Ohio State Buckeyes: wolverines-buckeyes-112412
Ohio State is ineligible yet unbeaten in 2012 after toppling rival Michigan 26-21 at the Horseshoe. The Buckeyes finished 12-0 in Urban Meyer's first season and now will have to hope the Associated Press Top 25 voters view them as championship-+worthy.
They're not going to a bowl because of NCAA probation, but a win against Michigan in the finale for a perfect season still feels awfully good to the scarlet and gray.
It was over when: C.J. Barnett intercepted Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner with 4:40 left. Thanks to some hard running by Carlos Hyde, Ohio State was able to run out the clock from there, after Michigan had burned two timeouts earlier in the half.
Game ball goes to: Ohio State's defense, which stiffened in the second half after some very poor tackling in the first two quarters, when Michigan had 240 yards and scored all of its 21 points. The Buckeyes also forced four turnovers, including three forced fumbles. Johnathan Hankins used his shoulder pads to pop the ball out of Gardner's hands midway through the fourth quarter, leading to an Ohio State field goal. The Wolverines did not cross the 50-yard line in the second half.
Stat of the game: Michigan had 39 yards of offense and three turnovers in the second half.
Unsung hero of the game: The Michigan defense. Placed under extreme duress in the second half by its own offense, the Wolverines' D limited Ohio State to just a pair of field goals on three drives deep into the red zone. Jake Ryan had his usual terrific game, forcing a fumble from Braxton Miller near midfield at one point. But the offense couldn't carry its share of the load.
Best call: With five seconds left in the first half, Ohio State's Drew Basil was lined up to attempt a 52-yard field goal. Just then, the wind in the stadium whipped up, with the giant American flag in the end zone blowing right toward Basil's face. The Buckeyes smartly called timeout to see if the wind would die down. It did, and Basil drilled the field goal for an important score.
Second-guessing: Michigan's offense was explosive and unpredictable in the first half. In the second half, offensive coordinator Al Borges strangely went away from his team's strengths. Twice near midfield, he called for runs up the middle by tailbacks instead of keeping the ball in the hands of stars Robinson and Gardner. That's exactly where the power of the Ohio State defense is, and the Buckeyes stuffed both plays. Michigan compounded the problem on its opening possession of the second half, going for it on fourth-and-2 from its own 48 and not coming close to getting a first down. That led to the go-ahead field goal by Ohio State and sapped some of Michigan's momentum.
What it means: What a start to the Urban Meyer era in Columbus. Though the bowl ban means the Buckeyes can't play for the national title, they still ripped through the Big Ten and established themselves as a top-five team to start the 2013 season, when there is no ban.
Michigan finished 8-4 and saw its slim chances for an at-large bid to a BCS game get extinguished. The Wolverines will still play in a Jan. 1 bowl, probably the Capitol One Bowl, but they fell short in all their marquee games against ranked teams this season.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Hello from the Horseshoe, where one of the best rivalries in sports is about to kick off with some extra meaning.
Nebraska's win against Iowa took a little bit of drama away from the proceedings, as Michigan now cannot make the Big Ten title game. In another situation, you might wonder how that would affect a team's motivation. But not this one. The records don't really matter in The Game.
But one record does matter to Ohio State: 12-0. The Buckeyes are one win away from perfection, and while they can't go bowling, finishing up the season with a victory against the Wolverines would be better than just about any bowl victory.
We've got some perfect Big Ten late November weather here, with temperatures in the low 30s and a light snow. The snow isn't sticking, so it shouldn't have too much impact on the game, except maybe adding some moisture to challenge ball carriers. I still expect Brady Hoke to come out in short sleeves.
It just doesn't get much better than this rivalry. Some Michigan fans already fired the first shot by writing "Beat Ohio" and a giant "M" in chalk on the south stadium wall this morning.
A key question looming over this game is the health of John Simon. Reports surfaced Friday that Ohio State's star defensive end is injured and might not play. We have confirmed that Simon is a game-time decision with a knee issue. It's hard to imagine the senior not trying to go on senior day if there's any way his body can be held together. But if he's missing or at far less than 100 percent, that's a big loss for a Buckeyes defense going against an explosive Michigan attack led by Devin Gardner and Denard Robinson.
Both teams have had some trouble stopping spread offenses and containing the perimeter on defense this season. Both offenses will look to exploit that weakness. Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller has been a little more cautious with his running style since suffering an injury against Purdue, trying to stay healthy for the rest of the season. But there is no more season to worry about after today, and the Michigan game is where Buckeyes players build their legacies, so I'd expect the sophomore star to play with abandon this afternoon.
But will Miller be able to throw effectively against a Michigan team that leads the nation in defending the pass? The Wolverines have not allowed anybody to pass for 200 yards this season.
Speaking of passing games, Michigan's has gotten a lot better since Gardner took over the quarterback job. But receivers Jeremy Gallon and Roy Roundtree will face a good challenge today, going up against certain first-team All-Big Ten selection Bradley Roby and teammate Travis Howard. The Buckeyes' cornerbacks have been ball-hawks, and should give Gardner more of a test than Minnesota, Northwestern and Iowa did.
There are great matchups all over the field, as you'd expect, and another great one on the sidelines between Hoke and Urban Meyer. Can't wait to get this one started.