Ivan Maisel

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Saturday, November 23
Updated: November 24, 2:48 PM ET
You just knew it ... 13-0

By Ivan Maisel

COLUMBUS, Ohio - You know it's your season when your offense can't get on the field without a tour guide and you're behind only 9-7 at halftime.

You know it's your season when you throw a curl to your best receiver and your fullback, who has made only one catch all season, juggles the ball into his arms instead.

You know it's your season when you convert one third down, allow 12, and it's your opponent that has to go 80 yards in 58 seconds with no timeouts in order to win the game.

You know it's your season when you're Ohio State and you do just enough to win.

The No. 2 Buckeyes won five of their last six games by a touchdown or less. They beat No. 9 Michigan 14-9 on Saturday, a result as close as it was inevitable. It's a Buckeye world, and the celebration in the world's largest college town may not stop until the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl kicks off on Jan. 3.

Carmen Ohio
Jim Tressel celebrates with a song.
The players ran to the south end zone to sing Carmen Ohio with the Best Damn Band in the Land. They ran off the field just in time to miss the pepper spray, which is becoming as welcome a part of college football as NCAA investigations. The Buckeyes accepted the Big Ten championship trophy from commissioner Jim Delany, the official Fiesta Bowl invitation from selection chairman Steve Horrell, and the thanks of a grateful Buckeye nation that hasn't won the national championship since 1968 and hasn't even played for it since 1979.

That Ohio State team, 11-0 in the regular season, lost the Rose Bowl 17-16 to USC when Trojan tailback Charles White scored the winning touchdown from one yard out. White knew something about having the breaks go his way. In the 1979 Rose Bowl against Michigan, he fumbled at the goal line. Everyone saw the fumble but the officials.

When it is your time, it is your time.

Hold the e-mails -- no one is saying that Ohio State is undeserving, or merely lucky, or holding a spot that rightfully belongs to another team. But Ohio State is having the kind of season that Tennessee had when it won its national championship in 1998. The Volunteers won their opener thanks to a specious pass interference call at Syracuse; beat Arkansas late in the season because of a hand-of-God fumble by the Razorback quarterback, and headed straight for the Fiesta Bowl.

The 2002 Buckeyes beef up on kismet instead of andro. They don't panic when they fall behind. They play as if they know that they will prevail and the only unknown is how.

We're a team that 20, 30 years from now, people will say, 'Hey, remember that 13-0 team?'
TE Ben Hartsock
The fans who remember the recent failures against the Wolverines the way a bride remembers being left at the altar -- and we mean every detail -- spent last week in full fret. "This whole town is wired," Ohio State athletic director Andy Geiger said before the game. "The rest of their lives depends on what happens today."

The Buckeyes themselves never wavered. When Michigan held the ball for all but four plays in the second quarter, the Ohio State offense never panicked. If the players stamped their feet, they did so to stay warm. "Man, it was cold out there," said tailback Maurice Hall. The sophomore scored the winning touchdown with 4:55 remaining on a three-yard option pitch, a play that the Buckeyes hadn't run all season.

That winning drive began on the Ohio State 43, the Buckeyes' best field position of the game. On the first play, Craig Krenzel completed a 15-yard pass to fullback Brandon Schnittker. "He stole a completion from Mike Jenkins," Krenzel said, referring to the split end who ran a curl route several yards downfield. "It looked a little high for Brandon. It wasn't a clean catch. I thought, 'Oh, you better catch the ball.'"

The play that set up the touchdown, a 26-yard completion to Maurice Clarett, hadn't been run all season, either.

Clarett ran into the left flat, and Michigan linebacker Joey Sarantos, playing zone, didn't stay with him. Clarett dismissed the idea that a new play might be in any way daunting when an entire season hung in the balance. "I've been catching footballs since I was five, six, seven years old," Clarett said. "To me, it's like playing street football. Football is the same, no matter what street you play on, what kind of surface."

Clarett rushed for 119 yards and a touchdown in his first significant playing time in five games. He wore four pads to protect his left shoulder, where a stinger has been squatting for the second half of the season. With six weeks of rest ahead of him, he may be able to evict it.

Maurice Clarett
The Buckeyes will need a healthy Maurice Clarett in Tempe.
At last came Hall's touchdown. Like the rest of the Buckeyes' season, it looked a little raggedy and it provided great theater -- literally. To convince the Michigan defense that the play would be off left tackle, Krenzel called a dummy audible, then motioned Schnittker to move to his left. In the huddle, Krenzel had called the snap count on two. However, when he was at the line of scrimmage two defenders were poised to crash into gaps, he tapped center Axex Stepanovich to give him the ball right away.

"Not everybody came off at the same time, " Krenzel said. The oil didn't always coat every part of the machine, but that's how Ohio State manufactures victories. No one touched Hall as he went into the end zone. Hall, a Columbus native, is a capable back.

The Buckeyes are a different team with Clarett on the field. With or without him, they have found a way to win all season. Doubt them at your peril. Win or lose in Tempe, they have become a team to be remembered in the Buckeye State.

"Being a fan, growing up the way I have, respecting the tradition that this place has, it's overwhelming to be a part of," tight end Ben Hartsock of Chillicothe, Ohio said. "We're a team that 20, 30 years from now, people will say, 'Hey, remember that 13-0 team?"

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. E-mail him at ivan.maisel@espn3.com.

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