In fact, Saturday's unprecedented Big Ten showdown between No. 1 Ohio State and No. 2 Michigan was so good, college football fans may not have to wait another year for a rematch.
The Buckeyes overcame three turnovers and held on for dear life, turning back the rival Wolverines 42-39 in a shootout before an Ohio Stadium-record crowd of 105,708. The win gave OSU its first outright Big Ten title since 1984 and put the Buckeyes in the Bowl Championship Series national championship game Jan. 8 in Glendale, Ariz.
"What more can I say, man?" said OSU quarterback Troy Smith, who likely sealed up the Heisman Trophy with his third straight win over Michigan. "Hats off to the University of Michigan. It was a hard fought battle down to the last second, but, I'm at a loss for words right now. I was downstairs with my teammates and the overall feel of everybody is unparallel."
Ohio State coach Jim Tressel continued his mastery of Michigan as the Buckeyes (12-0, 8-0) won The Game for the fifth time in six years on his watch. OSU has also now won three straight over Michigan for the first time since winning four straight in 1960-63.
"Well, I don't know where to start with our seniors," Tressel said. "What a special bunch of guys that just worked and worked and led and led. Everyone told them beginning last spring that we couldn't be a great team because we lost so many great players and these seniors just decided that they were going to do whatever it took to lead a football team to reach its potential. The amount of love that's evident between our players and this senior group is amazing.
"The number one thing in our minds was our seniors and making sure that their last game in this building was a great memory and obviously would lead to the outright Big Ten championship. I guess the sideline of the whole thing is it's going to lead to bigger and better things. But the seniors and the outright Big Ten championship, that was our focus."
With Michigan's reputation of having the nation's run defense, Tressel went to the air. Smith completed 29 of 41 passes for 316 yards and four touchdowns against one interception. The 81 combined points are the second most in the 103-year history of the OSU-Michigan rivalry.
"There were a lot of good playmakers out there today," Tressel said. "Sometimes it goes that way, and sometimes it goes the other ways, but those were two good offenses, two good defenses, two good football teams."
The Buckeyes fell behind 7-0 early, but rallied for a 28-14 halftime lead. Michigan (11-1, 7-1) twice got the lead down to four points before Smith's 13-yard touchdown pass to Brian Robiskie gave OSU a 42-31 lead with 5:38 left.
Michigan quarterback Chad Henne, who completed 21 of 35 passes for 267 yards and two touchdowns, led the Wolverines down the field and hit Tyler Ecker for a 16-yard touchdown with 2:16 left. Henne's two-point conversion pass cut the OSU lead down to 41-38. But when OSU's Ted Ginn Jr. recovered the ensuing onside kick, the Buckeyes had sealed the win.
Ohio State rolled up 503 yards total offense, including 187 on the ground. The Wolverines entered the game allowing a nation's best 29 rushing yards per game. Tailback Antonio Pittman led OSU with 139 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries, while Chris Wells added 56 yards on five carries. Pittman and Wells each ripped off long touchdown runs of 56 and 52 yards, respectively, against the staunch UM defense.
"We knew what we could do," Wells said. "We had confidence in our offensive line."
Ginn led OSU with eight catches for 104 yards and a touchdown. Robiskie had seven catches for 89 yards and a score. Anthony Gonzalez also had four catches for 50 yards. Roy Hall and Brian Hartline each had three grabs with Hall also catching a TD pass.
For Michigan, tailback Mike Hart had 142 yards and three touchdowns on 23 carries.
"Their defense played good, but they're not as good as people thought, I guess I could say," Hart said. "We knew we were going to be able to run the ball, but we didn't put enough points on the board."
Wide receiver Mario Manningham finished with six catches for 86 yards. Adrian Arrington joined Ecker in catching TD passes.
This epic encounter – perhaps the biggest game in Ohio Stadium and Big Ten football history – could set the stage for a rematch in the BCS title game if Michigan ends up No. 2 in the final rankings released Dec. 3.
For now, though, Tressel was not worried about his team's next opponent.
"Right now, quite honestly, the only thing on my mind is the joy of winning the Ohio State-Michigan game and the joy of being the Big Ten champions and the joy of having the chance to go back out to Phoenix and be with the wonderful people from the Fiesta Bowl," Tressel said. "There's plenty of football to be played and we don't usually worry about things until all the football is done being played.
"I think Michigan is a very deserving football team. There can't be many teams in the nation better than Michigan, but I'm not going to get into it. My opinion doesn't have a vote. The guy from the BCS is here. He has all the votes, I don't have them."
