This Wolverines game day in history looks for hope

Gregory Shamus

The Michigan Wolverines haven't played many games on Nov. 30th (five to be exact, with only one after the signing of the Treaty of Versailles) so instead of recapping those, I've decided to look for some hope through history for The Game on Saturday.

The Michigan Wolverines have played only five games on Nov. 30, two of which came against Ohio. Michigan's split those two meetings, beating their rivals 14-0 in 1918 and losing 14-10 in 1963. Since Saturday's game features a highly favored Ohio team, I decided to skip recapping five games (the scores are at the bottom) and instead, I searched for similar situations in history. While looking* for Wolverines upsets of undefeated Ohio teams, five seasons stand out: 1969, 1973, 1993, 1995,1996 (* I limited my search in the following two ways: 1) The Game had to be played on the final day of the season and 2) Ohio had to be without a loss coming into The Game). Below, you'll find a list of all 15 games that met this criteria:

Year Site Michigan* Ohio* Result
1944 Columbus 8-1 (#6) 8-0 (#3) 18-14, Ohio
1954 Columbus 6-2 (#12) 8-0 (#1) 21-7, Ohio
1961 Ann Arbor 6-2 7-0-1 (#2) 50-20, Ohio
1968 Columbus 8-1 (#4) 8-0 (#2) 50-14, Ohio
1969 Ann Arbor 7-2 (#12) 8-0 (#1) 24-12, Michigan
1970 Columbus 9-0 (#4) 8-0 (#5) 20-9, Ohio
1973 Ann Arbor 10-0 (#4) 9-0 (#1) 10-10
1975 Ann Arbor 8-0-2 (#5) 10-0 (#3) 21-14, Ohio
1979 Ann Arbor 8-2 (#13) 10-0 (#2) 18-15, Ohio
1993 Ann Arbor 6-4 9-0-1 (#5) 28-0, Michigan
1995 Ann Arbor 8-3 (#18) 11-0 (#2) 31-23, Michigan
1996 Columbus 7-3 (#21) 10-0 (#2) 13-9, Michigan
2002 Columbus 9-2 (#12) 12-0 (#2) 14-9, Ohio
2006 Columbus 11-0 (#2) 11-0 (#1) 42-39, Ohio
2012 Columbus 8-3 (#20) 11-0 (#4) 26-21, Ohio

* Record (Ranking) coming into The Game

From this list, one of the five games Michigan didn't lose was the infamous tie in 1973 that changed the landscape of Big Ten football and resulted in one of the most controversial decisions in NCAA history. For any one reading this without at least a basic understanding of the situation, Michigan and Ohio both entered The Game in '73 undefeated, with the winner advancing to the Rose Bowl. Even though Ohio had represented the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl in '72, the conference had abolished it's "no-repeat" rule in '71, meaning that Ohio had a chance to be the first team in conference history to go to back-to-back Rose Bowls. However, there wouldn't be a winner in The Game as the teams battled to a 10-10 tie. This meant that the Athletic Directors of all 10 schools in the conference would vote either in favor of Michigan or Ohio to go to the Rose Bowl.

Bo and the rest of the Wolverines expected to go to the Rose Bowl after a strong showing in The Game. Heck, even Woody didn't think Ohio would be going to the Rose Bowl. But Ohio ended up winning the vote (and the Rose Bowl), Bo went nuts, calling the decision "an embarrassment to the Big Ten Conference," and the rest, as they say, is history. There's many ideas thrown around as to why Ohio won the vote: Who did Michigan State really vote for, themselves or Ohio? Were AD's swayed to vote for Ohio because Michigan quarterback Dennis Franklin left The Game with injury? Were they worried the Big Ten would lose in the Rose Bowl for the fifth straight year if Michigan went with question marks surrounding its QB?

No matter the reason, it's still the most heated debate in the history of The Game, and if you didn't catch it after the Northwestern game a couple weeks ago, the Big Ten Network aired a documentary called "Tiebreaker" that looked back at the '73 tie (You can watch it tonight, 11/29, on BTN at 9pm, 11pm, or 12:30am EST). If you desire more about that game, it's a pretty good summary of everything that happened.

