A chapter in the Ohio State-Michigan game logged precisely 50 years ago bears an uncanny resemblance to the circumstances surrounding this year’s rendition.
In 1969, an undefeated Ohio State team that’s closest game was won by 27 points, traveled to Ann Arbor, Michigan, to play a Wolverines squad led by first-year head coach Bo Schembechler.
While it was ranked in the top 15 nationally, Michigan had lost all hopes of a national title with two previous losses. That day, it yanked a potential national title from Ohio State’s grasp 24-12.
In 2019, an undefeated Ohio State team led by first-year head coach Ryan Day that has won all its games by 24 points or more — with the exception of a 28-17 win against No. 8 Penn State — has similar national title hopes. It also travels to Ann Arbor to face a two-loss Michigan team that, while ranked in the top 15, is eliminated from both the National and Big Ten title races.
Michigan has a chance to spoil Ohio State’s season, even if it doesn’t completely kill its playoff chances, and 1969 is far from the only time one side did the other’s hopes in.
The late 1960s-70s serves as the pinnacle of national championships swept away by the tides of The Game.
Ohio State and Michigan played an astounding eight top 10 matchups in a 10-year stretch from 1968 to ’77. With Rose Bowl berths often on the line — and prior to the advent of one national championship game in college football, meaning a Rose Bowl win could lock up a championship — those games could sometimes serve as a barrier to a national title.
1968 serves as one example. Ohio State and Michigan were ranked No. 2 and No. 4, respectively, in the Associated Press Poll after rebounding from seasons in which they finished unranked. The winner was destined for a Rose Bowl date with then-No. 1 USC in a de facto national title game.
Ohio State won that game and went on to beat USC to take home the grand prize.
The exact same set of circumstances arose in 1973, this time with Ohio State ranked No. 1 and Michigan ranked No. 4.
That game ended in a 10-10 tie, dropping both teams in the national polls, and the Buckeyes finished No. 2 after their eventual Rose Bowl win.
Many fans remember “The Game of the Century” in 2006, when No. 1 Ohio State played No. 2 Michigan, the winner assured a spot in the BCS National Championship and the loser left to play in the Rose Bowl. The Buckeyes edged out a 42-39 win.
However, there are other instances outside of 1969 when one side spoiled the other without both being in the running for the title game.
Both 1995 and ’96 saw an 11-0 No. 2-ranked Ohio State team lose to Michigan teams placed No. 18 or lower.
This past season, the Wolverines clawed into Columbus on a 10-game win streak, ranked No. 4 with playoff aspirations.
Ohio State, eliminated from playoff contention after a loss to Purdue, stuffed those dreams into pipes with a 62-39 dismantling of the nation’s No. 1 total defense.
Michigan gets the opportunity to play a spoiler role at home Saturday, with circumstances that mirror a historic 1969 upset.
The Buckeyes hope to shatter that mirror and extend what’s been seven years of bad Wolverine luck.