COLUMBUS, OHIO (AP) - Being a favorite doesn’t mean much whenever Ohio State and Michigan meet.
The history of this heated rivalry is littered with upsets and surprises.
No. 17 Michigan (9-2, 5-2) is hoping to grab a share of the Big Ten’s Legends Division title on Saturday, and bolster its argument for a major bowl game. Ohio State (6-5, 3-4) has suffered through a difficult season shadowed by ominous NCAA sanctions, the loss of a 10-year head coach for breaking rules, injuries and more losses than any Buckeyes team in a decade.
In other words, don’t count out the Buckeyes, who are seven-point underdogs.
The unexpected has happened repeatedly in The Game’s storied 107 meetings.
Ohio State pounded Michigan 50-14 in 1968. It was late in that game, long after the outcome had been decided, when curmudgeonly Buckeyes coach Woody Hayes elected to try a 2-point conversion after a touchdown.
Asked later why he did it, he snarled: “Because I couldn’t go for three!”
While the Buckeyes racked up win after win the following season, things had changed at Michigan. A former Woody acolyte, Bo Schembechler, had taken over as coach. He pointed all season for the Buckeyes and his mentor.
Schembechler had signs placed all over Michigan’s practice field with that gruesome score. In the locker room, he put up another sign reading, “What the mind can conceive and believe, the mind can achieve. Those that stay will be Champions!” The players had to look at those words every day.
“We knew we were going to win even though we were 18-point underdogs against the best college football team ever assembled,” said Jim Brandstatter, then an offensive lineman for the Wolverines and now a radio voice for his alma mater’s games. “They hadn’t lost in two years, were coming off a national championship and were the consensus No. 1 team.”
By the time their season-ending clash came along, the Wolverines came in with two losses and Ohio State was riding a 22-game winning streak. By grinding out yards on the ground and pouncing on turnovers _ Barry Pierson had three of Michigan’s six interceptions when the ground-oriented Buckeyes were forced to pass _ the student’s team beat the teacher’s, 24-12.
“He looked down from the podium at me and said, `Damn you! You will never win a bigger game than that!’” Schembechler said with a chuckle. “And he was right. I don’t think I ever did.”
Five days before the 1987 game, also in Ann Arbor, Ohio State coach Earle Bruce was abruptly fired almost nine seasons into a successful tenure. Ohio State President Ed Jennings didn’t give a good reason. Adding to the tumult, he also fired Athletic Director Rick Bay when Bay refused to fire Bruce.
A former Buckeyes player and another Hayes disciple, Bruce was not beloved by spoiled Ohio State fans who felt his 81-26-1 record just wasn’t good enough. But public sentiment shifted in the wake of his firing. And his players remain devoted to him.