COLUMBUS, Ohio – One more time, Troy Smith was a Wolverine killer.
And one more time, the Ohio State Buckeyes are playing for a national championship.
No. 1 Ohio State outlasted No. 2 Michigan in the “Game of the Century” a slugfest between college football’s biggest rivals that lived up to the intensity expected in the schools’ 103rd meeting, both of which were undefeated.
Ohio State beat its archrival 42-39 on Saturday at Ohio Stadium, booking a place in the Bowl Championship Series title game on Jan. 8.
Smith became the second Ohio State quarterback to beat Michigan three times, completing 29 of 41 passes for 316 yards and four touchdowns — each to a different receiver.
“I would think he clinched the Heisman (Trophy) today,” Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel said of his senior quarterback, who appears to be a lock to win Ohio State’s first Heisman since Eddie George’s in 1995.
“I don’t think there’s any question about that. He’s the best player in college football.”
Smith’s 13-yard strike to Brian Robiskie with 5:38 remaining in the fourth quarter put the Buckeyes far enough ahead of a Michigan team that would not roll over.
Wolverines quarterback Chad Henne led his team into the end zone with 2:16 left in the fourth, hitting Tyler Ecker for a 16-yard score, and Michigan executed a two-point conversion when Henne connected with Steve Breaston, leaving them a field goal down and setting up for a hot finish.
Michigan attempted an onside kick, but Ohio State recovered. A couple of big runs by tailback Antonio Pittman helped OSU run out the clock.
Although Smith’s top-shelf arm was the focus for the Buckeyes, Pittman racked up 139 yards on 18 carries, finding pay dirt on a 56-yard run.
A red-clad crowd of 105,708 with only scattered pockets of maize and blue went crazy as the Buckeyes wrapped up a 12-0 regular season.
Chris Wells added a 52-yard touchdown run for Ohio State, helping to balance an offense that racked up 503 yards against the nation’s third-best defense.
The win clinched Ohio State’s first outright Big Ten championship since 1984.
Although the Buckeyes were unbeaten national champs in 2002, they split the conference championship with Iowa, who they did not play that season.
“The No. 1 thing in our minds was our seniors and making sure that their last game in this building was a great memory and the outright Big Ten championship,” Tressel said.
“I guess the sideline of the whole thing is it’s going to lead to bigger and better things.”
“Better things” may include a rematch against Michigan with the national championship at stake, but a few things would need to fall into place to make it so.
Both Ohio State and Michigan (11-1) are finished until bowl season, but other top teams, including Southern California, Texas and Florida, still have a few games remaining.
“There is still football to be played and we don’t worry about things until all the football has been played,” Tressel said.
“I think Michigan is a very deserving football team. There can’t be many teams in the nation better than Michigan.”
Wolverines coach Lloyd Carr — who fell to 1-5 against Tressel — stayed mum on the subject as well.
“That’s not in my control, and I really don’t have any thoughts right now on that,” he said.
The showdown took place a day after the death of former Michigan coach Bo Schembechler, an Ohio State alumnus and the nemesis of Buckeyes legend Woody Hayes.
Schembechler’s heart stopped during the taping of a TV show on Friday in Detroit. He was 77.
Schembechler’s death presented a difficult situation for Carr, an assistant under the successful coach, but it did not become the motivating tool many expected.
“I tried to tell them he wouldn’t have wanted to be a distraction,” Carr said. “And I told our team we weren’t going to use Bo and his death as a motivating deal. That would have been to dishonor him.”
Instead, the Wolverines and Buckeyes played a game that served as a fitting tribute.
Michigan running back Mike Hart, one of a handful of second-tier Heisman candidates behind the front-running Smith, gained 142 yards and scored three of Michigan’s touchdowns.
Like the Wolverines’ defense, Ohio State had allowed just three rushing touchdowns all season.
“They are the toughest team we faced this year,” OSU defensive tackle Quinn Pitcock said. “And Hart was the best back we’ve faced.”
Neither defense was accustomed to being walked on quite the way both were Saturday, but in rolling to a 22-0 record heading into their showdown, neither offense had been told no very often either.
But 81 points?
“I never expected that to happen,” Wolverines defensive end Lamarr Woodley said. “They are definitely a good offense. They had a lot of weapons on their team, so we definitely respected them.”
Ohio State’s cupboard was full of players who chipped in on both sides of the ball, but offensively, Smith was able to find Ted Ginn, Anthony Gonzalez and Roy Hall for scores, in addition to the Robiskie strike.
The Buckeyes were far from perfect on offense, however, as Smith fumbled and threw an interception, and center Doug Datish made a bad snap that resulted in another turnover.
But the Buckeyes found a way.
“If we play them again, we’ll correct the mistakes that allowed the big plays,” Woodley said. “It won’t be a score like that.”
But for now, it is a waiting game.
Saturday was the first time Ohio State and Michigan have met as No. 1 and No. 2 in the nation.
A repeat in the BCS title game may be the only way to top that one for the rivals.