Doesn’t matter when, we just want to play Michigan, Ohio State football players say

Joey Kaufman
Ohio State  quarterback Justin Fields runs against Michigan on Nov. 30 in Michigan Stadium.

As Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields considered the possibility of an early-season matchup with Michigan this fall, he didn’t reveal any concern with the break in tradition, a reorientation of a rivalry game known for its significance as the final chapter of the regular season.

“To be honest, I don't really care when we play ‘The Team Up North,’ ” Fields said. “I just want to play them. And beat the brakes off them.”

The sentiment was not exclusive. Right guard Wyatt Davis had the same idea.

“If it's the first game on the schedule, so be it,” Davis said. “It doesn't matter. We're going to beat the brakes off them.”

Winning is a rivalry tradition – at least a recent one – for the Buckeyes, who have won eight consecutive games over the Wolverines and remain eager to add to their streak.

Recent victories have been particularly lopsided. Ohio State won by 29 points last season, coming on the heels of a 23-point rout in 2018.

While the teams have not played earlier than November since 1933, the Big Ten could front-load revised conference-only schedules with divisional games. Ohio State and Michigan are in the East Division.

A conference source told The Dispatch last week that "The Game" was probably going to be played earlier in the season. An early-season matchup would further ensure the game is played in the case of interruptions in the season.

But until a football schedule is finalized – an announcement could come Wednesday – it remains subject to discussion.

None of the newly minted team captains at Ohio State had reservations about an early-season game against Michigan.

“Of course, with the tradition of the game, I would love for it to be the last game of the season,” center Josh Myers said. “I'd also love to have a normal college football schedule. I'd love to play Oregon. So there are a lot of things that are different about this year. I think just letting that go for now and accepting the situation as is and being ready to play any day.”

There are many issues to consider during the coronavirus pandemic, which has already caused the cancellation of nonconference games. The offseason was overhauled, too, when the outbreak of COVID-19 caused teams to cancel remaining spring practices and alter other preseason training regimens.

A 2020 season is likely to be filled with a variety of quirks, possibly extending to “The Game,” which is to be held in Columbus this season.

When the teams met in Ann Arbor in November, defensive end Jonathon Cooper played a significant role.

Entering the stretch run of the season, he was eligible to play in only one more game if he was to redshirt and return for a fifth season.

Rather than wait to see the field in a possible College Football Playoff appearance, Cooper suited up at Michigan and contributed a sack in the victory.

Like his teammates, Cooper is eager for one more opportunity in the rivalry, no matter where it falls on the calendar.

“That day does not matter,” he said. “It's just ‘The Team Up North.’ As long as we get to play them.”


Listen to the BuckeyeXtra Football podcast: