Well, well, well. In 2002, Ohio State and a relatively new coach faced its arch-rival Michigan at home with an undefeated season at stake. Ten years later, the Buckeyes are in the same position, if not with a slight twist: first-year coach Urban Meyer faces The Team Up North for the very first time in his Columbus tenure, though knowing that whether or not his undefeated team wins or loses, the game will be their last of the year.
But back in 2002, entering The Game undefeated hadn't been a pleasant experience of late for the Buckeyes. In 1993, 1995 and 1996, the Bucks entered Michigan week with a zero in the losses column, but that didn't remain after Saturday afternoon.
That was the John Cooper era though, and coach Jim Tressel wanted to set a precedent for the his time at Ohio State.
Coming off two heart-stopping road victories against Purdue and Illinois, the final game of the regular season had arrived for the No. 2 ranked Buckeyes, and they had the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl (that year's National Championship Game) in their sights.
Standing in their way were the No. 12 ranked Michigan Wolverines. Coming into The Game at 9-2, their only two losses on the season both came to top 25 opponents, so the Wolverines were clearly no slouches.
Tailback Maurice Clarett was back for the Buckeyes after a couple of weeks out, meaning that coach Jim Tressel was certain to return to the ground game against their great rival. But it was actually Maurice Hall - the man who filled in for Clarett in previous weeks - who was called upon during Ohio State's first drive. In any case, they went nowhere. Two rushes compiling a one-yard loss and an incomplete pass meant the home team made an inauspicious start to their biggest game in six years.
Michigan knew every possession would be important, and it wasted no time in striking first. A consistent and well-executed 13-play drive ensued, which ended in kicker Adam Finley's 36-yard field goal splitting the uprights and Michigan getting the early 3-0 lead.
Beginning the drive at their own 24, Ohio State decided to turn to the air, with quarterback Craig Krenzel completing three straight passes to begin the drive. After Clarett's first rush went for nine yards, he would break his second attempt for 28, giving the Buckeyes a 1st-and-10 at the Wolverine 11-yard line. Two plays later on a 3rd-and-9, a Michigan defensive pass interference call kept the drive alive, giving Ohio State a fresh set of downs at the 2-yard line. Clarett would do the honors on first down, sweeping to the right to give the Buckeyes their first points of the day and a 7-3 lead.
Another long drive by the Wolverines followed that score, but yet again they had to settle for a Finley field goal, making the score 7-6. Unlike its previous drive, though, Ohio State couldn't find any sort of response. Only four plays were run before Andy Groom was forced to punt it back to the Wolverines, and again Lloyd Carr's team made the most of Ohio State's offensive shortcomings.
The Maize and Blue wore down Ohio State's excellent defense once again with another drive of over 12 plays. On 2nd-and-goal from the 20-yard line, it looked as if they had scored their first touchdown on the day, but a late flag for offensive pass interference meant a young Braylon Edwards didn't get the touchdown he thought he'd scored. They were finally stopped on third down at the Buckeye 4-yard line, giving coach Carr a decision to make with only 21 seconds left in the half. Ultimately he decided that any amount of points was worth it, so Finley extended his scoring on the day and the Wolverine's entered the locker room with a 9-7 advantage.
In the second half, Ohio State's offense still could not find a way through the defense of Michigan, failing to score on three consecutive possessions to begin the second stanza. Luckily for them, John Navarre and the Michigan offense didn't fare any better. They were actually worse, going four straight possessions without anything to show for it. With the crowd getting more and more nervous, Ohio State needed a signature drive to put them back in pole position entering the final minutes.
It began with good field position, the Buckeyes started on their own 42, the best spot of the day. Their first play was one of the biggest of the drive - fullback Brandon Schnittker catching a ball that wasn't even meant for him, but still gaining a hefty 15 yards.
During the next set of downs the Buckeyes were stymied, and had to be bailed out by a 1-yard push up the middle by Krenzel on 4th down to keep the drive alive.
The next play was the biggest of the drive, with Krenzel faking a handoff to Schnittker and instead looking down the right sideline to a wide-open Clarett who had run out of the backfield unaccounted for, giving the Buckeyes a 1st down at the MIchigan 7-yard line. After Clarett gained four on first down, Tressel got tricky. Lining up in a formation that looked to be aiming the play left, Krenzel instead began to run right, and as he drew in a Michigan defensive back he flipped the ball to Maurice Hall on the right side and the tailback sprinted into the corner of the endzone for the touchdown. 13-9 Buckeyes.
With just under five minutes to go, Michigan knew this drive would have to count, but on a 2nd-and-15 play, Navarre fumbled into the arms of Will Smith, giving the ball back to Ohio State with just 2:29 to go.
A first down was all the Buckeyes needed to ice the game, but just like in past weeks, they decided to make it hard on themselves. Three straight runs amounted to only a yard, meaning the Wolverines had to go 86 yards in 56 seconds to ruin their rival's perfect season.
The task that seemed impossible began to become reachable as Navarre completed passes to Braylon Edwards and Ronald Bellamy for 11 and 15 yards respectively. A penalty on the Buckeyes and another pass to Bellamy - this time for 17 yards - meant Michigan were all the way down to the Ohio State 24.
Two incompletions, the second one sailing out of the back of the endzone, left a solitary second on the clock. Ohio State's undefeated regular season would come down to one last play, and many people couldn't even bear to watch.
Navarre dropped back under no real pressure and quickly fired to the endzone and to Edwards - but he was being watched by three Buckeye defensive backs and it was safety Will Allen of Wayne High School (the same as Braxton Miller) who jumped the route and intercepted the ball just before it got to Edwards. The perfect season was achieved, and the Buckeyes were Fiesta Bowl bound.
The celebrations in the aftermath are now the stuff of legend, but that game will always stand as one of the best in the Ohio State - Michigan rivalry. There was an insane amount on the line, and yet two teams still battled it out to the very last second, all in the name of arguably the best rivalry in sports.
You all know what would go on to happen during that night in Tempe, but it was this Michigan game that many Ohio State fans point to as their favorite of all-time. If we get drama and excitement on Saturday that is anywhere near that of 2002, we are in for quite the treat.