The Miami Valley has certainly left its mark on college football’s most-storied rivalry.
Here is a look at some of the players from the Cox Media Group Ohio coverage area who have played big roles in Ohio State wins over Michigan, starting with our top six (in chronological order):
1. Bob Ferguson, 1961
The halfback from Troy ran 30 times for 152 yards and four touchdowns as Ohio State blew out Michigan 50-20 in 1961.
This turned out to be the final game of the season for the Buckeyes, who won the Big Ten but were denied a trip to the Rose Bowl by the faculty council.
Nonetheless, Ohio State was named the national champion by the Football Writers Association of America.
No one-game wonder, Ferguson ran for 80 yards and scored the only touchdown in a 7-0 win over Michigan in 1960.
2. Leo Hayden, 1970
The All-Ohio halfback from Roosevelt High School saved his best for last when it came to Ohio State-Michigan.
He did not get many opportunities in a raucous Buckeye blowout 50-14 win in 1968 nor a devastating upset loss in Ann Arbor a year later, but he led the charge in 1970 as the Buckeyes gained revenge on Bo Schembechler’s Wolverines for coach Woody Hayes.
Hayden ran for a game-high 117 yards and scored a touchdown in Ohio State’s 20-9 win, the culmination of a year-long desire for payback over the ’69 game that cost the Buckeyes a second consecutive national championship and started the 10-Year War between Schembechler and Hayes.
3. Todd Bell, 1979
The safety from Middletown recorded perhaps the biggest special teams play in Ohio State history when he returned a blocked punt 18 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter of the 1979 game.
That was the final score in an 18-15 Ohio State win that preserved an undefeated regular season for Earle Bruce, who was in his first year as head coach of the Buckeyes following Hayes’ firing.
Bell also had six tackles in the game, which snapped a three-game Michigan winning streak against Ohio State.
4. Keith Byars, 1984
The running back who attended both Roth High School and Trotwood Madison scored six touchdowns in four games against Michigan with his most significant contribution coming as junior in 1984.
That season he ran for 93 yards and scored all three touchdowns in a 21-6 victory that sent Ohio State to the Rose Bowl.
He had 115 yards and two touchdowns in a 24-21 loss.
5. Will Allen, 2002
One of two former Wayne High School stars to make our list, the safety had his own game-saving play 23 years after Bell’s famous return.
Allen had only two tackles in the 2002 Ohio State-Michigan game, but he made one of the biggest plays in school history when he intercepted a pass in the end zone to clinch the 14-9 win over the Wolverines. That sent the Buckeyes to the Fiesta Bowl, where they shocked Miami (Fla.) 35-28 in overtime to win the national championship.
Allen had 14 tackles a year later in a losing effort in Ann Arbor.
6. Braxton Miller, 2011-15
Here’s our choice for best overall performance (multiple seasons).
The Wayne High School legend went 2-1 as a starting quarterback against the Wolverines and picked up another pair of gold pants for his part as a receiver in a win his senior season.
As a freshman in 2011, he nearly led Ohio State to an upset in Ann Arbor when he passed for 235 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 100 yards and another score. He nearly had a third score but overthrew an open DeVier Posey in the waning seconds, missing what could have been the winning score in a wild game Michigan won 40-34.
A year later, Miller threw for 189 yards and a touchdown while running for 57 yards (and absorbing four sacks) in a 26-21 victory that closed out an undefeated season.
(Trotwood Madison grad Roy Roundtree caught a 75-yard touchdown pass for the Wolverines on this day. Roundtree also caught nine passes for 116 yards in the 2009 game.)
In 2013, Miller had 133 yards passing and 153 yards rushing with five total touchdowns as Ohio State won another wild one, this time 42-41 in Ann Arbor.
The final tally: Miller completed 34 of 58 passes for 557 yards with five touchdowns through the air and aded another 310 yards rushing and four touchdowns as a quarterback.
While those are our top six performances, numerous players are worthy of honorable mention:
- Chaminade quarterback Don Unverferth threw a touchdown pass to Paul Warfield then ran for the game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter against the Wolverines in 1963.
- Xenia linebacker Doug Adams logged eight tackles, forced a fumble and had an interception in the 1968 game, added nine tackles in ’69 and nine more in ’70.
- Piqua defensive end Matt Finkes had two sacks in a 1994 victory that snapped a six-game win-less streak in the series for Ohio State.
- Springfield South receiver Dee Miller caught four passes for 59 yards and a touchdown in Ohio State’s win in 1998, an afternoon Alter linebacker Jerry Rudzinski had a sack and an interception.
- Centerville linebacker AJ Hawk had eight tackles in the 2003 loss, notched a team-high 11 tackles and broke up a pass in 2004 win and added seven more stops (one for loss) in a 2005 victory in Ann Arbor.
- Centerville kicker Mike Nugent hit three field goals in the 2004 win.
- Wayne linebacker Marcus Freeman had 2.5 tackles for loss and recovered a fumble for the Buckeyes in 2008.
- Piqua running back Brandon Saine ran 12 times for 84 yards, including a 29-yard touchdown, in the 2009 win.
- Northmont safety Kurt Coleman had two interceptions and four tackles at the Big House in a closer-than-expected Ohio State win in 2009. A year earlier, he had 10 tackles (one for loss) in a 42-7 blowout victory.
- C.J. Barnett, another safety from Northmont, totaled 28 tackles in three games against Michigan from 2011-13. He also had an interception in the 2012 win.
- Centerville defensive lineman Michael Bennett also was a consistent contributor, logging 3.5 sacks and a forced fumble in three games against the Wolverines from 2012-14.
The 115th edition of the rivalry is set for noon Saturday at Ohio Stadium.