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Bo’s Last Stand: A look back at the final season of a legendary career

Monday, August 4th, 2014


Bo-1989(AP)

The following story was written for our annual Michigan football season preview magazine, In the Huddle: Michigan by Lindy’s Sports. However, due to the abrupt closing of their primary Midwest distributor in June, they were unable to publish the Michigan, Ohio State, or Notre Dame magazines this year. 

If Michigan’s present-day football rut seems to be as low as it can go, it can get worse. And it has been. Forty-five years ago Michigan football was trying to recover from six losing seasons in a span of 11 years. After firing Bump Elliott, the next two decades would change that course, and when the man who brought about that change retired 25 years ago this season, the program would be back among the nation’s elite.

When Bo Schembechler was hired on Dec. 28, 1968 from Miami of Ohio, many scoffed at the idea of a no-name coach from the Mid-American Conference taking over Michigan football. But when he guided the Wolverines to an 8-3 record in his first season, including a 24-12 win over a top-ranked and undefeated Ohio State squad that had beaten Michigan 50-14 the previous year, it was apparent that Michigan had someone special at the helm.

In the years that followed, Schembechler led Michigan to 13 Big Ten championships, 10 Rose Bowls, an overall winning percentage of .796, and a conference winning percentage of .850.

This season marks 25 years since Schembechler completed his illustrious career. As the 2014 edition of Michigan football gets set to take the field, let’s relive Bo’s final season on the sidelines.

Lou Holtz got the best of Bo in his final season thanks to a pair of Rocket Ismail return touchdowns

Lou Holtz got the best of Bo in his final season thanks to a pair of Rocket Ismail return touchdowns

Michigan closed the 1988 season with a 9-2-1 record and a 22-14 win over Southern California in the Rose Bowl, setting up high expectations for what would be Schembechler’s final season. Although nobody knew that at the time.

Prior to the 1988 season the Board of Regents had asked Schembechler to take over as athletic director, but they wanted him to step down as football coach in order to do so. Schembechler had missed the Rose Bowl that ended the ’87 season after undergoing heart surgery following his second heart attack. That the regents wanted him to step down from the pressures of coaching was no surprise, but Bo would have none of it. Two months later, interim president Robben W. Fleming offered him the position, allowing him to remain head coach. He accepted.

The Wolverines began the 1989 campaign ranked first nationally, but by the time defending national champion Notre Dame came to town for Michigan’s season opener, the Irish had leapfrogged Michigan for the top spot thanks to a 36-13 win over Virginia in the Kickoff Classic two weeks earlier.

Second-ranked Michigan hosted top-ranked Notre Dame on Sept. 16, the earliest meeting of the top two ranked teams in college football history. Notre Dame head coach Lou Holtz had gotten the best of Schembechler each of the two previous seasons and Bo wanted revenge.

On a rainy and overcast Saturday in Ann Arbor, Notre Dame jumped out ahead, 7-0. After a Michael Taylor fumble set Notre Dame up at the Michigan 24, quarterback Tony Rice found running back Anthony Johnson from six yards out for the game’s first score. It also happened to be Rice’s only completion of the day.

Michigan answered with a nine-yard touchdown pass from Taylor to Chris Calloway just 25 seconds before the half. However, kicker J.D. Carlson missed the extra point, and the teams went into the locker room with Notre Dame holding a 7-6 lead.

A defensive struggle quickly turned into a shootout when Notre Dame receiver Rocket Ismail took the opening kickoff of the second half 88 yards for a touchdown, the first kickoff returned for a touchdown against Michigan in 32 years. A 30-yard field goal increased the Irish lead to 17-6 before redshirt freshman quarterback Elvis Grbac, who took over for an injured Taylor, found tight end Derrick Walker for a touchdown. A two-point conversion attempt failed.

Ismail took the ensuing kickoff and raced 92 yards for his second touchdown of the day, putting Notre Dame ahead, 24-12. Grbac led another Michigan scoring drive, this time a four-yard touchdown pass to split end Greg McMurtry with 4:08 remaining, but an onside kick failed and Notre Dame held on for the 24-19 win.

“This won’t ruin our season,” proclaimed a defiant Schembechler after the game. On Ismail, Schembechler praised, “He may be the best I’ve seen. He is faster than the speed of sound.”

The season didn’t get any easier from there as Michigan traveled to Pasadena, Calif. to face off with 24th-ranked UCLA. The Bruins jumped out to a 14-3 lead, but Michigan got field goals of 36 and 43 yards from Carlson.

In the third quarter, Tripp Welborne took a UCLA punt 63 yards to set up a one-yard Leroy Hoard touchdown run to give Michigan its first lead of the game at 15-14. UCLA answered with a 45-yard field goal, and after recovering a Hoard fumble, punched in a touchdown. Michigan blocked the extra point, but UCLA led 23-15.

The Bruins had a chance to put the game away, but running back Shawn Wills fumbled and Michigan recovered at the UCLA 43 with just under four minutes remaining. Grbac found Walker for a three-yard touchdown with 1:35 to play, but the two-point conversion pass fell incomplete.

J.D. Carlson's game-winning field goal gave Bo a thrilling victory over UCLA

J.D. Carlson’s game-winning field goal gave Bo a thrilling victory over UCLA

Trailing 23-21, Michigan recovered an onside kick, and Carlson kicked a 24-yard field to give Michigan a 24-23 win.

Michigan returned home for a pair of matchups with unranked foes, Maryland and Wisconsin. The Wolverines scored on four of their first six possessions against Maryland to race out to a 28-7 halftime lead. Hoard scored from yard out to give Michigan a 35-7 lead early in the third and Carlson kicked a pair of field goals in the fourth as the Wolverines closed out a convincing 41-21 win.

Michigan followed that up with a 24-0 shutout of Wisconsin, holding the Badgers to just 97 total yards. Grbac completed 16-of-23 passes for 167 yards and a touchdown, while Tony Boles led the way on the ground with 95 yards and a score.

In-state rival Michigan State, which had lost to No. 1 Notre Dame and No. 2 Miami by a combined 14 points, was up next. The teams traded turnovers on their first possessions before the Spartans moved the ball into Michigan’s red zone. Michigan held strong on third-and-one, forcing a 37-yard field goal attempt. It was blocked and Michigan took advantage, going 61 yards in 14 plays for the games first and only touchdown, a one-yard run by Hoard on fourth-and-goal.

After forcing a three-and-out, the Michigan offense once again marched down the field. A 46-yard field goal attempt fell short, but Michigan State was called for offside, extending the Michigan drive. Four plays later, Carlson connected on a 35-yard field goal to put Michigan ahead, 10-0.

On their second possession of the second half, Michigan State moved inside the Michigan 10 where quarterback Dan Enos handed it off to Blake Ezor four straight times. Ezor made it to the four, then the three, then the one, setting up a fourth-and-goal just like Michigan faced in the first half. But Welborne stuffed Ezor for no gain and Michigan took over.

Michigan went three-and-out and Michigan State made another costly mistake on its ensuing possession, missing a 34-yard field goal. The Spartans finally got on the board midway through the fourth quarter when Enos threw a four-yard touchdown pass, but Michigan held on to win, 10-7.

“It was a nice, hard-hitting game,” said a relieved Schembechler afterward. “Nice and physical. A lot of good collisions. And the best team won. There’s not much more you can say.”

Now 4-1 overall and 2-0 in the Big Ten, Bo didn’t want to give any credence to the notion that his squad had the conference title locked up.

“What people have got to understand is that we still have to play Iowa and Illinois on the road and Ohio State at home,” Schembechler said. “We’ve got the toughest schedule in the league. Hey, we’re only 2-0, and we share the lead. We’ve got a long way to go.”

Michigan rolled through a 3-2 Iowa team in Iowa City, 26-12, on the strength of 138 total yards by Boles. The Wolverines returned home to thump Indiana 38-10 and Purdue 42-27, setting up a big showdown at Illinois.

Like Michigan, the eighth-ranked Fighting Illini had just one blemish on the season, a 38-7 defeat at then-eighth-ranked Colorado on Sept. 16. Bo’s squad wasted no time getting on the board, as Boles raced 73 yards on the game’s second play and Jarrod Bunch punched it in one play later from a yard out.

Bo topped Ohio State in 1989 to end his career with a winning record against the Buckeyes

Bo topped Ohio State in 1989 to end his career with a winning record against the Buckeyes

Illinois came right back with a touchdown if its own and then gave Michigan a break on its next possession, running into punter Chris Stapleton and extending the Wolverine drive. Carlson kicked a 47-yard field goal to put Michigan on top, 10-7. Illinois tied the game with a 25-yard field goal on its next possession.

