Every week, the Big Ten Blog will break down one classic game from the Big Ten's long, storied history. Today, we're going back to 2001, when all Michigan had to do for a Rose Bowl bid was knock off first-year head coach Jim Tressel and Ohio State.
The Big Ten was bad in 2001—bad by its own standards, bad compared to the rest of the nation, just plain bad. Only two teams were ranked at the end of the year, and nobody else had a gripe about it either.
But one of those two teams was Michigan, and the Wolverines had a respectful 8-2 (6-1) record on the season coming into the annual finale with Ohio State. Better yet, Michigan had a 45-20 victory over Big Ten co-leader Illinois, so a Rose Bowl bid was just 60 minutes away.
Ohio State, meanwhile, had quite understandably struggled in the first year of the Jim Tressel era. Tressel hadn't been Ohio State's first choice by any measure; the school had targeted Glen Mason and others before settling on Tressel, who had been running a powerhouse at nearby Division I-AA Youngstown State.
Moreover, neither the offense nor defense were particularly great, so OSU was either scoring or giving up around 20-28 points a game throughout the season. They were average, and their 6-4 (4-3) record to that point showed it.
Finally, it was time for the game, and depending on who you ask, what ensued was either Ohio State's absolute best half of football on the season...or Michigan's absolute worst.
Dropped passes, lost fumbles, John Navarre playing so poorly, he was getting booed in the second quarter, yards after interception, shoddy tackling and even a horrific shotgun-snap-turned-safety as the cherry on top. 23-0, OSU, at the Big House, heading into the break. Jim Tressel's boys were annihilating Michigan.
The second half was a return to normal of sorts for Michigan, as Navarre began putting the ball on the money for Marquise Walker, and the defense stiffened up considerably. Indeed, the only points Ohio State would get in the second half came on a drive that started inside Michigan's 10-yard line. But it was enough to outpace Michigan, who didn't get the ball back in a one-possession game until there were 80 yards to go in three seconds.
Interestingly enough, this game was such an aberrant horror show for Michigan that it would have been reasonable for a Michigan fan (one who I'll just invent in my head right now) to think, "gosh, if these teams played this game 10 times, I'll bet Michigan wins eight or nine of them." And perhaps, that'd be true of the 2001 teams. Michigan was better overall.
It's just that the teams have since played 10 games, albeit in subsequent seasons, and this 2001 season was nowhere near as bad as it would get for Michigan in this rivalry. OSU may have lucked its way into a win to start the Tressel era, but it was only getting started.