy Smith's Heisman hopes. You rarely get a game where so many factors come together. Unfortunately, history tells us that the best games are sometimes the ones you least expect or the ones that receive the least hype. It's going to be difficult for the game itself to live up to the advance billing. Nonetheless, I wouldn't miss it.

Pete Fiutak, CollegeFootballNews.com and FoxSports.com

Bring the national championship trophy to Columbus this weekend and just give it to the winner of the Michigan-Ohio State game. Enough is enough this year. Has Florida looked even remotely like a national title caliber team? USC lost to an Oregon State team that just got thumped by UCLA. Does Arkansas really belong in the national title considering it got obliterated 50-14 at home by the Trojans?

Sure, that was a lifetime ago, but the loss has to still count for something. Notre Dame needed everything in its bag to beat Michigan State and UCLA and, in case you forgot, got its doors blown off by Michigan. Rutgers? I know, cute story, but come on. Texas, Cal, Auburn … thanks for playing. And no, there shouldn't be a rematch no matter what happens next weekend. What happens in Columbus, stays in Columbus.

Not only have Ohio State and Michigan had the two best teams all year, there isn't anyone else deserving to be in the picture. In the storied history of college football's greatest rivalry, and it is college football's greatest rivalry, this will be the biggest game ever played between the two. That makes this, arguably, the biggest regular season game in the history of the sport. So let this weekend be it. Crown the winner the national champion, and let's get the talk about the 2007 season going. USC or Arkansas as the preseason No. 1 … discuss.

Kirk Herbstreit, ESPN, WBNS-AM and former OSU captain

I think when Woody (Hayes) and Bo (Schembechler) were here, it was as big as it got because a lot of years there it was the Big Ten championship and possibly the national championship. It always seemed to be on the line and there were almost always Rose Bowl implications.

Since Jim Tressel has taken over and Lloyd Carr has taken over, I think we've come back full circle to where it's not just Big Ten bragging rights. Now, it's about the BCS. It always seems like one or the other team has something at stake. That's why I think the entire nation – whether you're a Pac-10 fan or an SEC fan – you have a greater appreciation of what's at stake here beyond what the people in the local markets here are excited about.

In terms of a possible rematch, I don't want to see a rematch. I think the system is what it is. I think that USC has put themselves in a position where, if they win out, no matter what we all think or want, USC will go to the championship game. I also think that Notre Dame has put themselves in a position where, if they upset USC at the Coliseum, they will move up because it's Notre Dame and the voters will put them up there.

Of course, the way Michigan defeated Notre Dame (47-21) could factor into that thinking as well. If the winner of this game wins decisively, they move on and the loser is out. But if it is a close game, then I think you'll get a lot of people sitting there in the final week saying there is no way they can move Notre Dame up there (over the loser of this game).

I also think the winner of the Arkansas-Florida (SEC title) game with one loss will be high enough. I will be shocked if there is a rematch. I think it's winner-take-all. The loser goes to the Rose Bowl, which is still for a lot of people in this part of the country, they'd rather go and watch the Rose Parade than go to Glendale for the national title game.

Pat Forde, ESPN.com

For a regular season game, this is unprecedented for anything I have seen in my career covering college sports, and I go back to the late 1980s. It is really remarkable. Every single year, the Ohio State-Michigan game is a big deal. But it has never been this big of a deal.

I grew up watching Bo against Woody. They kind of typified the iconic nature of this rivalry. But the stakes this year are bigger than anything they played for.

I think you have to go back to the Oklahoma-Nebraska game in 1971 and Arkansas-Texas in 1969. People still talk about those games. It makes you wonder if they'll still be talking about this game 35 years from now.

In terms of a rematch, I'm not a BCS fan. I don't like it and I don't like what it has given us. A look at the standings this week gives you five more fresh reasons why. The computers and the humans just can't seem to agree. I don't think Rutgers is better than Ohio State, but the computer says they are. At the same time, I think Rutgers is better than the seventh-ranked team in the polls.

I think there is a lot of laundry voting going in the polls by the virtue of a school's fans, helmets and uniforms. People automatically assume some programs are better. But the good thing is I think Ohio State and Michigan deserve it. I don't think the Big Ten was that good this year. Ohio State did not have to play the only other team that could challenge them in the conference in Wisconsin.

The good thing is they went and beat Texas in Austin. Without that, you wouldn't be able to say they've done anything more than some of these other teams that are still in contention.

