COLUMBUS, Ohio – The only thing Urban Meyer lost during his first season at Ohio State was his cool — at the end of the last game.
Carlos Hyde ran for 146 yards and the fourth-ranked Buckeyes’ defense shut out No. 20 Michigan in the second half to grab a bruising 26-21 victory on Saturday, completing a 12-0 season for the Buckeyes.
Meyer got emotional as the final seconds ticked off, embracing his players on the sideline at a raucous Ohio Stadium. Too emotional, he said later.
“I’ve got to keep a little more composure, I guess,” he said sheepishly. “In the coaching manual, I think it’s chapter 13, it says, ‘Keep cool.’ I lost it there for a couple of minutes.”
Well, give the guy a break.
Almost no one — up to and including Meyer — expected such a rapid turnaround for the Buckeyes, who were 6-7 last season with a loss to their archrivals in a transitional year when they were facing heavy NCAA penalties.
A month after Meyer took the job last November, they were socked with a bowl ban after this season — and still ran the table.
“You get all the wins you can, especially against the Team Up North,” said exuberant Buckeyes quarterback Braxton Miller.
Ohio State (12-0, 8-0 Big Ten) is ineligible for a BCS national title but still has an outside shot at finishing No. 1 in the final Associated Press Top 25 if other contenders lose. Michigan (8-4, 6-2) will now await a minor bowl bid.
“At this point in time, Ohio State can go and play with anybody in America,” Meyer said. “I wouldn’t say that five weeks ago, but you’ve seen the growth, what we did today and the growth of our defense.”
Drew Basil matched his season output with four field goals and the defense did the rest, forcing three turnovers in the second half.
It was played before 105,899, the largest crowd ever to witness “The Game” in Columbus.
Meyer and his players were mobbed by thousands of fans who flooded the field after the Buckeyes’ ninth victory in the past 11 years in the rivalry (the 2010 win was later vacated by the sanctions).
The crush of people precluded Michigan coach Brady Hoke from the traditional postgame handshake with Meyer.
“No big deal. Not a big deal,” Hoke said. “Not a story.”
Hyde also ran for a touchdown. Miller was 14-for-18 passing for 189 yards and a score to Corey Brown, who had eight catches for 95 yards.
The Buckeyes had already clinched the Big Ten’s Leaders Division, but aren’t allowed to play in this week’s conference title game because of the sanctions.
Michigan needed a win to capture a share of the Legends Division with Nebraska, which will meet Wisconsin for the championship.
Hoke had won his first game as a coach in the rivalry.
“I like the ‘W’ better,” he said.
Now, about all Ohio State can hope for is that every other top team in the nation — including the only other unbeaten, top-ranked Notre Dame — loses and loses badly.
A team banned from the postseason has never finished No. 1 in the AP Top 25 poll, and the Buckeyes are not eligible for the Bowl Championship Series rankings or coaches’ poll.