Michigan played the game with a heavy heart, one day after the death of UM coaching icon Bo Schembechler.
"It was a great football game and I was extremely proud of our team," said UM coach Lloyd Carr, who coached under Schembechler. "I think we have a great football team. We have great kids. I thought they competed as hard as anybody could have ever asked them to compete. Ohio State has a great football team, and give them credit."
As It Happened
Ohio State won the coin toss, but deferred. Michigan got the ball to open the game and, with Henne coming out firing, the Wolverines breezed 80 yards in seven plays to the game's first touchdown. Henne completed all four of his pass attempts for 57 yards, including three for 46 to Manningham. Their 25-yard hook-up put the ball at the OSU 2, where Hart rolled around right end for the touchdown and a 7-0 lead with 12:32 left in the first quarter.
The Buckeyes answered with a methodical 14-play, 69-yard scoring march. OSU went almost exclusively with three-, four- and five-wide receiver sets. Smith was 9 of 11 passing on the drive for 69 yards. That included three passes for 38 yards to Hall. That duo hooked up on the 1-yard touchdown on a simple out pass to the right side of the end zone, tying the game at 7-7 with 6:03 left in the first quarter.
"We run a play where Robo and I cross in our routes," Hall said. "The corner was in a predicament where he had to cover one of us. I think he got caught standing in the middle. Troy gunned it in there for the touchdown."
The teams traded punts until the Buckeyes grabbed the lead for good early in the second. They took over at their own 42 after a punt. On first down there, Smith faked a reverse and kept the ball for a 6-yard gain. On second-and-4 at the OSU 48, Wells took a give and spun away from UM's Shawn Crable in the backfield. He then stepped away from a tackle attempt by UM's Jamar Adams and was gone down the middle of the field on a 52-yard touchdown that put OSU ahead 14-7 with 12:29 left in the first half.
"Michigan lives off negative yardage plays," Wells said. "I didn't want to have a loss. It felt good to break out of there. To get a play like that, it was a plus."
The teams traded punts before OSU took over on its own 9. The Buckeyes needed just four plays to go 91 yards and pad their lead. Pittman got 3 yards on first down. On second down, Smith escaped trouble in the backfield and found Robiskie, who came back to the ball along the sideline. He eluded UM standout corner Leon Hall and rolled for a 39-yard gain to the UM 48.
"I ran a little fade route," Robiskie said. "I looked and saw Troy holding it. I saw he didn't have anything to work with, so I stopped and came back for it. Any time a quarterback holds it like that, he wants you to do something. I just threw the defender off and caught it."
Pittman then had a 9-yard gain. On second-and-1 at the 39, Smith faked a give and threw deep down the middle to Ginn on a post. He got behind Hall and UM's Ryan Mundy to haul in the ball at the goal line for the 39-yard touchdown and a 21-7 lead with 6:11 left in the half.
"The protection was great for Troy," Ginn said. "Then, I had to sell the fact I was going to stay in and block. Once I got by my man, I just ran as fast as I could up the seam."
Michigan answered with a quick six-play, 80-yard scoring drive. Hart ripped off a 30-yard run on a draw. OSU's Joel Penton got to Henne for a sack, but he rebounded to find a wide open Adrian Arrington down the left sideline for a 37-yard touchdown. That cut the OSU lead to 21-14 with 2:33 left in the half.
But the Buckeyes again enjoyed some late-in-the-half heroics. For the sixth time in 12 games, the Buckeyes scored in the final minute of the first half. This time, they drove 80 yards in nine plays. Smith was 8 of 9 passing on the drive, completing four of those to Gonzalez for 50 yards. Facing second-and-6 at the UM 7 and just 24 seconds left, Smith saw Gonzalez was locked on linebacker Chris Graham. Gonzalez ran a simple slant and Smith hit him for the 8-yard touchdown and a 28-14 lead with just 20 seconds left in the half.
"It was the same play (as the touchdown) at Iowa," Gonzalez said. "It was a simple inside slant. We changed that play earlier in the week. I told Coach Tress, ‘I don't think I can get open on the one route we've been running. I think I can do something if we keep it the way it was.'
"It was up to everybody to execute. It's special when you get to score a touchdown, but especially against Michigan."
Everything seemed to be going Ohio State's way. Michigan came into the game allowing a Big Ten-best 231 yards per game coming. But OSU had netted 320 yards in the first half alone. Smith, himself, was 21 of 26 passing for 241 yards and three scores in the first half.
