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That was a lot of fun! Let's do it again for the national title

Ohio State beats Michigan 42 - 39 for a spot in the title game. But nine one-loss teams, including Florida, remain.

By JOHN ROMANO
Published November 19, 2006


COLUMBUS, Ohio - They've been seeing each other for 109 years. So maybe it's time for Ohio State and Michigan to take their relationship to the next level.

Oh, I know what you're thinking. Why take a chance at ruining a good thing? And I will admit this one-weekend-in-November arrangement has turned out okay.

But did you see them Saturday? The drama? The adoration? By the time they left the field, it seemed everyone was either hugging, dancing or crying.

So why not get these nutty kids together again on Jan. 8?

The most passionate rivalry in college football grew larger on Saturday. For the first time in 33 years, they were both undefeated, and for the first time in history, they came in ranked Nos. 1 and 2. And when it was over, they had put on a show unlike any before with Ohio State beating Michigan 42-39.

Ohio State won the Big Ten Conference title and a place in the BCS championship game on Jan. 8.

And Michigan just might have won a second chance.

The Wolverines are now among a group of one-loss teams that will spend the next two weeks waiting to see who finishes second in the BCS rankings, earning a shot at Ohio State and the national championship.

"They're a great team," Ohio State safety Brandon Mitchell said. "They're very deserving of a rematch the way they played this game."

Is Michigan the most deserving team? I couldn't say, for sure.

But the Wolverines did beat Notre Dame. Plus, Rutgers is a mirage. And if the Gators know what's good for them, they don't want any part of Ohio State.

So for the first time in more than a century of meetings, why not have Ohio State and Michigan in a rematch?

It's been done before. Florida lost to Florida State in the regular-season finale in 1996 and then came back to beat the Seminoles for the national championship.

"I guarantee if we play them again, it would be a whole different game," Michigan running back Mike Hart said. "We should have gotten them (this) time. We didn't. So if it doesn't happen, it's our fault."

There is nothing in the BCS bylaws that would prohibit a rematch. In fact, there isn't even a decision for BCS officials to make. The polls and computer rankings alone will determine the No. 2 team.

"You can understand if there is sentiment in regard for a rematch," said John Junker, the CEO of the BCS National Championship Game. "But we have nothing to do with it."

Just imagine the ramifications of a rematch. This is, after all, a game built for legends. Coaches who retire to the Hall of Fame, and players who pick up a Heisman on the way out of town, including Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith, who secured the 2006 trophy on Saturday.

This is a rivalry that meant something before Florida had a team and before Florida State even had a campus. It began in the 19th century and is looking better than ever in the 21st.

It is the sophisticates of Michigan. (Or the Ivy League wannabes as Ohio State folks like to think of them.) It is the middle America families of Ohio State. (Or the hillbillies gone to town, to hear Michigan people talk.)

It is obscene T-shirts and obsessed fans. It is the late Woody Hayes rubbing it in. It is Bo Schembechler, who died Friday, complaining about all things Ohio.

It goes back eras and generations. To Woody and Bo in the 1970s. To the Snow Bowl in 1950. To the first meeting ever in 1897. Maybe even to the Toledo War in 1835, when Michigan wanted to claim the city as part of its territory.

The rivalry has endured even if the game has changed. Schembechler and Hayes preached strong defenses and conservative running games. The last time both teams came in undefeated, they played to a 10-10 tie in 1973.

Ohio State did not complete a pass in that game.

Smith threw 41 times for 316 yards on Saturday.

"Bo and Woody were probably up there getting mad at first," said Ohio State receiver Ted Ginn. "But when they saw what a great game it was, they were probably hugging at the end."

Yes, for the past 70 years, the rivalry has been the same. Always the regular-season finale and always played in the afternoon. Always in Ann Arbor or Columbus and always within the confines of the Big Ten.

But maybe it's time to have an open mind. Maybe it's time to look at it from a different perspective.

Maybe, just this once, it's worth one more date.

John Romano can be reached at (727) 893-8811.