The two teams traded punts before Michigan put together another scoring drive, this time going 80 yards in 11 plays and a one-yard Taylor touchdown run. Michigan took a 17-10 lead into the half.

The second half was the defensive battle that most expected. Illinois intercepted Taylor on Michigan’s second possession of the half and marched inside the Michigan 10. On fourth-and-one from the four, Jeff George’s pass fell incomplete and Michigan retained its lead.

Midway through the fourth, Michigan put together the game-clinching drive, once again going 80 yards in 11 plays for a touchdown. Boles scored from 13 yards out to put Michigan ahead, 24-10, with just 2:31 to play. Welborne sealed the game with an interception and Michigan advanced to 8-1 overall and 6-0 in Big Ten play.

“It was a great team victory. I’m happy as the dickens for ya,” Schembechler told the team in the locker room. “I want you to understand one thing though, men. We have not won the Big Ten championship yet. This is a big hurdle for us to get over, but we’re healthy, we’re eager, we’re tough, and we’re going to finish this season. We’re going to finish with a flourish. We’re going to finish tough, we’re going to get better, we’re going to stay after them until we win the championship again, head back to the Rose Bowl!”

A confident Michigan team easily disposed of Minnesota, 49-15, a week later, leaving Ohio State as the only team standing between them and a Big Ten title and return trip to Pasadena.

Michigan’s offense crossed into Buckeye territory on each of its first five possessions, jumping ahead 14-0. It very well could have been more had Michigan not fumbled it away twice in the first half. Ohio State got on the board just before the half with a 20-yard field goal.

Taylor was intercepted on Michigan’s first possession of the second half and Ohio State turned it into a field goal. Michigan went three-and-out and Ohio State went 40 yards in nine plays to pull within 14-12. At the beginning of the fourth, Michigan punted it back to the Buckeyes, but cornerback Todd Plate picked off OSU quarterback Greg Frey near midfield. Michigan capitalized with a five-yard touchdown pass from Taylor to Bunch.

Ohio State wasn’t finished however. The Buckeyes strung together an 11-play touchdown drive, but Michigan blocked the extra point to keep a 21-18 lead. Ohio State’s defense held strong, forcing Michigan to punt it back with under four minutes to play, but Plate came up big once again with his second interception of the day. Michigan put the game away on a 23-yard Bunch touchdown run, wrapping up a second straight outright Big Ten title and another Rose Bowl appearance.

“Ohio State really came at us and gave us everything they had,” Schembechler said after the game. “We showed that we were our worst enemy, but we hung in there.”

Two weeks after securing a career winning record against his rival from Columbus, Schembechler announced that he would retire following the Rose Bowl. He named offensive coordinator Gary Moeller his successor and delivered a poignant speech to those gathered at Crisler Arena.

“I’ve been a very fortunate coach,” Schembechler started. “I’ve coached for 37 years and 27 of them as a head coach. I was given a job to coach Michigan football in 1969. That had to be, when I was in this room and appointed by Don Canham as football coach of Michigan, the greatest day of my life.

“Because Michigan is special. And the opportunity to coach here was tremendous. I couldn’t ask for a better career. I’m a very happy man today. I’m not here to shed a tear; it’s not because I’m sad at leaving. I hate to leave the players, I hate to leave coaching, but it’s time to go. And yet, who could ask for a greater career than I’ve had? It’s not that I’ve done everything in football, but I’ve coached at Michigan.”

Bo's final game on the sidelines was the 1990 Rose Bowl against USC

Bo’s final game on the sidelines was the 1990 Rose Bowl against USC

The Wolverines met 12th-ranked Southern California in the Rose Bowl for the second straight year, this time hoping to send their beloved coach off on top. It began as a defensive battle, neither team able to score a point in the first quarter. It was USC that did the damage first on a one-yard touchdown run by quarterback Todd Marinovich. Midway through the second quarter, Carlson kicked a 19-yard field goal to pull Michigan within four. A 34-yard USC field goal closed the first half with the Trojans ahead, 10-3.

Running back Allen Jefferson tied the game on a two-yard touchdown run on Michigan’s second possession of the second half. Early in the fourth, Michigan faced a fourth-and-two from its own 46. The normally conservative Schembechler called a fake punt and it was executed beautifully as Stapleton raced 24 yards. But the Pac-10 officiating crew flagged linebacker Bobby Abrams for holding, negating the first down. Michigan punted and Southern Cal went 75 yards in 13 plays for the game-winning touchdown.

Instead of a storybook ending, perhaps it was more fitting that the fiery coach went out swinging. He was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct on top of the holding penalty and issued a scathing assessment after the game.

“It was the most unbelievable call I’ve ever seen, and it came in my final game,” Schembechler said of the holding call. “It was an absolutely ridiculous call. If I see the film and I’m wrong, I’ll retract what I’ve said. But people who saw it in the press box said it was a ridiculous call.”

“Whatever I do in my next job, I want nothing to do with officiating. Nothing! How do I want to be remembered? I’m just a coach.”

And with that, Bo’s career was over. He went out with the most wins of any active coach (at the time) in college football and the fifth-most all-time, 13 Big Ten titles, 17 bowl appearances, 16 top ten finishes, and a legacy that will live on forever. Although he passed away eight years ago this November, Bo won’t soon be forgotten in Ann Arbor.

The five greatest eras of Michigan football

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014


The following story was written for our annual Michigan football season preview magazine, In the Huddle: Michigan by Lindy’s Sports. However, due to the abrupt closing of their primary Midwest distributor in June, they were unable to publish the Michigan, Ohio State, or Notre Dame magazines this year. 

One hundred and thirty-five years ago, Michigan football was born. On May 30, 1879, the first official University of Michigan football team participated in its first game against Racine College. The game was played in Chicago, Illinois, and was attended by 500 spectators. Michigan’s Irving Kane Pond scored the contest’s only touchdown, leading Michigan to a 1-0 victory. Yes, touchdowns were worth just a single point in 1879.

Things have changed a bit for Michigan football since that historic day in May 1879. On August 30, 2014, the Wolverines will kick off their 135th season against Appalachian State. The game will be played in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and attended by more than 110,000 spectators. It is highly probable more than one touchdown will be scored, and, when they are, they will be worth six points, not a measly one.

Despite these variations, there has been one relative constant the past 135 years: Michigan’s stature in college football. Since competing against Racine College in 1879, Michigan has established itself as one of the most storied college football programs. No school has more all-time wins than Michigan. Only one school has a higher all-time winning percentage than Michigan, and it is only by six one-hundredths of a percentage point, too. The Wolverines also have 11 national championships, 23 undefeated seasons, 42 conference titles, 43 bowl appearances, three Heisman Trophy winners, and 129 first-team All-Americans. These are the numbers of a program that has been the cream of the crop for multiple stretches of time. Therefore, let’s reflect on the five eras of Michigan football that made it one of the most prestigious programs in the nation.

1901-05: The “Point-a-Minute” Era

1901 Michigan team

After the 1900 season, Michigan head coach Langdon Lea resigned. Needing a new coach for the following season, Michigan’s athletic director, Charles A. Baird, extended an offer to Fielding H. Yost, which Yost accepted. When Yost first arrived in Ann Arbor, he famously ran up State Street and proclaimed to a reporter, “Michigan isn’t going to lose a game.” Yost delivered on his guarantee.

In Yost’s first season, Michigan achieved a perfect 11-0 record, won the inaugural Rose Bowl, and claimed the program’s first national championship. Yet this is not even Michigan’s most impressive feat. En route to a perfect record, Michigan outscored all of its opponents by a 550-to-0 margin. In fact, one week, the Wolverines scored 22 touchdowns in 38 minutes of play against Buffalo. The game was so out of hand that Buffalo quit with 15 minutes still left to play. And Buffalo was not the only Michigan opponent to surrender early. Michigan’s 1901 campaign remains of the most dominant seasons, if not the most, in college football history. It also ushered in the “Point-a-Minute” era.

From 1901 to 1905, Yost’s squads were known as the “Point-a-Minute” teams. Why? Michigan’s offense was so proficient that it scored 2,821 points those five seasons, averaging nearly one point scored for every minute of play. Accordingly, the Wolverines did not suffer a single loss in their first 56 games under Yost, compiling a 55-0-1 record. They won national championships in 1901, 1902, 1903, and 1904. They also were in line to capture their fifth consecutive national title in 1905, defeating their first 12 opponents by a 495-to-0 margin. But the University of Chicago upset Michigan, 2-0, in the season finale and handed Yost his first loss at Michigan. The loss marked the end of Yost’s “Point-a-Minute” teams and arguably the most dominant dynasty in college football.

1922-26: The End of Yost’s Reign

1925 Michigan team

Two decades later, Yost still was the coach at Michigan. After the “Point-a-Minute” era, Michigan continued to be successful under Yost, but conference championships were few and far between. However, the Wolverines returned to their championship-winning ways as the sun began to set on Yost’s tenure as Michigan’s coach.

In 1922 and 1923, Michigan did not lose a single game. In 1922, Michigan went 6-0-1, winning a share of its second Big Ten championship since 1906. The following season, the Wolverines were a perfect 8-0-0 and locked up their sixth national championship under Yost. Yost then retired as coach to focus on his duties as Michigan’s athletic director. However, his replacement, George Little, left Michigan after one season. Yost decided to return to his old post on the sideline for one last stint. Why? He saw an opportunity to revolutionize the game.

In 1925 and 1926, Michigan had quarterback Benny Friedman and receiver Bennie Oosterbaan. During those times, teams did not throw the football unless they were desperate for a big play. Instead, teams committed their entire offense to running the football. But this changed with Friedman and Oosterbaan. Friedman displayed passing skills that no previous quarterback ever had, while Oosterbaan became the prototype for an athletic, finesse receiver who could be a downfield threat. Together, they excited audiences weekly as Friedman connected with Oosterbaan for passing touchdown after passing touchdown. Accordingly, the duo became known as “The Benny-to-Bennie Show.”

Not only was their “show” exciting, it was quite productive, too. Friedman and Oosterbaan led Michigan to back-to-back conference championships in 1925 and 1926. In fact, Yost called his 1925 squad “the greatest football team I ever coached” and “the greatest football team I ever saw in action.” He even thought that the 1925 team was better than his “Point-a-Minute” teams. However, the 1925 squad failed to win a national title because it lost to Northwestern, 3-2, in the middle of a heavy rainstorm. They were the only three points Michigan allowed all year. After the 1926 season, Yost retired as Michigan’s coach for the second time. This time, it would stick. Yost’s reign over college football ended. 

1930-33: Kipke’s Kingdom

Michigan 1933

But Michigan’s reign over college football did not end with Yost’s second retirement. In 1929, acting as Michigan’s athletic director, Yost hired Harry Kipke as Michigan’s new coach. Kipke used his first season to mold Michigan into the program he wanted to take into battle. By his second season in 1930, Michigan once again was ready to fight as a college football powerhouse.

In 1930 and 1931, Michigan was a serious championship contender, but a few slipups here and there cost Kipke and the Wolverines their chances. In 1930, the Wolverines posted an 8-0-1 record and their first undefeated season since 1923. Michigan shared a piece of the Big Ten championship with Northwestern, but a scoreless draw against Michigan State prevented Michigan from earning the national crown. Next season, Michigan’s defense was a force with which to be reckoned. The Wolverines shut out eight of their 10 foes and allowed only 27 points all year. But 20 of those points were allowed in one game. The result was a 20-7 loss to Ohio State. Although Michigan’s 8-1-1 record was sufficient to capture its second straight Big Ten title, the Wolverines were one mistake away from a national championship yet again.

But Michigan rectified its errors in 1932 and 1933. In 1932, there were no losses or ties to foil Michigan’s national championship dreams. The Wolverines finished with a perfect 8-0-0 record. Michigan rode its defense to the program’s seventh national title and Kipke’s first. The Wolverines shut out six of their eight opponents and allowed only 13 points all year. In 1933, Michigan went 7-0-1. The Wolverines’ only blemish was a scoreless stalemate against Minnesota. Nonetheless, unlike the 1930 campaign, Michigan had done enough to be crowned the national champion for the second straight season. Overall, from 1930 to 1933, Kipke was king, leading Michigan to a 31-1-3 record, four straight Big Ten championships and back-to-back national titles.

1947-50: The Mad Magicians

Michigan 1947

Fritz Crisler became Kipke’s successor in 1938. Crisler made his mark on the Michigan program early in his tenure. When he first arrived in Ann Arbor, Crisler presented Michigan with the famous winged football helmet. Supposedly, he wanted his players to wear the winged helmet, so his quarterback could locate his receivers downfield. Nonetheless, the winged helmet has become one of the iconic symbols of Michigan football. But it was not until the end of his tenure when Crisler made his biggest contribution not only to Michigan, but to all of college football.

Prior to 1947, teams played their best players on both offense and defense. However, in 1941, the NCAA implemented a new rule that allowed players to enter or leave at any point during the game. Crisler took advantage of this rule in 1947 when he divided his team into “offensive” and “defensive” specialists. This became known as “two-platoon football” and would forever change how the game of football would be played.

With specialized units on both offense and defense, Michigan mastered both sides of the line of scrimmage. This was especially the case on offense. Michigan deployed seven different formations and an array of trick plays. There were double reverses, buck-reverse laterals, crisscrosses, quick-hits, and spins. These plays, along with the Wolverines’ endless substitutions, created a level of deception and chaos that no one had ever seen on the gridiron. Accordingly, the media nicknamed the 1947 team the “Mad Magicians.”  The Mad Magicians won both the Big Ten and national championship. Crisler retired after the season, but two-platoon football propelled the Wolverines to three more Big Ten titles and another national title the following three years.

1969-78: The Ten-Year War

OSU-Michigan banner

Michigan versus Ohio State. Maize and Blue versus Scarlet and Gray. It is arguably the greatest rivalry in all of sports. And this was never more the case than when it was Bo Schembechler versus Woody Hayes. When Michigan hired Schembechler prior to the 1969 season, the Wolverines were a shell of their former selves. They had endured multiple losing seasons the previous two decades and had wandered into mediocrity. On the other hand, Hayes had transformed the Buckeyes into a juggernaut and one of the best college football programs in the nation.

In Schembechler’s first meeting against Hayes in 1969, no one outside the Michigan locker room expected the Wolverines to win. Ohio State rode a 22-game winning streak into the matchup, which included a 50-14 rout over Michigan the previous season. Some even considered the Buckeyes to be the best team of all-time. The Wolverines did not care. Michigan jumped out to a 24-12 halftime lead and held on to upset Ohio State by the same score with the help of seven OSU turnovers. Not only was Michigan’s victory considered one of the most historic upsets in college football, it ignited the heated “Ten-Year War.”

Under Schembechler and Hayes, respectively, Michigan and Ohio State were by far the two best Big Ten teams from 1969 to 1978. Michigan’s record against non-Ohio State teams those seasons was 91-11-2. Ohio State’s record against non-Michigan teams those seasons was 84-15-2. Consequently, both schools always were looking ahead to their rivalry showdown in the regular-season finale because they knew that outcome would determine the Big Ten champion, the Big Ten’s representative in the Rose Bowl, and, in some cases, the national champion. Despite winning only two of the first seven matchups, Michigan beat Ohio State three straight times from 1976 to 1978 to win the Ten-Year War with a 5-4-1 record. During this run, the Wolverines clinched at least a share of eight Big Ten championships and appeared in five Rose Bowls. The Ten-Year War brought Michigan football back from the dead and raised its rivalry with Ohio State to an unprecedented level.

Since the Ten-Year War, Michigan has had some very successful stretches of success. From 1988 to 1992, the Wolverines won five straight Big Ten titles. Then, from 1997 to 2000, Michigan claimed its 11th national championship in 1997, three Big Ten titles, and four straight bowl victories. But those teams did not exude the superiority and dominance that Michigan did in those earlier eras. Those earlier eras made Michigan football what it is today. And, on August 30, 2014, Michigan hopes to begin a new one that tops all of them.

They were passionate enemies to be sure

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012


Woody was the titan from the Buckeye state, and Bo a protégé working his way up the ranks, but now the two are synonymous with one of the most touted rivalries in all of football, and one that is as zealous as it is old. It started in the 1800s in a bitter dispute over the state boundary then known as the Toledo Strip. Both states claimed the territory for themselves, each sending troops to defend it. And while no blood was shed over the matter the clash remained a sore point in the history of the states that neither particularly cared to dissolve into goodwill. Ohio was conceded the portion of land, and Michigan was compensated with a much larger, but also much more remote piece of property now known as the Upper Peninsula.