Plus, the Buckeyes were up two touchdowns and they were about to get the ball to start the second half.
But Smith threw three straight incompletions and Michigan quickly took over after a punt at its own 40-yard line. The Wolverines needed just five plays to find paydirt. Hart ripped off runs of 33 and 16 yards here, setting up his own 2-yard TD plunge over right tackle. That play trimmed the OSU lead to 28-21 with 12:12 left in the third quarter.
On OSU's ensuing drive, Smith made a mistake deep in his own end. Facing third-and-9 at the OSU 19, Smith was pressured by UM's Dave Harris. He threw toward Robiskie and into double coverage. The ball was batted up in the air by a UM defender and right to defensive tackle Alan Branch, who made the interception at the OSU 25 with 10:48 left in the third quarter.
But the OSU defense came up big here as defensive tackle Quinn Pitcock stopped Hart for a 2-yard loss and end Vernon Gholston pressured Henne into a third down incompletion. Garrett Rivas' 39-yard field goal trimmed the OSU margin to 28-24 with 8:41 left in the third quarter.
On the ensuing kickoff, UM's Charles Stewart hit Ginn late out of bounds. The penalty gave OSU the ball at its own 35. On first down, Smith found Ginn for 9 yards. With second-and-1 coming, Smith gave the ball off to Pittman. Fullback Stan White Jr. delivered a lead block, left guard Steve Rehring pulled to the right into the hole and right tackle Kirk Barton walled off a UM defender. All of this created a lane for Pittman, who rolled almost untouched for a 56-yard touchdown run and a 35-24 lead with 8:04 left in the third.
"Everybody wants to play their best in this game," Pittman said. "To score in this game, that's huge. Nobody touched me until I got to the safety. Once I got past the linebackers untouched, I knew it was off to the races."
Michigan then drove down to the OSU 33. But on fourth-and-10 there, Henne hit Breaston on a crossing route. Breaston slipped after only a 5-yard gain, giving the Buckeyes the ball on downs.
Late in the third quarter, OSU center Doug Datish sailed a shotgun snap high to Smith. He could not handle it and, after a mad scramble, UM's Branch recovered it at the OSU 9. Hart's 1-yard TD run on third-and-goal cut the lead to 35-31 with 14:41 left in the game.
Ohio State then drove down to the UM 28, but on third-and-1 there a shotgun snap from Datish skitted along the ground and UM's LaMarr Woodley recovered it. The OSU defense came on and snuffed that threat, though.
The Buckeyes appeared to take control of the game with a methodical 11-play, 83-yard scoring march. Pittman pulled off a 26-yard run on a Statue-of-Liberty play after a Smith pass fake. The drive was prolonged after UM's Shawn Crable was flagged for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Smith on a third-down incompletion. Smith then capped it with his 13-yard touchdown toss to a wide open Robiskie, staking the Buckeyes to a 42-31 lead with 5:38 left.
"That touchdown was big," Robiskie said. "After I caught it, I looked down and saw I got one foot down. That's all I needed. They reviewed it, but I knew it was a touchdown."
Michigan did not go away, though. The Wolverines drove 81 yards in 11 plays for a touchdown. The key play came on fourth-and-16 at the UM 44. Henne threw deep for Manningham. The pass fell incomplete, but OSU safety Jamario O'Neal was flagged for pass interference. Given new life, Henne hit Mike Massey for 19 yards. That set up his 16-yard TD toss to Tyler Ecker. Trailing 42-37, Michigan went for two and got it as Henne hit Breaston. That cut the OSU lead to 42-39 with 2:16 left.
Michigan was out of timeouts and had to resort to an onside kick. But when Ginn recovered the kick, it was all over but the shouting. Fans stormed onto the field as the final seconds ticked off and the Buckeyes had capped their perfect regular season.
* Ohio State picked up its 31st Big Ten title. With last year's co-championship, this marked OSU's first back-to-back conference crowns since it won six straight from 1972-77. This is also OSU's 16th outright Big Ten title.
* Michigan still leads the all-time series 57-40-6, including 27-22-2 in Columbus.
Michigan built its commanding lead in the series by going 13-0-2 in the first 15 meetings between 1897 and 1918.
Over the last 50 years, OSU just moved ahead at 25-23-2.
* Carr is now 6-6 against Ohio State.
* Under Tressel, OSU is 38-10 in Big Ten games, 38-4 at home, 25-7 against ranked teams and 8-2 against top-10 teams.
