COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Urban Meyer enhanced his reputation as one of the top coaches in the country by leading Ohio State to a 26-21 win in his first matchup against Michigan, completing an unbeaten season with the Buckeyes.
Meyer, who came in and picked up the pieces after Ohio State's disastrous 6-7 mark in 2011, was also saddled with the NCAA sanctions related to violations under previous head coach Jim Tressel, sanctions that will keep 12-0 Ohio State out of the Big Ten title game and any bowl game.
"At this point in time, Ohio State can go and play with anybody in America," said Meyer, the Ohio native who led Florida to two national titles.
Ohio State earned the sixth unbeaten, untied season in school history. Meyer said the win over Michigan left him a little torn, however, knowing it was the end of the line for his 21 seniors.
"I can't get that out of my mind," Meyer said.
Junior wide receiver Corey Brown said the fate of the seniors was a huge motivator.
"That's what this whole season has been about," Brown said. "We wanted to send them out the right way because they didn't deserve this bowl ban but they never complained about it."
The Buckeyes needed an interception from C.J. Barnett with just under five minutes left to finally put the Wolverines away.
"It is hard to win when you turn the ball over four times," lamented Michigan coach Brady Hoke. "We played well enough to win at times."
Michigan (8-4, 6-2) had used two big plays to take a 21-20 lead at the half, but the Ohio State defense never allowed the Wolverines past midfield in the second half.
"I've been blessed with a couple championship teams," Meyer said, "and the common denominator is not rushing yardage, passing yardage or blocked punts, it's great defense."
The Buckeyes took a 7-0 lead early as Braxton Miller hit Devin Smith for 52 yards, and then Carlos Hyde plowed in from three yards out. Hyde had 26 carries for 146 yards on the day.
Michigan used senior quarterback Denard Robinson, who had not started the past three games due to an elbow injury, on its first series. Robinson ripped off a 30-yard run, and ended up leading Michigan with 122 yards rushing.
Devin Gardner, who led Michigan to wins in its previous three games, hit Roy Roundtree with a 75-yard touchdown pass midway through the first quarter to make it 7-7.
Ohio State went ahead 10-7 on a 41-yard field goal by Drew Basil in the final minute of the opening period on a drive crippled by three penalties inside the Michigan 30-yard-line.
Michigan took its first lead of the day after recovering a fumble at the OSU 25. Gardner scored from two yards to produce a 14-10 advantage.
Ohio State went up 17-14 with 1:30 left in the half when Miller hit Brown for a 14-yard touchdown. Miller passed for 189 yards and rushed for 57 more.
Robinson's 67-yard scoring burst just two plays later put Michigan on top, but the Buckeyes got a 52-yarder from Basil on the final play of the half to cut Michigan's lead to 21-20.
The Buckeyes stopped Michigan on a fourth-down play near midfield to open the second half, then Basil hit a 28-yard field goal for a 23-21 lead. After a Robinson fumble was recovered by Ohio State's Nathan Williams at the UM 37, Basil missed a 39-yarder.
"We know the reason we lost the game," said Robinson, alluding to Michigan's three second-half turnovers. "That's not acceptable."
Michigan watched Gardner fumble the ball away midway through the fourth quarter and set the Buckeyes up at the 10, but Ohio State settled for Basil's 25-yard field goal for a 26-21 lead with 6:26 to play, and made it stand up.
"We prepared well," Michigan's Roundtree said. "It was a tough game, but we just need to look at the mistakes we made and improve."
Meyer, who reserved his praise as his team went through a season that produced six wins of seven points or less, laid it on thick after beating Michigan.
"This is a great team. We went 12-0 and we just beat a very good team," Meyer said. "It will go down as one of the great teams in Ohio State history.
Notes: Former Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel was introduced at the end of the first quarter along with members of his 2002 national championship team. While the violations under his watch cost the current Buckeyes team a shot at competing in a national championship game, Tressel received a thunderous ovation as part of the 2002 national champions. His former players also lifted the coach on their shoulders. ... Ohio State played without All-American defensive end John Simon, who leads the Big Ten in sacks. Simon injured his knee in the win over Wisconsin the previous week. ... The announced crowd of 105,899 was the largest for an Ohio State-Michigan game in Columbus. ... Michigan senior safety Jordan Kovacs, a former walk-on, made the 45th start of his career.