Despite being bitter rivals, Bo and Woody held a tremendous amount of respect for one another

But it would be sixty years before the two states would herald the two teams that would draw such accented hatred for one another. In 1897, the Wolverines and the Buckeyes faced off for the first time, and after World War I would continue to play each and every year until the saga was built on more than a half century of fervent clashes. No one could have guessed, however, that the matchup would achieve the status of an ongoing war, and that it would have its very own Benedict Arnold.

Bo Schembechler had worked under Woody Hayes for several years at Ohio State when his alma mater, Miami University of Ohio, asked him to be the head coach of its football program. Woody, not wanting to see him go, told him that he would assume the role under the helm after he had retired, a date which he thought would roll around in a handful of years. But Bo didn’t want to miss the opportunity, and packed his bags and headed south to what would become a stepping stone to his greatest achievement, and a role that would cement his status in football lore.

In 1969 an Ohio man was crowned the sovereign head of Michigan football to the sound of a thousand freshly stacked papers headlined, “Bo Who?”.  A rather lackluster start for what would embed itself into Wolverine and Buckeye history alike in a few short months.

Coming into the 1969 game Michigan was still licking its wounds from the year before, as it is naturally hard to console any embarrassment caused to the ego without being given a shot to redeem the thing that precipitated it. In the case of Bo’s first team it was the memory of the outrageously unsympathetic two point conversion attempt made by Hayes when his Buckeyes were up 50-14 very late in the fourth quarter. It didn’t matter that the extra points weren’t converted, and it surely didn’t help that in the aftermath Woody is said to have replied upon being asked about his decision that he went for two “because I couldn’t go for three.” The attempt was one aimed at humiliation, and it served its purpose. Thus it was with the smell of fall lingering in the air, and a season of reminders of what had been a spit in the face to a down and out opponent, that the Wolverines had come to face their shot at revenge. The enemy however, had only gotten stronger.

Bo bested his mentor in their first meeting in 1969, setting off the Ten Year War

Arriving at the gates of the Big House, the Buckeyes were an impressive force having won 22 straight games and averaging more than 500 yards of offense. If Michigan was to beat the Scarlet and Gray they were going to have to play as they had in the four games leading up to the meeting in which they scored an average of 45 points. Needless to say they were underdogs. Yet they were also the best kind, those with immense potential and an outlet to prove it.

There were over a hundred thousand fans packed into the stadium that day to see student face off against teacher, and they were treated to a show. Ohio State ran the kickoff back close to the mid-field line and continued to march down to just outside the ten before coming upon a fourth and two. They went for it, the refs marked it, and it was short. Michigan’s ball, but they did nothing.

The Buckeyes put up the first points of the game but missed the point after. Michigan matched the score and put the ball through the uprights. Not to be outdone, Ohio State scored again, and again cannot convert the two-point conversion. The Wolverines were not to be discouraged and put up a touchdown of their own, retaking the lead. On their next possession they ran the punt back to Ohio State’s doorstep and scored two plays later. Then, on their last possession before halftime, they attempted a field goal. It was good. 24-12 Michigan at the half.

And so it stays, the crowd counting down to the victory of the century and the dawning of what would become one of the greatest decades in football for the two programs. It was the era of the Big 2, and the Little 8. The series went back and forth until 1974 when Ohio State won twice in a row before losing in three straight matchups to the Wolverines. The pupil/mentor rivalry couldn’t last forever though and Woody’s angry foul at the 1978 season ending bowl game against Clemson, when he hit an opposing player on the chin after an interception looked to seal the win for the Tigers, also sealed his fate. He resigned as head coach shortly after, but Bo continued to lead the Wolverines for another eleven years until he retired.

They were passionate enemies to be sure, but they also held a tremendous amount of respect for each other. Not feeling well, Hayes insisted on delivering an introduction speech for Schembechler at a banquet in Dayton. He did, and passed away the next day. Bo, not to be outdone in regards to the man he so revered and the rivalry he loved so much, passed away the day before the first-ranked Buckeyes hosted the second-ranked Wolverines in 2006.

While Ohio State triumphed that night it was evident by the signs hoisted in the air by sworn enemies that both sides grieved the loss of a coach who had cared so deeply, and had been so instrumental in making the rivalry what it was. Because the truth of the matter is that as much as Michigan hates Ohio State, and as much as the feeling is reciprocated, both teams want to face the other at its best. They want the game not to mean something. They want it to mean everything.

What stands now is the opportunity for the rivalry to be reinstated after two decades of lopsided streaks, the Cooper era, and then the late Carr-Rodriguez debacle. Can Hoke and Meyer bring The Game to the height of its glory, and perhaps a few back-to-back installments to make things doubly interesting? Surly, this can’t be asking too much. Not for the fans who cheer year in and year out, who scold those who don’t believe that ten seconds is enough time to make a come back, and who hate the sound of the silence after a loss just as much as the ecstatic cries from the other side after a win. A true rivalry is about history, and all of those who tune in each game day to see whether today is the day for it.

Back to the way it was: Ohio State-Michigan feels like it used to

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012


On November 18, 2006, Michigan and Ohio State squared off in Columbus, both undefeated. Two titans with an unrivaled history found themselves in what was dubbed by the national media “The Game of the Century.” The Big Ten title and a spot in the BCS National Championship game were at stake. The game went back and forth like a heavyweight fight, but in the end, the scoresheet went in Ohio State’s favor.

The day before, the great patriarch of Michigan football, Bo Schembechler, had passed away, and along with him metaphorically went the program. Michigan went to Pasadena on New Years Day and got thumped by USC.

Bo's passing shook the rivalry and the Michigan program

Bo’s understudy, Lloyd Carr, decided to stick around for one more year. After all, he had a senior, fourth-year starting quarterback and running back, the eventual first overall NFL Draft pick at left guard, and a talented receiving corps. Who could blame him for giving it one last go-around? But a shocking loss to Appalachian State started the season, followed by a humiliating drubbing by Oregon and the Michigan program that had spent most of the previous season looking unbeatable had now lost four straight. The program that had seemed unshakeable for over 40 years was now suddenly lost without its figurehead.

The Wolverines rebounded with eight straight wins before dropping the final two to Wisconsin and Ohio State. In Carr’s swan song, Michigan faced a heavily favored Florida squad coached by Urban Meyer who relied heavily on his star quarterback. Carr pulled out all the tricks in the bag, using an offense almost foreign to the Michigan faithful and beat Meyer’s Gators.

Carr’s retirement a year after Bo’s passing signaled the end of Michigan football as we knew it and college football’s greatest rivalry suffered along with it. Ohio State beat Michigan by a combined score of 100-24 over the three years that followed while Michigan was guided by an outsider who many felt never truly understood the importance of the rivalry.

And so it was only fitting that it would take a Bo disciple to right the ship. Brady Hoke immediately returned the program to what it was like under Bo and followed in Bo’s footsteps by beating Ohio State in his first season. It ended Ohio State’s seven game winning streak over Michigan, but the Buckeyes were going through some troubles of their own. The great tattoo scandal sent Jim Tressel packing and left the Bucks headless last season, but led the man who was on the losing end of the final game of the old Michigan era to become the new head man in Columbus.

All he has done in his rookie season is not lose a game. Despite being ineligible for the postseason, OSU is ranked fourth in the AP poll and could conceivably be crowned national champions by the writers upon season’s end. Michigan faced a much tougher non-conference schedule which eliminated any national title hopes, but still holds hopes of a Big Ten title. And that’s just the way it should be: title hopes on the line, dreams either made or dashed.

Tim Biakabutuka's record performance ruined OSU's perfect season in 1995 (Larry E. Wright)

It’s the way it was so often throughout the past few decades. Something was always on the line, and more often than not, it was that way for both teams. The season-ending battle truly was the one game season.

Six times in the past 19 matchups, at least one of the two has entered The Game undefeated. Saturday marks the seventh and Michigan will be looking to do what it has done three times since 1993: hand the Buckeyes their first loss.

In 1993, OSU entered with a 9-0-1 record, it’s only non-win a 14-14 tie at Wisconsin. Michigan was just 6-4 with losses to Notre Dame, Michigan State, Illinois, and Wisconsin. The Wolverines played spoiler with a resounding 28-0 win in what Ohio State head coach John Cooper called “by far the most embarrassing game I’ve been associated with in college football.” Tyrone Wheatley gashed the Buckeyes for 105 yards and Todd Collins played an efficient game. The defense picked off the Buckeyes four times and Michigan ended Ohio State’s 16-game unbeaten streak and hopes of an outright Big Ten title and handed the Bucks their first shutout since 1982.

