Top 10 Michigan Wolverines/Ohio St. Buckeyes Games of All-Time
It is simply known as “The Game.” For those who love the rivalry, there is no more fitting moniker for a sports rivalry. With the Michigan Wolverines and Ohio St. Buckeyes set to battle each other once again, this is my list of the best games in the history of what is, in my opinion, the best rivalry in all of sports history.
My criteria for this list was pretty simple:
1. How great the game itself was
2. The importance of the game to each team’s seasons
3. The historical importance of the game itself
So don’t expect to see last year’s entertaining shootout to make the list. However, expect plenty of installments of the famous period of the rivalry known as the “Ten-Year War.” It is called this because they were the ten games where the Wolverines and Buckeyes were coached by Bo Schembechler and Woody Hayes respectively.
1975—Ohio St. 21, Michigan 14
The Buckeyes came into this one undefeated and #1 in the country according to the AP poll. For most of this one, it was the typical defensive struggle that epitomized the Ten-Year War. This one is memorable due to the Buckeyes scoring two touchdowns in the final seven minutes of the game to steal a win and keep their national title hopes alive.
1979—Ohio St. 18, Michigan 15
The first installment of the rivalry since the “Snow Bowl” of 1950 not to feature Woody Hayes coaching the Buckeyes. A blocked punt returned for a touchdown in the fourth provided the winning score for the Buckeyes. The win also completed an undefeated regular season for the Buckeyes, who took the #1 ranking into the Rose Bowl, which they would lose by a single point.
1995—Michigan 31, Ohio St. 23
The Buckeyes were undefeated and Eddie George was on his way to the Heisman Trophy. However, Michigan running back Tshimanga (Tim) Biakabutuka stole the show with over 300 rushing yards in helping his team to one of the most famous upsets in the rivalry’s history.
And now onto the list…
#10: 1950—Michigan 9, Ohio St. 3
The infamous “Snow Bowl.” A massive overnight storm helped create the most unusual game in the history of the rivalry. The field was a mix of snow and ice, and the players played exactly the way you’d expect players to play on such a field. A blocked punt set up a score for both teams, but the Wolverines got theirs directly on a blocked punt return touchdown that gave them a 9-3 halftime lead. The lead would hold up after a scoreless second half. The Wolverines won in a game that was dominated by punts, and where they failed to earn a first down.
#9: 1972—Ohio St. 14, Michigan 11
The Wolverines paid dearly for two fourth and goal misses in the first classic of the Ten Year War. All three of the game’s touchdowns came in the second and third quarters. The Wolverines first miss on fourth and goal came in the second quarter, which is somewhat forgivable, but the second miss coming in the fourth quarter wasn’t. Like the first time, Schembechler faced fourth and goal the Buckeyes one yard-line, but chose to go for the touchdown instead of a short field-goal. His decision was particularly dubious in the fourth quarter when the Wolverines could have tied the game with a field-goal.
#8: 1944—Ohio St. 18, Michigan 14
The first time in the rivalry’s history that sole possession of the Big Ten title was on the line. The Buckeyes won with a late touchdown in a game that featured scoring in every quarter and five lead changes.
#7: 1986—Michigan 26, Ohio St. 24
The Big Ten title was on the line and Wolverines quarterback Jim Harbaugh had guaranteed victory for his team. The Buckeyes didn’t make it easy as the Wolverines had to overcome a 14-3 deficit, but won thanks to a missed field-goal by Matt Franz in the final minute. This was a very offensive game by the rivalry’s standards, and a very suspenseful and great game once it got going.
#6: 1974—Ohio St. 12, Michigan 10
The Wolverines lost an undefeated season and the Big Ten title in this one, thanks mainly to the kicking of Tom Klaban. Klaban accounted for all of the Buckeyes’ points with his four field-goals. A last-second field-goal miss by the Wolverines provided a fitting climax for an installment of the rivalry dominated by kicking.
#5: 2002—Ohio St. 14, Michigan 9
The Buckeyes return to national prominence with a solid win. This was the hurdle that second-year coach Jim Tressell needed to guide his undefeated and top-ranked Buckeyes over if they were going to challenge for a national championship. The game ended up being a throwback to the games of old in the rivalry with defense ruling the day. There was little scoring in the game and only one score in the entire second half: Maurice Hall‘s two-yard touchdown run with around five minutes to play. The Wolverines got into Buckeyes territory, but their final pass was intercepted by Will Allen in a big Buckeyes football moment. The Buckeyes ended up winning the national championship with a 14-0 season.
#4: 1997—Michigan 20, Ohio St. 14
This was the first time both teams met inside the top-five since the final days of the Ten Year War. Charles Woodson clinched his Heisman Trophy with a punt return touchdown slightly reminiscent of Desmond Howard in the first half, and some nice play on defense for the Wolverines in the second half. The Wolverines held off the Buckeyes and would go on to win the Rose Bowl and a share of the national title with a 12-0 season.
#3: 1973—Ohio St. 10, Michigan 10
Every rivalry has its version of “The Tie,” and this is this rivalry’s version. There have been other ties in this rivalry, but none that meant as much. Both were undefeated and looking for not only the conference title, not only the Rose Bowl spot, but a possible national championship as well. This was a game of halves as the Buckeyes lead 10-0 after the first half thanks to some good running by Archie Griffin and some costly mistakes by the Wolverines. The second half was all Wolverines as they didn’t allow 100 yards of offense and made a big fourth down stop of the Buckeyes inside Wolverines territory. The Wolverines tied the game with a fourth quarter touchdown run by Dennis Franklin, who was injured later and had to leave the game. However, they missed two field-goals in the final minutes and couldn’t break the tie.
The game’s controversy comes from the fact that the Buckeyes ended up getting the Rose Bowl spot via telephone vote amongst the athletic directors of all the Big Ten universities. Until just two years prior to this game, the “no repeat” rule the Big Ten had prevented a team from going to the Rose Bowl two years in a row. Had the rule still been in place, the Wolverines would have gone to Pasadena even with the tie. The vote was even more controversial due to the fact that the common perception of this game is that it was a tie, but one that was dominated by the Wolverines.
#2: 1969—Michigan 24, Ohio St. 12
The historical importance of this game is almost too much for one game: it launched the most famous ten-year period of the rivalry’s history, put the Wolverines back up as a national power after years of not having that honor, gave the rivalry itself a much needed shot in the arm, and it is still one of the great upsets in college football history. The Buckeyes were undefeated and looking to repeat as national champions, but this loss prevented them from doing so. Adding to that, many experts do believe that the 1969 Buckeyes were a better team than the ’68 team that won the national title. Still one of the most historically important games in college football history and easily the most historically important game in the rivalry’s history.
#1: 2006—Ohio St. 42, Michigan 39
There’s no doubt in my mind that this is the #1 game in the rivalry. This game not only was directly important to the teams involved (Conference title, spot in BCS title game on the line) and not only had major historical importance being the first number one versus number two game in the rivalry’s history, but it was an all-time classic game on top of that. It was a shootout that also relied on big defensive plays to help create scoring opportunities. And though the game was never out of reach for the Wolverines, they were the ones playing catchup through most of it. To their credit, the game wasn’t close because they were getting consolation scores, it was legitimately close right down to the end. It was the kind of game that best represents what this rivalry should be and what it is at its best.
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