COLUMBUS, Ohio (Ticker) -- Ohio State has been down this road before.
The second-ranked Buckeyes are undefeated and entering their final regular season game against Michigan with visions of a national championship, just as they were in 1993, 1995 and 1996.
Ohio State lost each time, setbacks that went a long way toward costing coach John Cooper his job. Now the task falls to Jim Tressel, who arrived in Columbus knowing that one of his goals was to defeat Michigan.
Tressel delivered on his promise when the Buckeyes won in Ann Arbor, 26-20, last season. But the stakes are much higher Saturday before a crowd of over 105,000 at Ohio Stadium.
The Buckeyes can lock up a berth in the Fiesta Bowl and will play for their first national title since 1968 if they can get by the ninth-ranked Wolverines.
"It's game No. 13 coming up and it's the greatest rivalry in college football," Tressel said.
The most recent heartbreak came in 1996, when the Buckeyes again were second in the nation and could have taken over the top spot in the poll with a win over a Michigan team that already had lost three times. But Michigan left with a win when star cornerback Shawn Springs slipped on a touchdown pass to Tai Streets.
Michigan (9-2, 6-1) again comes to Columbus with multiple losses, but the Wolverines have won their last three games and would like nothing better than to spoil things for the Buckeyes.
Chris Perry rushed for a career-high 175 yards and a touchdown as Michigan defeated Wisconsin, 21-14, victory last week. Perry, a junior, needs 51 yards to reach his first 1,000-yard season.
Saturday will mark a chance for redemption for Michigan quarterback John Navarre, who threw four interceptions and lost a fumble in last year's loss to the Buckeyes.
Ohio State (12-0), 7-0) has stayed in the national title chase with close wins over Purdue and Illinois the last two weeks. Star tailback Maurice Clarett continues to be bothered by a shoulder injury, allowing quarterback Craig Krenzel to emerge as the focal point of the offense.
Krenzel threw a game-winning touchdown pass against Purdue and scrambled for a first down to set up the winning score in overtime against Illinois. His favorite target is Michael Jenkins, who caught six passes for 147 yards against the Illini - his third 100-yard game of the year.
If Clarett is not ready on Saturday, the Buckeyes again will go to Maurice Hall, who carried 17 times for 69 yards, including the game-winning eight-yard TD run, last week.
"I'm too smart to expect that he won't play," Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said.
A loss Saturday not only will knock Ohio State out of the Fiesta Bowl, but the Rose Bowl and possibly the entire Bowl Championship Series as well. Iowa finished its season udefeated in Big Ten play and would earn at least a Rose Bowl berth should the Buckeyes fall.
Saturday marks the 99th meeting between the schools. The Wolverines hold a 56-36-6 advantage and are 6-3-1 in the last 10 meetings.