Two years later, in 1995, Ohio State visited Ann Arbor with a 11-0 record and a No. 2 national ranking. Michigan was just 8-3. A Buckeye win would give them the Big Ten title and likely a national championship pending the Rose Bowl result. But yet again, Michigan played spoiler. Prior to the game, Ohio State receiver Terry Glenn mouthed off to the media that Michigan was nobody. But when the teams took to the field, Tshimanga Biakabutuka rushed for 313 yards, the most an Ohio State defense had ever given up to a single back as Michigan soared to a 31-23 victory. Once again, Cooper issued a strong statement, saying, “I don’t know if I’ve ever been as disappointed in my life as I am right now.”

Charles Woodson helped keep Michigan's perfect season intact against OSU in 1997

The following season, Michigan traveled to Columbus to face yet another unbeaten and second-ranked Ohio State squad. Michigan was 17-point underdogs and this time, Cooper kept his players from speaking to the media in order to prevent any bulletin board material. But Michigan didn’t need it. Ohio State jumped out to a 9-0 halftime lead, but wouldn’t score again. Michigan had to turn to Brian Griese due to an injury to starter Scott Dreisbach and he threw a 68-yard touchdown to Tai Streets. Kicker Remy Hamilton added a pair of field goals to give Michigan the 13-9 win. Following the game, it was Michigan cornerback Charles Woodson who did the talking, saying, “It was a great victory, to be able to look those people in the eye and say, ‘this is why I didn’t go to Ohio State’. I wanted to win at Michigan.”

In 1997, it was Michigan that carried the undefeated season into The Game. At 10-0 and ranked first in the nation, Michigan hosted the 9-1, fourth-ranked Buckeyes. The Big Ten title was on the line – either Michigan won it outright or the two shared it – and for Michigan, the national title was at stake. Michigan prevailed 20-14 on the heels of a great all-around performance by Woodson and advanced to the Rose Bowl where the Wolverines beat Washington State and captured the national title.

In 2002, Ohio State once again brought an unblemished record into the matchup. At 12-0, and ranked second, Ohio State needed a win to capture the Big Ten and advance to the BCS National Championship game. Michigan was 9-2 with losses to Notre Dame and Iowa. The Buckeyes held on, intercepting a John Navarre pass near the end zone to win 14-9 and eventually won the national title.

This Saturday, the rivalry has the ferver it did back then. Michigan needs a win and a Nebraska loss to advance to the Big Ten championship game. Ohio State needs a win to complete an undefeated season. The only thing holding the game back from receiving all of the national spotlight is the sanctions Ohio State is currently facing, keeping the Buckeyes from being able to win the Big Ten and play for the national title. But on the field, the two teams will battle it out just like the good old days and Michigan will hope to ruin Ohio State’s dream season for the fourth time in the last 20 years.

The man who has resurrected Michigan’s program with the Bo-like approach now faces off with the man who has transformed the Buckeye program. It has all the makings of a new “ten-year war” like the one Bo and Woody Hayes once fought with both programs at the top of their games. Most importantly, the game matters again. It’s back to the way it was.

National Debate: 15 years later, Michigan and Nebraska still lay claim to a championship season

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012


[Ed: This was originally published in our Michigan football season preview guide In the Huddle by Lindy’s Sports. With Michigan set to visit Nebraska for the first time in over 100 years and this being the 15-year anniversary of the shared national title, I thought it would be appropriate to post for those who didn’t read the preview mag. Before the season, I had the opportunity to speak with both Brady Hoke and Tom Osborne about it.]

Brian Griese led Michigan to a national title in Lloyd Carr's third season

It’s hard to believe 15 years have passed since Michigan stood atop the college football mountain and surveyed the landscape as national champions. In the 14 seasons that followed, controversy has surrounded the BCS nearly ever year, and all indications point towards some sort of playoff within the next couple of years. But for those who either have short memories or are too young to remember, the glorious season of 1997 also ended in controversy.

While Charles Woodson and Brian Griese celebrated the Associated Press title following a Rose Bowl win over Washington State, Nebraska claimed a title of its own, from the ESPN/USA Today coaches’ poll. Both teams officially share the national title from that season and both argue that their own is more deserving, but who is the rightful owner of the crown?

“That’s a great question and one that will never be answered, unfortunately,” said Brady Hoke, who was an assistant on Lloyd Carr’s staff at the time. “But at the same time, I think we had a pretty good football team that year.”

The coach on the other side of the equation, Tom Osborne, wanted a matchup between the two and was disappointed to have had to face Tennessee in the Orange Bowl.

“The team that we wanted to play was Michigan,” said Osborne. “Because of the Rose Bowl tie-up we were not able to do that, and that was unfortunate. So we went down and played Tennessee. We played the best we could and couldn’t control the votes, but we would have very much liked to have played Michigan.”

Both teams had impressive seasons and it’s hard to dream about going back in time and playing a game between the two without salivating. However, many Michigan fans believe the writers crowned the most deserving team while coaches gave the nod to Nebraska to honor retiring head coach Tom Osborne who had also won national titles in 1994 and ‘95.

This play kept Nebraska alive for a share of the title

“I could see maybe that type of sentiment if we had never won one,” said Osborne. “I don’t know that somebody would vote for a national champion because you’re retiring. Maybe somebody did, I don’t know, but since we had won some national championships recently, I would somewhat discount that thought.”

Nebraska fans argue that the Cornhuskers’ decisive 42-17 Orange Bowl victory over No. 2 Tennessee was more impressive than Michigan’s 21-16 win over Washington State, and it’s hard to dispute that fact. But if one looks back to the fateful November Saturday, dubbed “Judgment Day” by ESPN, one sees the discrepancy from the other angle. Nebraska fell from the No. 1 spot thanks to a miracle touchdown that helped the Big Red beat unranked Missouri in overtime, while Michigan captured a dominating 34-8 road win over then-No. 2 Penn State.

The win catapulted Michigan to the No. 1 spot and dropped Nebraska to fourth as Florida State and Penn State leapfrogged the ‘Huskers.

Nebraska’s miraculous win was disputed at the time because receiver Shevin Wiggins kicked the ball up into the air, keeping it alive after it had been broken up, and it fell right into the arms of a diving Matt Davidson. Critics argued that it should have been ruled an illegal kick penalty. It wasn’t and it became the symbolic play of the season for Nebraska.

“It’s just one of those things that happens,” said Osborne of the play. “If you’re going to go out and win them all in the course of a season, normally you can point to one or two or three plays that if the ball had bounced differently or somebody had picked off a pass, you wouldn’t have won.”

Michigan, meanwhile, didn’t face any controversy in rolling through its competition. Although Michigan piled up 34 points on Penn State, the Wolverines weren’t known for their offense that season. The calling card was the defense, which allowed more than 16 points just once all season, in a 28-24 win over 15th-ranked Iowa. That was Michigan’s closest game of the year, having to overcome a 21-7 halftime deficit, then score with 2:55 remaining to take the lead. Linebacker Sam Sword ended the game with a red zone interception with 31 seconds remaining.

Legendary Nebraska coach Tom Osborne discounts any notion that Nebraska was given a share of the title as a tribute to him

Against an 0-2 Notre Dame squad in Week 3, Michigan needed 14 third quarter points to grab the lead and then relied on its defense to stop the Irish despite three fourth quarter turnovers. The Wolverines won 21-14.

In the second to last weekend of the season, Michigan faced a tough trap game in Madison but won 26-16, setting up a showdown with fourth-ranked Ohio State the following week. In that game, Michigan took a 13-0 halftime lead thanks to a 37-yard reception by Charles Woodson to set up the first touchdown and then a 78-yard punt return touchdown by Woodson.

In the third quarter, Woodson picked off Ohio State quarterback Stanley Jackson in the end zone and fellow cornerback Andrew Weathers returned an interception 43 yards to give Michigan a 20-0 lead. Ohio State scored a pair of touchdowns, but Michigan’s defense held on. The performance solidified the Heisman Trophy for Woodson, which he won over Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning, who was shut down by Nebraska in the Orange Bowl.

While Michigan’s defense was king in ’97, Nebraska relied on its offense. The Cornhuskers scored 35 or more points in 10 of 13 games and scored more than 50 five times.

Just like Michigan played a pair of close games, Nebraska had a couple of dicey moments during its run. The aforementioned overtime win over Missouri was the closest, but Nebraska also had to hold on to beat a Colorado team that finished the season with a losing record of 5-6.

Heading into the bowl games, Michigan had 69 of 70 first place votes in the AP Poll and 46 of 62 in the Coaches, a solid majority in both. Following the bowl games, Nebraska made up a few votes in the AP (51.5 to 18.5) but it was the Coaches poll that saw the biggest shift. Nebraska captured 32 of the first place votes to Michigan’s 30.

Brady Hoke was an assistant on Michigan's title-winning squad

Michigan faced six ranked teams throughout the season, four of which finished the season ranked. Nebraska played four ranked teams, and five that finished the season in the top 25. Another Michigan opponent, Michigan State, fell from the final rankings following a bowl loss to Washington, a Nebraska opponent.

The combined final record of opponents was 75-69 (Michigan) and 77-74 (Nebraska), so the difference is negligible. The Cornhuskers had an extra game due to the Big 12 Championship game.

As for common opponents, each team played Colorado and Baylor. Michigan beat Colorado 27-3 in the season opener while Nebraska held on to beat the Buffaloes 27-24. Michigan beat Baylor 38-3 while Nebraska beat the Bears 49-21.

“We felt we played a tough schedule, and Michigan felt they played a tough schedule,” said Osborne. “They won them all, we won them all. We felt we played a very difficult opponent in the bowl game. I’m sure they felt they played a very difficult opponent. We did win convincingly over a very strong Tennessee team, but votes fall where they may and I don’t have any problem one way or another.”

As you can see, determining which team is the rightful national champion is impossible without the two battling it out on the field. Unfortunately, the debate will live on and the two teams will continue the budding rivalry as Big Ten Legends division foes. And that’s just fine with Hoke who judges the success of his seasons on winning Big Ten titles.

“That’s so much out of our hands. I don’t know if there was any feeling besides we were proud that we went undefeated and went out and won the Rose Bowl.”

The battle for Bunyan comes from within

Thursday, October 18th, 2012


If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you.

Both Michigan and Michigan State have been playing football since its induction as a rugby-hybrid sport in the late 1800s. Since then the Wolverines and the Spartans have seen their share of tremendous athletes vying for the glory of yards gained, or players tackled. Michigan has produced three Heisman trophy winners in Tom Harmon (1940), Desmond Howard (’91), and Charles Woodson (’97), as well as 78 All-Americans and 11 national titles. And while Michigan State has yet to have a player crowned as the best in all of college football, they have had 28 All-Americans and won six national titles.

Today, I want to talk about the history of these two storied programs but, as with the rivalry, I’m keeping the discussion within the state lines. The following are players mostly born and raised in the great state of Michigan, but all graduating from high schools in our proud state. Here’s to a few of the touted home grown athletes that have meant so much to their respective team throughout the years.

Michigan

Braylon Edwards personifies homegrown players who have dominated the rivalry

Braylon Edwards (2001-04)
High School: Martin Luther King, Bishop Gallagher

After choosing his father’s alma mater Edwards went on to have an illustrious career as a wide receiver. He set records for yards gained, receptions, and ran the third fastest 200 meters in school history as a part of Michigan’s track team. Upon leaving the Big House he had earned 252 receptions, 3,541 yards, and 39 touchdowns. His outstanding performance won him the Fred Biletnikoff trophy for year’s most prolific receiver. But he won Michigan fan’s hearts in the 2004 game against the Spartans, making spectacular catches to help ensure a Wolverine victory. Also a Big Ten Conference MVP, and an All-American pick, Braylon was drafted into the NFL by the Browns in the first round.

Gerald Ford (1932-34)
High School: Grand Rapids South

A highly skilled player, Ford played on the offensive line during Michigan’s 1932 and 1933 National Championship winning teams, and in 1934 was voted as the team’s most valuable player though that was likely as much for perseverance as anything, as the Wolverines only managed a single win that season. But Ford’s legacy should also be remembered because of his adherence to his own good conscious. When in his last season opponent Georgia Tech refused to play if Willis Ward, a black player, took the field Ford threatened to quit the team altogether. He was best friends with Ward, and played in the game because Ward encouraged him to do so. His number 48 jersey was later retired by the university.

John Maulbetsch (1914-16)
High School: Ann Arbor

Born and raised in Ann Arbor, Michigan, John Maulbetsch led his team to state championships his junior and senior year of high school, and went on a few years later to play for the Wolverines at age 24. Nicknamed ‘the human bullet,’ Maulbetsch was a fearsome opponent though he stood only 5’7” and weighed but 155 pounds. It is said that in a 1914 matchup against Harvard that he rushed for 300 yards, though the figure is disputable. A writer covering the game said Michigan sent in Maulbetsch “as their battering ram,” another raves about the holes he punched into the Crimson line time and time again. He would go on to be named a first team All-American.

In two home games against MSU, Tyrone Wheatley rushed for 325 yards and four TDs

Tyrone Wheatley (1991-94)
High School: Hamilton J. Robichaud

A three time All Big Ten selection, he was not only a tremendous back but his name is littered throughout the record books of Michigan Football. He is in the top ten in such categories as career points, touchdowns scored, and career rushing yards. After his junior season he had already surpassed the most touchdowns scored by a Michigan running back. He also finished among the top ten in the Heisman trophy race in 1993.

Ron Kramer (1954-56)
High School: East Detroit

He was a three sport athlete playing in addition to football, basketball and track. A nine time varsity letter earner Kramer led both the basketball and football teams in scoring for two years. Not only a multiple sport player Ron also played on both sides of the ball, ranging in position from tight end to defensive end, from kicker to quarterback. In his later years he is remembered as the man who brought apples each week during the fall to various university offices.

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Michigan State

T.J. Duckett rushed for 211 yards against Michigan in the infamous "Spartan Bob" game

Charles Rogers: (2000-02)
High School: Saginaw

While playing for the Spartans Rogers broke the record for consecutive games with a touchdown with 13. In 2001 he also broke every Michigan State single season receiving record. He was the first receiver to lead the Spartans in scoring since the mid 1960’s, and became the third member to have more than 1,000 yards receiving on the season. Rogers also lead the Big Ten in receiving touchdowns in both 2001 and 2002. In his final season he took home the coveted Fred Biletnikoff award for best receiver, as well as being a consensus All-American.

Brad Van Pelt: (1970-72)
High School: Owosso

A wonderful baseball player, Van Pelt was approached by the Detroit Tigers after graduating high school to play in the major league. He turned them down to attend Michigan State, and would eventually play professional football for ten years with the Giants, before playing short stints with the Raiders and Browns. While playing for the Spartans he became the first defensive back to win the Maxwell Award for best college football player. Van Pelt was also a pick making machine, he had 14 interceptions during his career, and managed to run a pair back for scores. He would become a 5 time Pro-Bowl selection.

Sid Wagner: (1934-36)
High School: Lansing Central

Part of the team to end the losing streak against Michigan that had begun in 1916 and had ended in losses in each season except two which culminated in ties (It is rumored that Monday classes were cancelled by the President of the university to extend the celebrations). A terrific tackler, Wagner tallied 23 in a matchup against Boston College. He was also a consensus All-American, but at the position of offensive guard. In the first draft of the NFL he was taken eighth overall by the Detroit Lions.

Flint's Don Coleman was MSU's first black All-American

T.J. Duckett: (1999-2001)
High School: Loy Norrix

Duckett was the Spartans leading rusher in the three seasons he played, and was at the receiving end of a game winning pass during his senior season that upset the Wolverines as the clock ran out. Running 100 yards or more six times, he also put up 248 yards in a game against the Hawkeyes. His 1,420 yard season cemented his senior year as the fourth best in school history, and he became the fifth leading rusher behind yet another Duckett, his brother. The Atlanta Falcons chose him as their first round pick in 2002.

Don Coleman: (1949-51)
High School: Flint Central

A member of the College Football Hall of Fame, and the first in school history to have his number retired. Coleman was also the first black player to be named an All-American at Michigan State, and would go on to become the first black member of the Spartan coaching staff. Because his mother was worried about young Don sustaining an injury he didn’t play football until his senior year of high school, but he still earned the title of All-State guard. At State he played tackle despite being the lightest person on the team at just under 180 pounds, and the Chicago Daily Tribune even commented that Don “probably is packed with more football per pound than any man in the United States.” Coleman’s accolades number too many to count specifically, but his own words tell part of the story as to why he was such a dynamic player. He believed in a necessity of a good education, “I think it’s wonderful that football gave me a college education.”

