COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Perfection.
Ohio State is ineligible yet unbeaten in 2012 after toppling rival Michigan 26-21 at the Horseshoe. The Buckeyes finished 12-0 in Urban Meyer's first season and now will have to hope the Associated Press Top 25 voters view them as championship-+worthy.
They're not going to a bowl because of NCAA probation, but a win against Michigan in the finale for a perfect season still feels awfully good to the scarlet and gray.
It was over when: C.J. Barnett intercepted Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner with 4:40 left. Thanks to some hard running by Carlos Hyde, Ohio State was able to run out the clock from there, after Michigan had burned two timeouts earlier in the half.
Game ball goes to: Ohio State's defense, which stiffened in the second half after some very poor tackling in the first two quarters, when Michigan had 240 yards and scored all of its 21 points. The Buckeyes also forced four turnovers, including three forced fumbles. Johnathan Hankins used his shoulder pads to pop the ball out of Gardner's hands midway through the fourth quarter, leading to an Ohio State field goal. The Wolverines did not cross the 50-yard line in the second half.
Stat of the game: Michigan had 39 yards of offense and three turnovers in the second half.
Unsung hero of the game: The Michigan defense. Placed under extreme duress in the second half by its own offense, the Wolverines' D limited Ohio State to just a pair of field goals on three drives deep into the red zone. Jake Ryan had his usual terrific game, forcing a fumble from Braxton Miller near midfield at one point. But the offense couldn't carry its share of the load.
Best call: With five seconds left in the first half, Ohio State's Drew Basil was lined up to attempt a 52-yard field goal. Just then, the wind in the stadium whipped up, with the giant American flag in the end zone blowing right toward Basil's face. The Buckeyes smartly called timeout to see if the wind would die down. It did, and Basil drilled the field goal for an important score.
Second-guessing: Michigan's offense was explosive and unpredictable in the first half. In the second half, offensive coordinator Al Borges strangely went away from his team's strengths. Twice near midfield, he called for runs up the middle by tailbacks instead of keeping the ball in the hands of stars Robinson and Gardner. That's exactly where the power of the Ohio State defense is, and the Buckeyes stuffed both plays. Michigan compounded the problem on its opening possession of the second half, going for it on fourth-and-2 from its own 48 and not coming close to getting a first down. That led to the go-ahead field goal by Ohio State and sapped some of Michigan's momentum.
What it means: What a start to the Urban Meyer era in Columbus. Though the bowl ban means the Buckeyes can't play for the national title, they still ripped through the Big Ten and established themselves as a top-five team to start the 2013 season, when there is no ban.
Michigan finished 8-4 and saw its slim chances for an at-large bid to a BCS game get extinguished. The Wolverines will still play in a Jan. 1 bowl, probably the Capitol One Bowl, but they fell short in all their marquee games against ranked teams this season.