Bill Livingston, The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer

I can remember a couple of games like this. I remember Texas-Arkansas (in 1969), being a native of Texas. I always have regretted the fact I lobbied to go to New Orleans with the Cleveland Browns in 2002, the weekend of the Michigan game. That is the only Michigan game I have missed since I came to The Plain Dealer in 1984. I consider this my long delayed payback.

Personally, I would hate to see a rematch in the BCS championship game. It would be unique to have a rivalry game in the championship game, but rivalry games really are like a one-game season.

I think this is the biggest game in the history of the rivalry – and that's saying something because of Woody (Hayes) and Bo (Schembechler) and all the Rose Bowls they played for.

But I have been to Texas-Arkansas and Army-Navy and Texas-Texas A&M and Auburn-Alabama. This is it. This is The Game. This is the biggest rivalry. They play in the two most gigantic stadiums. They've produced so many pro players. They are two programs that haven't been in a lot of trouble with the NCAA. They are always in the discussion of the top programs in college football.

Bruce Hooley, WBNS-AM

The striking thing about this Ohio State-Michigan game is not just the stakes for which they will play, but the fact they could play again for even bigger stakes just 51 days later. Normally, a victory gives the winning team's fans a year's worth of bragging rights. This time, victory could be bittersweet if it must be proven again in Glendale. And imagine the frustration of winning Round One, only to lose Round Two.

Jack Park, OSU football historian

This one may be as big as any in my opinion. It's hard to believe that any game would be bigger than the 1970 game. The series was moved to the last game in 1935. That added a lot of ammunition to the rivalry.

That 1970 game followed what some think was the most significant Big Ten football game ever played. In 1969, Michigan broke Ohio State's 22-game winning streak. That prevented Ohio State from winning a second consecutive national championship. Of course, it was also the first game between Woody and Bo. I remember all summer long the talk was about paying Michigan back. The buildup to that game was so much that on the Wednesday before the game, Woody took the team off-campus.

That stadium was full an hour before kickoff. It could be that way this Saturday, too. People look at things differently in different stages of their life. Those games when Archie (Griffin) played (in 1972-75), you'd say nothing could get bigger than this year and the next year's game was bigger. But if I had to pick one it was 1970.

The turning point of Woody Hayes' career was probably the 1954 game with that goal line stand in the south end zone. He was on the ropes in 1954. If they had only won four or five games in 1954, he probably would have been gone. Woody said later on that Hopalong Cassady probably saved his job in 1954.

In that game, Michigan had outplayed Ohio State for three quarters. It was tied 7-7. Michigan came within six inches of scoring. Ohio State drove six inches shy of 100 yards the other way for a touchdown and they won that game 21-7.

Another thing to think about is how scoring has changed so much. Last year, the teams had 46 points. The year before, it was 58. Go back to the 1970s and you see scores like 10-7 in 1971, 14-11 in 1972, 10-10 in 1973 and 12-10 in 1974. In those days, they really buttoned it up and played for mistakes.

Jerry Rudzinski, Bucknuts contributor, ONN and former OSU captain

I see this game as the biggest in OSU football history. Many modern day fans might question how I put this above the 2002 national championship game against Miami (Fla.). Sure, that game was to end the drought since 1968 and OSU was a heavy underdog against the "unbeatable" Hurricanes, but I still say this is even bigger.

Anytime you play a high seed, it gains incredible attention -- especially when it is No. 1 against No. 2. More importantly, taking on Michigan takes this game to another stratosphere. It is a different feeling than playing a Miami, Notre Dame or Texas. Common logic would tell you facing a common opponent would actually water the game down because you have them on the schedule the next year and the following and so on, but this is not the case with OSU-Michigan. It gets bigger every year. The 2016 game will be bigger than the 2006 game which is bigger than the 1996 game. Gasoline gets thrown on the fire every year. No. 1 against No. 2 playing in the final game for a national championship game berth coupled with the fact this is OSU-Michigan -- you are kidding yourself if you think it can get any sweeter.

The micro view offers about as much as the macro view. Troy Smith is incredible, but Chad Henne will leave Michigan with a lot of records. Antonio Pittman vs. Michael Hart will be fun to watch. You could argue that Ted Ginn Jr. is not one of the most consistent performers in college football history, but you can't argue that he is one of the most electrifying hold-your-breath players to ever play on Saturdays. Does Jim Tressel own Michigan? Will Lloyd Carr bring back his winning ways from earlier years against Ohio State? Finally, it is fortunate that the game is played in the Horseshoe. Attendence and home wins aside, the Horseshoe is drenched with college football tradition. You don't find that in most bowl venues.