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If there is one thing that Michigan and Michigan State fans can agree on, it’s that they both want to keep the best athletes the state has to offer at home. Now, what school they chose is a different ball game, but something in me thinks that no matter what fans in Michigan love to watch home grown talent excel, no matter what color he dons. Although they are sure to be a little sore about it on the one day each year that they see a man in a uniform that they think would have looked so much better in theirs.

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* There are 96 players currently on the two rosters that hail from the state of Michigan (43 on Michigan, 53 on Michigan State). Among them, home grown players that could make an impact on Saturday are:

Michigan: Devin Gardner, Raymon Taylor, Justice Hayes, Devin Funchess, Kenny Demens, Dennis Norfleet, Thomas Gordon, Thomas Rawls, Desmond Morgan, and Will Campbell.

Michigan State: Andrew Maxwell, Max Bullough, Aaron Burbridge, Bennie Fowler, William Gholston, Tony Lippett, Dion Sims, Chris Norman.

The Top Individual Performances In the Michigan-Ohio State Rivalry

Thursday, November 19th, 2009


Michigan and Ohio State square off on Saturday for the 106th time in college football’s greatest rivalry.

*Charles Woodson's punt return against Ohio State helped Michigan secure the Big Ten title and trip to the Rose bowl, photo by Damian Strohmeyer/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images

*Charles Woodson's punt return against Ohio State helped Michigan secure the Big Ten title and trip to the Rose bowl, photo by Damian Strohmeyer/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images

Ohio State has already wrapped up at least a share of the Big Ten title and a trip to Pasadena for the Rose Bowl.

Michigan leads the all-time series 57-42-6, but enters this week’s matchup needing a win to extend its season through the holidays and take some heat off head coach Rich Rodriguez.

Will someone step up with a historic performance to lead Michigan past the 10th-ranked Buckeyes?

Or will a Buckeye deliver an all-time great showing to capture a sixth consecutive victory over Michigan and send Michigan to its second straight losing season?

There have certainly been some performances for the ages in the past 105 meetings, so we’ll take a look at the top individual performances in its storied history.

Bear in mind that this is the top performances in the Michigan-Ohio State game, not necessarily the best players on each team or the best performances for each team against another team.

This list will go position by position and take into account game implications and past history in addition to pure stats.

Make sure to read all the way through to see who is most likely have a breakout performance this Saturday.

Michigan Quarterback – Jim Harbaugh
*Jim Harbaugh

*Jim Harbaugh

Harbaugh completed 16-of-19 passes for 230 yards and three touchdowns in Michigan’s 27-17 win over Ohio State in 1985.

Ohio State had won three of the last four meetings and five of the last seven.

Michigan entered the game 8-1-1 and had just drubbed Minnesota 48-7.

Ohio State came in 8-2 and ranked 12th in the nation.

After sitting out the previous season’s matchup with an injury, Harbaugh would lead Michigan to two straight victories over the Buckeyes, earning first-team All-American honors.

Ohio State Quarterback – Troy Smith
*Troy Smith, photo taken from foxnews.com

*Troy Smith, photo taken from foxnews.com

While there have been many great quarterbacks at Ohio State, perhaps none have turned in a better performance against Michigan than Troy Smith.

In the game dubbed, “The Game of the Century,” Ohio State and Michigan ranked first and second in the nation entering the Horseshoe.

Smith proved unstoppable, completing 29-of-41 passes for 316 yards and four touchdowns in leading Ohio State to the 42-39 victory.

The win sent Ohio State to the BCS National Championship game against Florida, while Michigan was relegated to the Rose Bowl against USC.

Additionally, the performance wrapped up the Heisman Trophy for Smith.

Michigan Running Back – Tshimanga Biakabutuka
*Tim Biakabutuka, photo taken from thewolverineblog.com

*Tim Biakabutuka, photo taken from thewolverineblog.com

Tshimanga Biakabutuka, nicknamed “Touchdown Tim,” recorded one of the best all-time performances in the rivalry in 1995.

Ohio State entered the meeting undefeated and ranked No. 2 in the nation.

Michigan came in 18th with a record of 8-3, hoping to knock off the Buckeyes.

Biakabutuka gashed the Ohio State defense for 313 yards on 37 attempts, out-doing eventual Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George and leading Michigan to the 31-23 upset.

His 313 yards are the second most in a single game in Michigan history (behind Ron Johnson’s 347 yards against Wisconsin in 1968) and helped Biakabutuka secure the school’s single season rushing record.

He went on to become the eighth overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft and spent six seasons with the Carolina Panthers.

Ohio State Running Back – Bob Ferguson
*Bob Ferguson

*Bob Ferguson

In 1961, Ferguson rushed for 151 yards and four touchdowns to lead Ohio State to a 50-20 win over Michigan, and helping Ohio State win the national championship.

The win was Ohio State’s 400th victory all-time and the second of four straight over Michigan.

Ferguson finished second in the Heisman Trophy race that season, behind Syracuse running back Ernie Davis.

Michigan Halfback – Tom Harmon
*Tom Harmon

*Tom Harmon

Michigan’s first Heisman Trophy winner, Tom Harmon, produced an all-around performance for the ages against Ohio State in 1940.

“Old 98,” as he is known, rushed for 139 yards and two touchdowns, completed 11-of-12 passes for 151 yards and two touchdowns, kicked four extra points, intercepted three passes (and ran one back for a touchdown), and booted three punts for an average of 50 yards per punt.

The performance led Michigan to a 40-0 drubbing of Ohio State.

After his playing career, he became a pilot in the Army Air Corps, where he earned a Purple Heart and a Silver Star.

Ohio State Fullback – Jim Otis
*Jim Otis

*Jim Otis

Jim Otis is widely regarded as one of the top 50 Ohio State players of all time.

In 1968, for what some regard as the greatest team of all time, Otis led Ohio State to a 50-14 win over Michigan. He rushed 34 times for 143 yards and four touchdowns in the game, the final of which set up a two-point attempt. After the game, when asked why, Ohio State head coach Woody Hayes replied, “Because I couldn’t go for three.”

Otis’ four touchdowns gave him the school’s single-season rushing touchdowns record of 16, which has since been eclipsed.

Michigan Wide Receiver – Marquise Walker
*Marquise Walker

*Marquise Walker

In 2001, Marquise Walker had the best receiving day for a Michigan receiver against Ohio State.

Although Ohio State won the game 26-20 in Jim Tressell’s first season as head coach, Walker was unstoppable, catching 15 passes for 160 yards and two touchdowns.

His 15 receptions were enough to pass Anthony Carter on the career receptions list, although that record would be broken by Braylon Edwards in 2004.

The performance helped Walker earn first-team All-America honors in his senior season and was John Gruden’s first draft pick at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2002.

Ohio State Wide Receiver -David Boston
*David Boston

*David Boston

David Boston is one of the most prolific receivers in Ohio State history, but turned in a fantastic performance in 1998.

A year after being humbled by Michigan cornerback Charles Woodson, Boston got revenge with 10 catches for 217 yards and two touchdowns.

Boston responded after the game saying, “There were some things said last year after the game, that one of their players was chastising me or something. I didn’t really understand the message there. But today, I just went out and proved that I’m human.”

His performance led Ohio State to a 31-16 win over the defending National Champions.

Boston was drafted eighth overall by the Arizona Cardinals in the 1999 NFL Draft and spent eight seasons in the NFL.

Michigan Tight End – Eric Kattus
*Eric Kattus

*Eric Kattus

While Michigan has never really had a great performance by a tight end against Ohio State, Eric Kattus claims the spot.

In 1985, he helped Jim Harbaugh beat Ohio State 27-17 after dropping three of the past four and five of the past seven to the Buckeyes.

Kattus, a Cincinnati, Ohio native, caught six passes for 83 yards and a touchdown in the game, one of the best performances of his career.

Ohio State Tight End -Bruce Janowski
*Bruce Jankowski, photo by Sports Illustrated

*Bruce Jankowski, photo by Sports Illustrated

A year after Michigan upset undefeated Ohio State in Bo Schembechler’s first season at Michigan, Ohio State was looking for revenge.

Both teams entered the match-up undefeated, but Ohio State tight end Bruce Jankowski helped that cause. His 26-yard touchdown pass gave Ohio State the lead, and it never trailed, beating Michigan 20-9.

Michigan Defensive Lineman – Glen Steele
*Glen Steele

*Glen Steele

Defensive end Glen Steele was the leader of Michigan’s front seven, helping the Wolverines win the National Championship in 1997.

Against Ohio State that year, Steele recorded five tackles (three for loss), two sacks, and a fumble recovery.

