To the winner goes the Big Ten Conference title, a possible berth in a bowl championship series game and bragging rights for the next 12 months.
No. 4 Ohio State tuned up for the showdown at Ann Arbor, Mich., with a 16-13 overtime victory Saturday against No. 11 Purdue that proved again that the dull but efficient Buckeyes can win in any circumstances.
"They have a lot of faith that if we play as hard as we can, good things will happen," Ohio State Coach Jim Tressel said of the Buckeyes after Purdue kicker Ben Jones missed a 36-yard field goal wide left on the game's final play. "Our guys just keep going."
No. 5 Michigan warmed up for rivalry week with a 41-10 rout of Northwestern, looking like a team bent on bigger and better things during a 24-point second quarter.
"Anytime you have Ohio State the next week, you worry about a letdown, no matter who you're playing, because that game is special," Michigan Coach Lloyd Carr said.
Ohio State's struggles seem to be standard operating procedure for the defending champion Buckeyes, who, let's not forget, needed a phantom pass interference penalty against Miami to win the Fiesta Bowl last January.
Michigan has looked like the Big Ten's hottest team since its improbable fourth-quarter rally Oct. 11 against Minnesota. As pivotal moments go, the Wolverines' comeback from a 28-7 deficit was a doozy.
Ohio State is 10-1, 6-1 in the Big Ten. Michigan is 9-2, 6-1.
Does it get any better?
Going Wild at Lincoln
Kansas State's 38-9 victory at Nebraska, its first since 1968, put the Wildcats in position to win the Big 12 North and set up a title-game showdown against No. 1 Oklahoma, which has clinched the South.
Kansas State quarterback Ell Roberson passed for 313 yards and two touchdowns as the unranked Wildcats gave the No. 18 Cornhuskers their worst home loss since a 31-0 defeat against Missouri on Nov. 1, 1958.
"It was a very satisfying game for our players and coaches," Wildcat Coach Bill Snyder said. "Extremely important to me is the fact that long-suffering Kansas State football fans are happy this evening. There are a lot of people who have had some great anguish over the years, and this is something of a reward for them."
Bo Pelini, Nebraska's defensive coordinator, was among the Cornhuskers who were suffering some great anguish at game's end. Pelini believed the Wildcats had run up the score.
"I told him I didn't like it," Pelini would later say. "I let him know that's not the way I've gone about things in the organizations I've been in."
No word on whether Snyder handed Pelini a crying towel.
Minnesota won an ax, but lost a pig.
A week after defeating Wisconsin and taking the Paul Bunyan Ax trophy from the Badgers, the Gophers lost to Iowa, 40-22, enabling the Hawkeyes to keep Floyd of Rosedale, the pig statue that goes to the winner.
Iowa's victory was its third in a row over its northern neighbor, denying Minnesota a chance to get its 10th win in its regular-season finale. The Gophers (9-3, 5-3 in the Big Ten) could have been poised for a New Year's Day bowl game had they won.
"I don't think we really cared too much about people hyping them up on offense," Iowa's Howard Hodges said, referring to the Gophers' top-ranked rushing offense. "It was more like, they're coming into Kinnick [Stadium] and they wanted to run across the field and take Floyd from us. You don't come into Kinnick thinking you're going to just get a win. You're going to have to work for a win."
Philly Story (Part I)
Some programs can't win.
Down, 17-0, to No. 12 Virginia Tech, Temple came back to force overtime with a fourth-quarter rally that had dozens of Owl fans in a frenzy at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. Jared Davis' 37-yard field goal with 40 seconds to play put the woebegone Owls in position for their second stunning upset of the Hokies in five seasons.
Once in overtime, the Hokies scored when Bryan Randall ran 23 yards for a touchdown. The extra point was good and Virginia Tech had a 24-17 lead.
Temple responded with quarterback Walter Washington's 22-yard scoring pass play to Zamir Cobb.
Davis then shanked the extra point, giving Virginia Tech a 24-23 victory and calling into question (again!) Temple's future in the conference. The Owls are 1-9, 0-5 in the Big East and end the season with games against No. 16 Pittsburgh and unranked West Virginia.
The good news for Temple? Basketball season is just around the corner and the Owls more than hold their own in the Atlantic 10 Conference.
Philly Story (Part II)
The rest of the Ivy League would just as soon send Pennsylvania packing, given the Quakers' dominance in the Division I-AA conference. Penn's 32-24 victory over Harvard clinched its second consecutive championship and sixth in the last 11 seasons.
The league has steadfastly refused to let its teams compete in the I-AA playoffs, leaving Penn with an empty feeling at the end of recent seasons.
"I think institutionally, in virtually every area ... we try to deal with the highest level of excellence -- across the board, whether it's the chemistry department, the school of business, whether it's English or intramurals or whatever," Al Bagnoli, coach of the 9-0 Quakers, said last week. "I really think in one particular sport, they're not trying to do that. I really think, philosophically, that's the wrong approach."
Best For Last
Mount Union won its 12th consecutive Ohio Conference title with a 58-0 victory over Wilmington, which also was the Purple Raiders' 52nd victory in a row, two short of their NCAA record.
Mount Union (10-0, 9-0 in the conference) last lost in the 1999 Division III playoffs, to Rowan, 24-17 in overtime.
Times wire services contributed to this report.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
Ohio State has kept its hopes of defending its national championship alive by winning five of its games by seven points or fewer:
AT COLUMBUS, OHIO
No. 2 OHIO ST. 16
SAN DIEGO ST. 13
Will Allen returned a tipped pass 100 yards for the go-ahead touchdown against the 32-point underdog Aztecs.
The Buckeyes converted once in 14 third-down situations.
AT COLUMBUS, OHIO
No. 3 OHIO ST. 44
No. 24 N. CAROLINA ST. 38
In the third overtime, Will Allen stopped Wolfpack tailback T.A. McLendon on fourth-and-goal just inches from the goal line.
The Buckeyes had 44 yards and three first downs rushing.
AT COLUMBUS, OHIO
No. 5 OHIO ST. 24
BOWLING GREEN 17
Will Allen (who else?) intercepted Josh Harris' pass at the Ohio State 37 on the game's final play.
For the third consecutive game, the Buckeyes had fewer first downs than their opponent (17 to 21 for the Falcons).
AT STATE COLLEGE, PA.
NO. 8 OHIO ST. 21
PENN ST. 20
Michael Jenkins scored the go-ahead touchdown with 1:35 left, making a reception while falling backward in the corner of the end zone, and a 60-yard field-goal attempt by the Nittany Lions' David Kimball on the game's last play just fell short.
Both teams had 70 plays from scrimmage.
AT COLUMBUS, OHIO
No. 4 OHIO ST. 16
No. 10 PURDUE 13
Mike Nugent, who had a 41-yard attempt blocked on the last play of regulation, was successful on a 36-yard attempt in overtime. The Boilermakers' Ben Jones then missed left on a 36-yard field-goal attempt.
The Buckeyes had nine fewer first downs than the Boilermakers (15 to 24).