For weeks, the arch-rivals have eyed each other with anticipation and trepidation. For a decade, Ohio State and Michigan fans have waited for The Game to matter this much. Now, the big week is finally here: No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 3 Michigan.
For weeks, the arch-rivals have eyed each other with anticipation and trepidation.
For a decade, Ohio State and Michigan fans have waited for The Game to matter this much.
Now, the big week is finally here: No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 3 Michigan.
Not since the epic 2006 showdown between the top-ranked Buckeyes and second-ranked Wolverines has their meeting been as important. A Big Ten title might not be at stake for the Buckeyes, but a victory would almost certainly earn them a spot in the College Football Playoff.
>> Photos: 2006's epic Ohio State-Michigan game
"Right now we're looking at it as a national championship (game)," Ohio State running back Mike Weber said. "That's how we're supposed to look at it."
Saturday's game is a fascinating matchup because each team has achieved 10-1 records while mixing dominance with head-scratching mediocrity. Michigan was largely unchallenged until it was stunned at Iowa on Nov. 12.
Wolverines quarterback Wilton Speight was injured in that game and his backup, John O'Korn, was ineffective in a 20-10 victory over visiting Indiana on Saturday. Speight's status is uncertain and could remain that way until Saturday. He did throw on the sideline before the game, so it seems that unconfirmed reports that Speight has a broken collarbone could be unfounded.
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Ohio State has had its share of peaks and valleys, of course. The Buckeyes stampeded through September then stumbled through October, including the loss at Penn State. Back-to-back 62-3 victories over Nebraska and Maryland reassured the Buckeye faithful. Saturday's 17-16 escape against Michigan State brought renewed questions.
Ohio State expected the Spartans to summon their best, and the weather limited both teams' game plans. Even so, it was not a reassuring performance. Citing Weber's first-half fumble and a defense that allowed LJ Scott to break free for a 64-yard touchdown catch and a 61-yard run, Meyer knows such mistakes can't happen against Michigan.
"That's not us and can't be us," he said. "We'll lose next week if we play like that."
The Buckeyes didn't dwell on the Michigan State game. Almost immediately after it was over, they shifted attention to Saturday.
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"This is something that all Buckeye fans count on their calendar - the days till this game," quarterback J.T. Barrett said. "We understand it's a big responsibility to us, the alumni who played at Ohio State and anyone involved in Buckeye Nation. We understand the responsibility, and we'll be well-coached and prepared to win that game."
Ohio State has dominated the rivalry this century. Meyer is undefeated in four games against the Wolverines, and Michigan hasn't won in Columbus since 2000.
But these aren't the Wolverines of Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke. Jim Harbaugh's quirkiness may be polarizing, but he re-established Michigan on the national stage.
Only one team's championship hopes will survive beyond Saturday. If Michigan wins, it would head to the Big Ten title game, probably against Wisconsin. If Ohio State wins, it would need a Michigan State upset at Penn State to reach Indianapolis.
Even if the Buckeyes sit at home on Dec. 3 despite beating the Wolverines, Ohio State's resume should be enough to make the College Football Playoff. The Buckeyes would have three victories against teams in the top 10 of the CFP - Michigan, Wisconsin and Oklahoma.
But a loss on Saturday would almost certainly knock the Buckeyes out of the CFP unless there's a string of chaos-inducing upsets among other contenders.