The constant pressure on Ohio State quarterbacks Stanley Jackson and Joe Germaine helped Michigan win the game 20-14, and secure a spot in the Rose Bowl against Washington State.

Steele earned first-team All-America honors that season and played six seasons in the NFL for the Cincinnati Benglas. His 24 career sacks rank third on Michigan’s career list.

Ohio State Defensive Lineman -Vernon Gholston
*Vernon Gholston

*Vernon Gholston

Vernon Gholston terrorized Michigan quarterback Chad Henne in 2007, racking up five tackles (four for loss) and three sacks.

Michigan’s offensive line, including the first overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft, Jake Long, couldn’t stop Gholston as he was always in the backfield.

His four tackles for loss are an Ohio State single game record.

Ohio State won the game 14-3, earning another trip to the BCS National Championship game.

Gholston now plays for the New York Jets.

Michigan Linebacker – Ron Simpkins
*Ron Simpkins

*Ron Simpkins

Ron Simpkins recorded 20 total tackles (15 solo) in Michigan’s 14-6 win over No. 4 Ohio State in 1977 to help the Wolverines capture the Big Ten title.

Just a sophomore at the time, Simpkins recorded the third-most tackles in a single game in Michigan history at the time.

Simpkins would finish his career as Michigan’s all-time leading tackler, with 516, and played seven seasons in the NFL with the Cincinnati Bengals.

Ohio State Linebacker -Chris Spielman
*Chris Spielman

*Chris Spielman

One of the greatest linebackers ever to play for Ohio State, Chris Spielman was a one man wrecking crew in 1986.

Although Michigan won the game 26-24, it was at the fault of Spielman, who recorded a school record 29 tackles.

Ohio State entered the contest 7-0 and ranked seventh in the nation. Michigan came in 6-1, needing a win to share the Big Ten title.

Ohio State missed a field goal with 1:08 to play to spoil Spielman’s career day.

Spielman went on to enjoy 12 seasons in the NFL with the Detroit Lions, Buffalo Bills, and Cleveland Browns.

Michigan Defensive Back – Charles Woodson
*Charles Woodson

*Charles Woodson, photo by Damian Strohmeyer/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images

Charles Woodson became the first primarily defensive player to win the Heisman Trophy in 1997, and his performance in the Ohio State game that year helped cement the trophy over Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning.

Woodson intercepted a pass, caught a 37-yard pass to set up Michigan’s only offensive touchdown of the game, and returned a punt 78 yards for a touchdown.

He also held Ohio State receiver David Boston in check, allowing just three passes for 68 yards and a touchdown.

Woodson also picked off two passes against No. 2 Ohio State in his freshman season in 1995.

He became the fourth overall pick of the Oakland Raiders in 1998 and has 41 career interceptions (seven returned for touchdowns).

Ohio State Defensive Back – Mike Doss
*Mike Doss, photo taken from ncaafootball.com

*Mike Doss, photo taken from ncaafootball.com

Mike Doss proved pivotal in Ohio State’s 26-20 win over Michigan in 2001 during Jim Tressel’s first season as head coach.

Doss picked off a pass and ran it 36 yards to the Michigan four to set up Ohio State’s first touchdown.

In the fourth quarter, Doss intercepted another John Navarre pass to set up a field goal.

The interceptions were critical in helping Ohio State win its first game in Ann Arbor in 14 years.

Michigan Defensive Back – Barry Pierson
*Barry Pierson

*Barry Pierson

Michigan defensive back Barry Pearson helped Michigan capture one of the biggest upsets of all time in the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry.

In Bo Schembechler’s first season as Michigan head coach, the Wolverines entered the 1969 meeting ranked 12th in the nation.

Ohio State came in undefeated and ranked first in the nation.

Pierson picked off three passes in the game and also returned a punt 60 yards to the Ohio State three-yard line to set up a Michigan touchdown.

His performance helped Michigan upset what many believe to be the greatest college football team of all time.

Ohio State Defensive Back – Chic Harley
*Chic Harley

*Chic Harley

In 1919 Chic Harley returned from World War I, where he served as an Army pilot, to pick off four passes in Ohio State’s 13-3 win over Michigan.

It was Ohio State’s first ever win over the Wolverines, and Harley’s four picks (still a school single game record) helped lead the way.

He earned first-team All-America honors that season and also played halfback, punter, and kicker.

His number 47 was retired by Ohio State five years ago.

Michigan Punter – Chuck Ortmann
*Chuck Ortmann

*Chuck Ortmann

Chuck Ortmann may not have been the best punter to ever wear the maize and blue, but he holds Michigan’s career single game punting records thanks to Mother Nature.

The 1950 “Snow Bowl” between Michigan and Ohio State was played in the worst blizzard in 37 years to hit Columbus.

Ortmann punted 24 times for 723 yards, helping Michigan win the game 9-3.

Ohio State Punter – Vic Janowicz
*Vic Janowicz

*Vic Janowicz

Ohio State punter Vic Janowicz also gets credit for Ohio State’s career single-game punting records thanks to the blizzard of 1950.

In the “Snow Bowl,” Janowicz booted 21 punts for 685 yards and scored Ohio State’s only three points of the game on a field goal.

After the game, Janowicz said, “It was like a nightmare. My hands were numb and blue. I had no feeling in them and I don’t know how I hung onto the ball. It was terrible. You knew what you wanted to do, but you couldn’t do it.”

In addition to punter, Janowicz served as Ohio State’s halfback, kicker, and safety, and won the Heisman Trophy that season.

Michigan Kicker – J.D. Carlson
*J.D. Carlson

*J.D. Carlson

There have been many great Michigan-Ohio State games, but only one has ended as a result of a Michigan field goal.

In 1990, 15th-ranked Michigan needed a win over 19th-ranked Ohio State to secure a share of the Big Ten championship.

Late in the game, tied 13-13, Michigan kicker J.D. Carlson missed a short field goal attempt that would have put Michigan ahead.

But after getting the ball back, Carlson got a chance for redemption, and nailed it with no time remaining to give Michigan a 16-13 win.

Bouncing back from the miss to win the game changed Carlson’s life.

“I will forever be prepared for the rest of my life because I have experienced some of the biggest swings in emotion in a short period of time,” Carlson said of the game. “Not much fazes me now.”

Carlson holds Michigan’s single game field goal record, as well as the highest career PAT percentage record.

Ohio State Kicker – Tom Klaban
*No pictures of Tom Klaban were available

*No pictures of Tom Klaban were available

In 1974, Michigan and Ohio State entered the annual showdown ranked third and fourth in the nation, respectively.

The game proved to be all about the kickers as Michigan kicker Mike Lantry missed a field goal that would have won the game as time expired, but it was Ohio State kicker Tom Klaban who stole the show.

Klaban booted four field goals to account for all of Ohio State’s points in the 12-10 victory, the only time Ohio State has beaten Michigan without scoring a touchdown. The win sent Ohio State to a Rose Bowl battle with USC.

Most Likely Michigan Breakout Performer
*Brandon Graham, photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

*Brandon Graham, photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

For Michigan to win the game on Saturday, it will need a great performance from its defense. The defense has been much of the reason for Michigan’s second half collapse this season.

One player who has stood out all season is defensive end Brandon Graham. The senior had perhaps the best game of his career last week against Wisconsin, recording 11 tackles (five for loss), two sacks, and a forced fumble.

Last season, Graham had three tackles (two for loss) and a sack against Ohio State.

If Michigan wins on Saturday, expect a big day from Graham in the Ohio State backfield.

Other possible breakout performers: Michigan running backs Brandon Minor or Carlos Brown, Michigan receiver Roy Roundtree

Most Likely Ohio State Breakout Performer
*Terrelle Pryor, photo taken from uweekly.com

*Terrelle Pryor, photo taken from uweekly.com

Every great quarterback has a career defining game that cements his spot in team lore. For Ohio State sophomore quarterback Terrelle Pryor, this Saturday could be that game.

Pryor received much criticism from Buckeye fans early in the season after losses to USC and Purdue, but has played much better in the second half.

A great showing against Michigan, who hasn’t shown it can stop a mobile quarterback, or anybody for that matter, could sell even the most incredulous of Buckeye fans on his abilities.

If Pryor makes the same mistakes he did against Purdue, Michigan has a shot, but if Pryor uses his legs effectively and makes the throws he needs to, he has a great shot at being 2-0 against Michigan.

Other possible breakout performers: Ohio State receiver DeVier Posey, defensive back Kurt Coleman