After all the losses, turmoil and speculation about the future, Ohio State could cling to one last vestige of a joyous era.
The Buckeyes entered Michigan Stadium with seven consecutive victories over their biggest rivals, hoping another win over the Wolverines would give them reason to rejoice amid a frustrating season.
Instead, Denard Robinson and Michigan snapped a streak Ohio State had cherished as much as any accomplishment.
Robinson accounted for five touchdowns, helping the 17th-ranked Wolverines beat Ohio State 40-34 on Saturday for their first win in the storied rivalry since 2003. The Buckeyes trailed by 10 midway through the fourth quarter, but nearly stunned their hosts with a late rally before a last-minute interception sealed their fate.
"It's a weird feeling," Ohio State wide receiver DeVier Posey said. "We're not really used to it."
The Buckeyes (6-6, 3-5 Big Ten) came in as underdogs following a tumultuous year. Coach Jim Tressel left in May - his downfall coming when it was learned he knew that several of his players had accepted cash and tattoos from a tattoo parlor, the focus of a federal drug-trafficking investigation. Ohio State is awaiting NCAA penalties stemming from several violations.
Star quarterback Terrelle Pryor, initially suspended for five games for receiving benefits in violation of NCAA bylaws, left for the NFL. Interim coach Luke Fickell took over and tried to guide the Buckeyes through an up-and-down season, but now his future is uncertain - numerous reports have said former Florida coach Urban Meyer is on his way to taking over at Ohio State.
"Out of respect for the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry, I wasn't going to think about it and wasn't going to talk about it," he said.
After multiple questions about his status, the emotional coach pounded the table while trying to change the subject.
"Like I said, it's about the Ohio State-Michigan game," he said. "It's been about that since last Sunday. It's going to be about that always."
Center Mike Brewster said after the game that Tressel addressed the team Friday.
"To be able to see him again, I think it definitely got us pumped, up," he said. "It was an honor."
The Buckeyes were ready when they took the field, taking an early lead when freshman Braxton Miller found a wide open Corey Brown for a 54-yard touchdown. Miller threw for 235 yards and two touchdowns, and he also ran for 100 yards and a TD.
But Ohio State couldn't contain Robinson, who went 14 of 17 for 167 yards and three touchdowns, while also running for 170 yards and two TDs.
Robinson's 4-yard scoring pass to Kevin Koger gave Michigan (10-2, 6-2) its biggest lead of the game at 37-27 with 8:32 to play, but the Buckeyes needed only 1:23 to drive the other way for Dan Herron's 4-yard touchdown run.
Michigan was forced to settle for a six-point lead with 1:59 left on Brendan Gibbons' career-long 43-yard field goal after two touchdowns were negated by a video review and then penalties. That gave the Buckeyes a chance to win it on their final drive.
But the ball was overthrown.
"I thought he had it," Miller said.
After converting one fourth down with an acrobatic run, Miller spiked the ball later in the drive, bringing up fourth-and-6. Courtney Avery's interception gave the Wolverines the victory and a possible bid to a BCS bowl in Brady Hoke's first season as their coach.
"I got the best job in the world," Hoke said.
Michigan ended a drought against Ohio State that lasted more than 2,900 days. Now it's the Buckeyes who are trying to recover. They've said they wouldn't pass up the chance to go to a bowl game - if the NCAA allows them to play in the postseason - but the long-term question is who will be coaching them next year.
"If I was on the Board of Trustees, I would give you that answer, but I don't know," Posey said. "I love Coach Fickell. He's a great guy, he's a great coach and he's a great leader. I can't make that call. All I know is I love playing for the guy."
Former Ohio State running back and 1995 Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George is expecting a change, saying the fact that Meyer wasn't in Ann Arbor with his ESPN crew was an obvious sign that he's the next coach of the Buckeyes.
"I think it's a move they feel like they have to make," George told The Associated Press on Saturday morning at Michigan Stadium, where he was working as an analyst. "He certainly is the biggest name out there and his resume speaks for itself. If you're going to go after somebody, you want to go after the biggest fish in the pond and he's that guy."