The six best games in the storied rivalry between Ohio State and Michigan

If there’s one thing we know about sports fans, it’s that they love to argue. One frequent debate topic is which rivalry is the greatest, and opinions on that are as varied as the November climate in these United States.

So while the long-standing Michigan-Ohio State feud cannot definitively be called the greatest, we think most observers would agree that one is in the conversation.

Saturday’s meeting will be the 117th. Michigan holds a 59-51-6 lead, though last year’s Michigan victory snapped a seven-game series winning streak by the Buckeyes. The stakes in this year’s encounter between the second-ranked Buckeyes and No. 3 Wolverines are extremely high once again with a spot in the College Football Playoff in the balance.

Naturally, these fierce competitors have staged some epic clashes on the gridiron over 100-plus years. Some, like Michigan’s 86-0 romp in 1902, might be best forgotten.

Here are six of the most memorable in the series, submitted with the hope that this season’s showdown of unbeatens will join the lore of ‘The Game.’

Ohio State 42, Michigan 39 – Nov. 18, 2006

This was the first, and thus far only, time the teams were ranked No. 1 and 2 in the polls. Adding to the atmosphere in Columbus, the game kicked off just a day after the death of legendary coach Bo Schembechler, known primarily as a Michigan icon but having ties to both schools (more on him below).

The action on the field did not disappoint. The top-ranked Buckeyes twice held 11-point cushions in the fourth quarter only to see the Wolverines answer to stay in range. Michigan’s Chad Henne hit a touchdown pass and threw for a two-point conversion with 2:16 remaining to cut the margin to three, but Ohio State secured the onside kickoff attempt and was finally able to run out the clock. Troy Smith quarterbacked the Buckeyes’ offense to 503 total yards as he cemented the Heisman Trophy. Michigan faithful lobbied heavily for a rematch in the BCS championship game, but the second spot would ultimately go to Florida.

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Michigan 24, Ohio State 12 – Nov. 22, 1969

ABC announcer Bill Fleming dubbed it the upset of the century as a Michigan team with a first-year coach upended the mighty Buckeyes. Ohio State had won the Rose Bowl and was voted national champ the previous year, and entered this season finale in Ann Arbor at No. 1 once again riding a 22-game winning streak. The Buckeyes had thumped the Wolverines 50-14 the year before, as Woody Hayes memorably went for two following OSU’s last touchdown to hit the half-century mark and quipped afterward he’d have gone for three if he could have. Schembechler, meanwhile, was wrapping up his first year helming Michigan. He had played for Hayes at Miami (Ohio) and coached under him in Columbus, and Bo wasted little time rebuilding the Michigan program with Woody’s blueprint.

Matters in Ann Arbor seemed to be unfolding as expected as Rex Kern engineered a pair of touchdown drives to give the Buckeyes a 12-7 lead early in the second quarter. But Garvie Craw ran for his second score of the day to put the Wolverines back in front, and a long punt return by Barry Pierson set up another Michigan touchdown. A field goal just before halftime made it 24-12, and the Wolverines’ defense clamped down from there as Pierson intercepted three passes in the second half.

Ohio State 30, Michigan 27 (OT) - Nov. 26, 2016

This might be the most controversial game in the series. It  was definitely among the most dramatic. Michigan entered ranked No. 4 and Ohio State was No. 2. Penn State shared the Big Ten East lead with the teams, meaning the Wolverines would advance to the conference championship game if they won, but the Buckeyes could not make it unless the Nittany Lions lost later in the day.

Michigan grabbed a 17-7 lead in the third quarter that quieted the home crowd in Columbus. Ohio State would fight back and force overtime on a 23-yard field goal by Tyler Durbin with one second left in the fourth quarter.

After the teams traded touchdowns in the first extra period, Michigan got the ball first in the second overtime and settled for a Kenny Allen field goal. Faced with fourth-and-1 on the Michigan 16, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer opted to go for a first down. Buckeyes quarterback J.T. Barrett was stopped near the sticks. Officials ruled it a first down and replay did not overturn the call, much to the chagrin of Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh. Curtis Samuel scored on the next play to give Ohio State the win and the debate about the call remains today. Penn State would beat Michigan State and go on to win the Big Ten title, but the Buckeyes were selected for the College Football Playoff and fell to Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl.

Ohio State running back Curtis Samuel (4) scores the winning touchdown in the second overtime against MIchigan in their 2016 game at Ohio Stadium.
Ohio State running back Curtis Samuel (4) scores the winning touchdown in the second overtime against MIchigan in their 2016 game at Ohio Stadium.

Ohio State 42, Michigan 41 – Nov. 30, 2013

Somewhat improbably, this classic shootout in Ann Arbor nine years ago became arguably the most entertaining affair in the rivalry’s history. The combined 83 points makes it the second highest scoring game in the series, behind only that 86-point Michigan blowout mentioned above. But the Wolverines came into this contest with just a 7-5 record and even on their home field weren’t expected to challenge the unbeaten Buckeyes.

Ohio State appeared to have matters in hand when Braxton Miller’s touchdown pass with 1:05 remaining in the third quarter gave the Buckeyes a 35-21 lead. An OSU fumble helped Michigan draw even, but Carlos Hyde’s one-yard plunge with 2:20 left in regulation put the Buckeyes back in front 42-35. Devin Gardner led Michigan on an 84-yard scoring drive capped by a two-yard TD catch by Devin Funchess with 32 seconds remaining to pull Michigan within a point. Wolverines’ coach Brady Hoke decided to go for the win, but Gardner’s pass on the two-point try was intercepted.

Michigan 24, Ohio State 17 – Nov. 20, 1999

Michigan had the upper hand in the rivalry during this period. The Wolverines had earned a share of the national championship in 1997, and with this victory they closed the decade of the ‘90’s with a 7-2-1 record against the Buckeyes.

Even so, Ohio State, just 6-5 coming into the game, seemed positioned to upset the 8-2 Wolverines in the Big House. Ohio State held a 17-10 advantage late in the third quarter, but a pair of touchdown passes by Michigan’s senior quarterback rallied the team to the win. That QB’s name? Tom Brady. Wonder whatever happened to that guy…

Michigan 13, Ohio State 13 – Nov. 21, 1992

As mentioned up top, these teams played to a draw six times. This was the most recent tie in the series, and of course it will be the last one since overtime was implemented in all college football games starting in 1996.

Though both teams were ranked in the top 20, Michigan headed to Columbus having already locked up the Big Ten title. The Buckeyes were on a five-game winning streak after an 0-2 start in the conference, but coach John Cooper’s seat was still quite warm thanks to losses to Michigan in each of the previous four encounters. Michigan took a 6-3 lead early on a rainy field in the Horseshoe, but quarterback Elvis Grbac left the game with an injury he sustained on that scoring run, and the extra point was missed. Backup QB Todd Collins put the Wolverines up 13-3 with a TD plunge of his own in the third quarter. Ohio State still trailed by seven facing fourth-and-goal at the five with less than five minutes remaining in the fourth. Buckeyes quarterback Kirk Herbstreit connected with Greg Beatty on a slant for a touchdown, and Cooper elected to kick the extra point rather than try for two and the lead. Both teams had chances with the ball in the closing minutes, but the tie score stood.

Say, anybody know what that Herbstreit fellow is doing nowadays?

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ohio State vs. Michigan: Six best games between Big Ten rivals