Skip to main content

The Game: 10 Interesting Facts About the Michigan vs. Ohio State College Football Rivalry

The history of "The Game" between Michigan and Ohio State is just as fascinating as the matchups themselves.

All eyes will be on unbeatens Michigan and Ohio State when they meet this Saturday in Columbus. This rivalry is still called "The Game" for a reason, and there is plenty at stake, including the Big Ten East title and an inside track to a spot in the College Football Playoffs.

It is hard for folks outside the Midwest — especially those born after 1980 — to understand how this rivalry (which Michigan leads 59-51-6; the discrepancy in the number of meetings versus record is because Ohio State vacated its 2010 win) became one of the biggest in the sport. Here are 10 facts that may help shed some light on that question.

Related: 5 Biggest Games in the Michigan vs. Ohio State College Football Rivalry

1. The Toledo War

The hatred of this rivalry was fueled by both Michigan and Ohio’s claim of the Toledo Strip, a 468-square mile region of land at the states’ borders. When Michigan tried to join the union in 1835, it tried to include the Toledo Strip in its borders and Ohio blocked its admittance. President Andrew Jackson stepped in and worked out a compromise where Ohio received the Strip and Michigan received the Upper Peninsula, which was mainly an unsettled territory at the time. It is safe to say that both fan bases have put the Toledo War behind them, but it was still fresh on people’s minds when the teams first met...

2. The First Meeting

Michigan was a much better team when the teams first met on Oct. 16, 1897 in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines scored all of their touchdowns in the first half and played conservative ball in the second half en route to a 34-0 win. Michigan finished the season at 6-1-1, while Ohio State would finish 1-7-1. The two schools would not play again until 1900, with the game finishing in a tie...

3. Six Ties

There have been six ties in this rivalry. The two teams played to a 0-0 ending in their second meeting in 1900 and tied each other in ‘10, ‘41, ‘49, ‘73 and ‘92. The 1973 tie was the only blemish on both schools' records that year and the ‘92 tie made Michigan the last team to finish the regular season unbeaten with only eight wins since they had already tied Notre Dame and Illinois. In the early 1900s, the situation was much different for Ohio State. The best the Buckeyes could hope for was a tie, thanks to legendary Michigan coach Fielding Yost...

4. Fielding Yost

In 1901, Michigan hired San Jose State coach Fielding Yost, who quickly turned the Wolverines into the premier program in college football. Yost won six national titles, including four straight from 1901-04. During that period, Michigan won every game, played in the first Rose Bowl, and beat its opposition so badly that his squads were dubbed “Point-a-Minute” teams. Yost also dominated the Buckeyes, only losing to them three times during his 25-year career. However, in the 1930s the tenor of this rivalry would change and the “Gold Pants Charm” would be born...

5. “Gold Pants Charm”

Michigan led the series 22-6-2 when Francis Schmidt became Ohio State’s head coach in 1934. When reporters asked Schmidt if Ohio State could beat Michigan, he said something to the effect of, “Of course we can win, Michigan puts their pants on one leg at a time just like we do.” He was right. Ohio State proceeded to win four straight, beating the Wolverines by a collective score of 114-0. Today, Buckeyes players receive a “Gold Pants Charm” if they beat Michigan. Schmidt gave Ohio State its pride, but the next coach put the program on the same level as Michigan...

6. Paul Brown

In 1941, Ohio State hired Paul Brown, who had won six straight state championships at Massillon Washington High School in Massillon, Ohio. Brown immediately transformed the Buckeyes program and the 1941 Michigan/Ohio State game marked the first time both schools met ranked in the AP poll. The 14th-ranked Buckeyes tied the fifth-ranked Wolverines 20-20. The next year, Ohio State beat Michigan 21-7 on its way to winning the first national title in the program’s history. Brown left Ohio State for military service at the end of the 1943 season and by ‘50, the Wolverines had resumed control of the series. A game in a blizzard would change that and bring this series into the modern era...

7. The Snow Bowl

On Nov. 25, 1950, Ohio State and Michigan faced off in Columbus with the Big Ten title on the line. Whichever team won would have to overcome their opponent, 10-degree weather, 28-mile per hour winds, and snow falling at a rate of two inches per hour (If you think I’m being hyperbolic about the conditions, check out this video.). Both teams punted a collective 45 times for 1,408 yards and Michigan managed to win 9-3 accumulating only 27 yards of offense and no first downs in a game forever known as the “Snow Bowl.” Ohio State head coach Wes Fesler resigned amidst severe criticism about this play-calling in the game and was replaced by Woody Hayes. This is where things got interesting...

8. The Ten-Year War

Woody Hayes won five national titles in Columbus and went 12-6 against Michigan from 1951-68. The last win during that period was a 50-14 whipping of the Wolverines in 1968 where Hayes went for two after the final touchdown. When asked why, the colorful and volatile Hayes answered, “Because I couldn’t go for three.” The next year, the Buckeyes were ranked No. 1 and riding a 22-game win streak when they faced Michigan and first-year head coach, Bo Schembechler, a former assistant to Hayes. The 12th-ranked Wolverines built a 24-12 halftime lead and held it for the remainder of the game. This launched what would become known as the “Ten Year War” a decade of intense rivalry and competition between the two teams from 1969-78. Michigan held the slight edge during those 10 years, going 5-4-1. The teams were ranked in the top 10 in seven of those games and in the top five in five of them. It is actually kind of amazing that these schools have only held the top two spots one time when they met...

9. Only One No. 1 vs. No. 2 Matchup

The only No. 1 versus No. 2 matchup in the rivalry came in 2006. Both teams entered the game undefeated for the first time since 1973 and the hype surrounding their meeting has not been eclipsed by any game since. The Buckeyes jumped out to a 28-14 halftime lead at home and held onto it despite a furious Michigan comeback to eventually win 42-39. A mere 14 Bowl Championship Series (BCS) ranking points prevented a rematch from taking place in the BCS National Championship Game, as Florida finished with .945 and Michigan finished with .932. One final note, the drama surrounding this matchup turned to sadness when Bo Schembechler died of a heart attack the day before the game. It was a very sad moment in a rivalry that has produced so much greatness...

10. 19 National Championships

Ultimately, the reason the rest of the country cares about this game is because of the fact that these schools win. After all, no college football program has won more games in history than Michigan and Ohio State, respectively. Along the way, these two schools have produced:

  • 175 All-Americans
  • 10 Heisman Trophy winners
  • 82 conference championships

These schools also have 19 national titles between them and depending on how the rest of the season plays out, there may be another added to that total.

— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.