* OSU has won 19 straight games, the nation's longest streak and now tied for the second-longest in the modern era of OSU football. OSU had a 22-game streak in 1967-69 and a 19-game streak between 2002-03.
OSU has also now won 14 straight Big Ten games and 12 straight home games since last year's loss to Texas.
* OSU is now a perfect 4-0 in match-ups between the nation's No. 1 and No. 2 teams. Top-ranked Ohio State downed No. 2 USC 27-16 in the 1969 Rose Bowl. No. 2 OSU upset No. 1 Miami (Fla.) 31-24 in two overtimes in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl. And, No. 1 OSU downed No. 2 Texas 24-7 in Austin on Sept. 9 of this season.
* Michigan is 0-4 all-time in one versus two games. UM was No. 2 in all three games, losing to Notre Dame in 1943 (35-12) and in 1989 (24-19) and also at Iowa in 1985 (12-10).
* Michigan is now 3-16-1 all-time against the nation's No. 1 team including losses in its last eight games against top-ranked teams.
* This was the 10th time OSU and Michigan have met with each team in the top five. OSU now owns a 6-3-1 edge in those games.
* The last time two Big Ten teams ranked first and second in the national polls met on the field was on Oct. 19, 1985, when top-ranked Iowa defeated second-ranked Michigan, 12-10. The Buckeyes and Wolverines have never met when both programs appeared first and second in the national polls.
* The last time two Big Ten teams were undefeated in conference play and squared off in their season finale was on Nov. 22, 1980, when Michigan defeated Ohio State, 9-3. The Wolverines entered the game 8-2 overall and 7-0 in conference play while the Buckeyes were 9-1 overall and 7-0 in Big Ten action.
* The last time two Big Ten teams were undefeated in overall play (but not untied) and matched up in the regular season finale was on Nov. 22, 1975, when Ohio State defeated Michigan, 21-14. The Buckeyes were 10-0 overall and 7-0 in the Big Ten heading into the game while the Wolverines boasted a record of 8-0-2 overall and 7-0 in conference.
* The last time two Big Ten teams entered the season finale with unblemished records in overall play and faced off was on Nov. 24, 1973, when Michigan and Ohio State played to a 10-10 tie. The Wolverines were 10-0 overall and 7-0 in the Big Ten entering that weekend while the Buckeyes were 9-0 overall and 7-0 in conference play.
* For the seventh straight season, the Michigan-Ohio State season finale had a direct impact on the Big Ten Championship race. In every year since the 2000 campaign, at least one of these two teams has entered this game with a shot at the conference crown.
* OSU bid adieu to 19 seniors, including 16 fifth-year seniors, prior to the game. This class has amassed a 41-8 record and will play in its third BCS bowl game in four years.
* OSU's 42 points were the most Michigan has allowed since a 54-51 loss to Northwestern in 2000. Michigan's 39 points were the most OSU has allowed since a 46-20 loss to Illinois in 1999.
The 81 combined points trails only the 86 scored in UM's 86-0 win over OSU in 1902 in the history of the series.
* Pittman has seven 100-yard games this year and 15 for his career.
* Wells has now scored one touchdown in his last six games.
* Smith set a new OSU single-season touchdown mark with 30 TD passes, eclipsing the 29 set by Bobby Hoying in 1995.
Smith also became the first OSU quarterback to throw for four touchdowns against Michigan and also became the first to go 3-0 against Michigan since Tippy Dye in 1934-36. Ironically, the 94-year-old Dye was to join hundreds of former Buckeyes in forming the Tunnel of Pride prior to the game.
* This was OSU's first game without forcing a turnover. But four different Buckeyes sacked Henne (Penton, Jay Richardson, Lawrence Wilson and Antonio Smith) and linebacker James Laurinaitis led OSU with nine tackles.
Afterwards, Laurinaitis was asked to respond to Hart's comment on the OSU defense.
"You know, that's Mike's opinion," Laurinaitis said. "I don't have anything to say back to him. He's a great running back and a great player. We're just going to enjoy this win."
* Since the inception of the AP poll in 1936, this marked the 38th meeting between the nation's top two teams. OSU's win gives No. 1 teams a 23-13-2 edge in those games.
The Buckeyes could become the first team in college football history to play in three one versus two games in the same season if their BCS title game opponent is ranked No. 2 in the AP poll.
"This could be the greatest team ever," Pittman opined. "Nobody I can recall has ever taken down three No. 2 teams."