Previous One Vs. Two Showdowns

The No. 1- and No. 2-ranked teams in the Associated Press poll have met 37 times since the inception of the poll in 1936. The No. 1 team has won 22 times with two ties. The game day rankings of the teams are in parentheses.

Date: Score; Site

Oct. 9, 1943: Notre Dame (1) 35, Michigan (2) 12; Ann Arbor, Mich.

Nov. 20, 1943: Notre Dame (1) 14, Iowa Pre-Flight (2) 13; South Bend, Ind.

Dec. 2, 1944: Army (1) 23, Navy (2) 7; Baltimore

Nov. 10, 1945: Army (1) 48, Notre Dame (2) 0; New York City

Dec. 1, 1945: Army (1) 32, Navy (2) 13; Philadelphia

Nov. 9, 1946: Army (1) 0, Notre Dame (2) 0 (tie); New York City

Jan. 1, 1963: USC (1) 42, Wisconsin (2) 37 (Rose Bowl); Pasadena, Calif.

Oct. 12, 1963: Texas (2) 28, Oklahoma (1) 7; Dallas

Jan. 1, 1964: Texas (1) 28, Navy (2) 6; Dallas

Nov. 19, 1966: Notre Dame (1) 10, Michigan State (2) 10 (tie); East Lansing, Mich.

Sept. 28, 1968: Purdue (1) 37, Notre Dame (2) 22; South Bend, Ind.

Jan. 1, 1969: Ohio State (1) 27, USC (2) 16 (Rose Bowl); Pasadena, Calif.

Dec. 6, 1969: Texas (1) 15, Arkansas (2) 14; Fayetteville, Ark.

Nov. 25, 1971: Nebraska (1) 35, Oklahoma (2) 31; Norman, Okla.

Jan. 1, 1972: Nebraska (1) 38, Alabama (2) 6 (Orange Bowl); Miami

Jan. 1, 1979: Alabama (2) 14, Penn State (1) 7 (Sugar Bowl); New Orleans

Sept. 26, 1981: USC (1) 28, Oklahoma (2) 24; Los Angeles

Jan. 1, 1983: Penn State (2) 27, Georgia (1) 23 (Sugar Bowl); New Orleans

Oct. 19, 1985: Iowa (1) 12, Michigan (2) 10; Iowa City, Iowa

Sept. 27, 1986: Miami (Fla.) (2) 28, Oklahoma (1) 16; Miami

Jan. 2, 1987: Penn State (2) 14, Miami (Fla.) (1) 10 (Fiesta Bowl); Tempe, Ariz.

Nov. 21, 1987: Oklahoma (2) 17, Nebraska (1) 7; Lincoln, Neb.

Jan. 1, 1988: Miami (Fla.) (2) 20, Oklahoma (1) 14 (Orange Bowl); Miami

Nov. 26, 1988: Notre Dame (1) 27, USC (2) 10; Los Angeles

Sept. 16, 1989: Notre Dame (1) 24, Michigan (2) 19; Ann Arbor, Mich.

Nov. 16, 1991: Miami (Fla.) (2) 17, Florida State (1) 16; Tallahassee, Fla.

Jan. 1, 1993: Alabama (2) 34, Miami (Fla.) (1) 13 (Sugar Bowl); New Orleans

Nov. 13, 1993: Notre Dame (2) 31, Florida State (1) 24; South Bend, Ind.

Jan. 1, 1994: Florida State (1) 18, Nebraska (2) 16 (Orange Bowl); Miami

Jan. 2, 1996: Nebraska (1) 62, Florida (2) 24 (Fiesta Bowl); Tempe, Ariz.

Nov. 30, 1996: Florida State (2) 24, Florida (1) 21; Tallahassee, Fla.

Jan. 4, 1999: Tennessee (1) 23, Florida State (2) 16 (Fiesta Bowl); Tempe, Ariz.

Jan. 4, 2000: Florida State (1) 46, Virginia Tech (2) 29 (Sugar); New Orleans

Jan. 3, 2003: Ohio State (2) 31, Miami (Fla.) (1) 24, 2 OT (Fiesta); Tempe, Ariz.

Jan. 4, 2005: USC (1) 55, Oklahoma (2) 19 (Orange Bowl); Miami

Jan. 4, 2006: Texas (2) 41, USC (1) 38 (Rose Bowl); Pasadena, Calif.

Sept. 9, 2006: Ohio State (1) 24, Texas (2) 7; Austin, Texas

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