The first-year coach of the Buckeyes football team is from New Hampshire, but he knows what’s at stake Saturday in Ann Arbor.



Unlike the past three Ohio State football coaches, Ryan Day isn’t a native Ohioan who grew up immersed in the rivalry with Michigan.


The Buckeyes coach is from New Hampshire. He remembers watching OSU-Michigan games with his grandfather, but he had no reason to have a rooting interest.



But don’t think that after three seasons in Columbus, Day doesn’t fully get the rivalry now.


"I know this game means everything to us," Day said Tuesday during his weekly news conference.


In certain ways, Saturday’s game might not mean everything to the Buckeyes. No. 1 Ohio State could lose and still have a decent chance of making the College Football Playoff, if it wins the Big Ten championship game next week.


But that’s not a scenario the Buckeyes want to contemplate. Michigan is a season unto itself.


"Nothing matters if we don’t win The Game," Day said. "That’s the only way I look at it. We’ve got to win The Game."


Ohio State has lost to Michigan only twice since Jim Tressel was hired in 2001. As it may have been noted once or twice, Urban Meyer was 7-0 against Michigan.


Day’s first season has been almost completely smooth sailing, but the previous 11 games may not mean as much as how the Buckeyes do in Ann Arbor on Saturday.


"It’s no secret that part of your evaluation as the head coach at Ohio State is how you do in this game," Day said. "We all know that. When you take this job, you understand it. You can win them all (but) not win this game and feel like it’s a disappointment. I get that, embrace it. That’s why we’re working so hard this week."


Ohio State (11-0, 8-0 Big Ten) is a nine-point favorite over the Wolverines (9-2, 6-2). Until last week’s 28-17 victory over Penn State, the Buckeyes had rolled over every opponent by at least 24 points.


Michigan looked like its season might collapse after a lopsided loss to Wisconsin on Sept. 21. But the Wolverines came within a dropped pass in the end zone from forging a late tie against Penn State on Oct. 19 after falling behind 21-0.


That 28-21 loss is considered the turning point of their season. Since that loss, the Wolverines have beaten Notre Dame, Maryland, Michigan State and Indiana by an average of 30.3 points.


"They found a rhythm in the second half of the season," Day said. "Probably our biggest challenge again. As we’ve gone on in the season, we’ve been challenged more and more. This will be the most talented group we’ve seen by far."


The Buckeyes know how hungry Michigan will be, particularly after last year’s 62-39 loss in which Ohio State, with Day calling the plays, embarrassed the country’s top-rated defense.


But the Buckeyes pride themselves in their nonstop preparation for this game.


"We train for it all year long," linebacker Tuf Borland said. "The whole season comes down to one game. It doesn’t matter how good or bad the season has gone. You’re going to get that team's best."


Under Meyer, the Buckeyes were practically in war mode during Michigan week. It doesn’t sound like much has changed under Day.


"We know when this week comes, we walk a little bit differently," linebacker Pete Werner said. "We act a little bit differently. We know what’s ahead of us. He understands that. The whole team understands that.


"You have to prepare harder than that team. You have to work harder than that team. That all starts in practice."


brabinowitz@dispatch.com


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