Aside from the tie, Michigan has upset an undefeated Ohio team four times in the final game of the season with the Wolverines having at least two losses heading into each of the wins. In the first upset in '69, Bo Schembechler -- in his first season -- shocked his mentor Woody Hayes and the top-ranked Ohio team by a score of 24-12. The win kicked off the Ten Year War, which redefined the rivalry, and couldn't have introduced Bo's era of Michigan football any better. Like this Saturday, Michigan entered the game with most giving them no chance at victory. The situation seemed so dire that rumor has it Michigan's AD at the time, Don Canham, sold tickets to Ohio fans just to fill the Big House. Whether or not that's true, the Wolverines didn't care as they proved Bo's worth by dominating the game from the first snap to the last. Hoke's using this game as motivation for Saturday, and if there's any thing to motivate the boys in Maize and Blue, it's footage from this game. Relive the game here: Part 1Part 2, and Part 3.

After '69, the Wolverines didn't overthrow an undefeated Ohio team until the 1990s, when Michigan did it three times in four years from 1993-96. The first, in '93, mirrors the current situation better than the others, including '69. The Michigan Daily beat me to pointing this fact out, and they summarize the many similarities between the '93 squad and Team 134, which I've listed below:

  • An inexperienced offensive line (the '93 team, from what I could find, had only one fifth year senior on the OL, with the rest being freshmen or sophomores; the article claims that "the offensive line was entirely new and needed time to jell.")
  • A younger, undeveloped quarterback (the '93 team also had a redshirt junior at QB, Todd Collins)
  • Four losses on the season (the '93 team lost to Notre Dame, Michigan State, Illinois, and Wisconsin)
  • Higher expectations due to potential

So you can see how 1993 relates to 2013. However, there's one big difference: the '93 team entered The Game after beating Purdue and demolishing Minnesota. They carried that momentum into The Game and manhandled Ohio, 28-0. This year, the Wolverines haven't done so hot in previous weeks, hobbling rather than sprinting into Saturday. For highlights of '93, look here: Part 1 and Part 2.

The final, and most recent, upsets came in back-to-back seasons in '95 and '96. Both situations were similar (Ohio undefeated at #2 and Michigan with three losses ranked near the bottom of the polls). In '95, the Wolverines won because of one man: Tshimanga Biakabutuka. Biakabutuka annihilated Ohio's defense, trampling over them for 313 yards and one touchdown. In '96, Michigan's defense led the way by holding Ohio to no touchdowns in three red zone trips on the day and 54 yards in the second half -- five on the ground. Both seasons, like this year, watched the Wolverines enter The Game having lost the previous game and two of the last three (two in a row in '96). Unfortunately, I don't see Derrick Green or Fitzgerald Toussaint or any of Michigan's backs rushing for 100 yards, let alone over 300 yards. The more likely scenario would be '96, if the Wolverines defense stifles Ohio's offense and Michigan wins a close one. Watch highlights of '95 here: Part 1 and Part 2 and highlights of '96 here: Part 1 and Part 2. If you have a couple hours to kill, you can also watch the entire '95 game.

So what's all this mean? According to history, Michigan has a chance on Saturday. In 15 similar situations, the Wolverines have played the role of spoiler four times (five if you want to include the '73 tie, but you shouldn't). Three of the four upset victories took place in the Big House, so it's good that Saturday's game is in Ann Arbor. Like '69, Hoke needs a defining victory to cement his place at the helm of Michigan's football program. Like '93, Michigan has an inexperienced offensive line and quarterback (and four losses). Like '95 and '96, the Wolverines are limping into The Game due to defeats in previous weeks. Yes, those teams had bright spots that this year's team does not ('69 had Bo, '93 had momentum, '95 had Biakabutuka) but '96 won on defense alone. While Team 134's defense isn't elite and probably won't hold Ohio to under 100 yards in the second half on Saturday, Greg Mattison and the defense is Michigan's biggest hope for a win on Saturday. I think a competent offense is the most we could hope for, so the Wolverines hopes at stopping a second consecutive undefeated Ohio season come down to whether or not Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde can be quieted.

Michigan's chances are slim, but yes, I'm telling you that there's a chance. Rivalry games are made for upsets. Go Blue!

Overall Record on Nov. 30

2-3 (1-1 against Ohio)

Game Scores

1893 at Chicago, 28-10

1899 at Wisconsin, 5-17

1905 at Chicago, 0-2

1918 vs. Ohio, 14-0

1963 vs. Ohio, 10-14

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