Forget the cliche that records don’t matter when Ohio State and Michigan renew one of the fiercest rivalries in sports Saturday in Ann Arbor, Mich.
The reality is that everything is at stake for the No. 2 Buckeyes (10-1, 8-0 Big Ten) and the fifth-ranked Wolverines (10-1, 7-1) a year after the game in Columbus, Ohio, was canceled because of a COVID-19 outbreak in the Michigan program.
A ninth straight win for the Buckeyes would give Ohio State an 18-2 edge in the series since 2001 and would clinch the East Division for the Buckeyes, earning them a trip to the Big Ten Championship in Indianapolis on Dec. 4. A win there would assure Ohio State a third straight selection to the College Football Playoff.
“It’s what you love about Ohio State,” wide receiver Garrett Wilson said Tuesday. “It’s why you’re recruited here. It’s why you play here, to play in these situations.”
Two wins for the Wolverines would put them in position for their first CFP appearance.
“Both of these teams have a lot on the line,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said. “It’s a true playoff in that sense. In the College Football Playoff world, this is the start of the playoffs. The team that wins will advance, the team that doesn’t won’t. It is that. It’s also the big game, The Game, the rivalry.”
The teams prepared for The Game by posting impressive wins last weekend. The Wolverines scored on offense, defense and a kick return during a 59-18 trouncing of Maryland.
Ohio State scored on its first seven drives to pummel then-No. 7 Michigan State 56-7.
C.J. Stroud thrust himself to the forefront of Heisman Trophy consideration with his performance against Michigan State, completing 32 of 35 passes for 432 yards. He tossed six first-half touchdown passes while setting a school record with 17 straight completions.
His job is made easier throwing to the trio of Wilson, Chris Olave and Jaxon Smith-Njigba, who have combined for 187 catches for 2,919 yards and 30 touchdowns.
Michigan will counter with two of the nation’s best pass rushers in Aidan Hutchinson (nine sacks) and David Ojabo (10 sacks).
“I just want to walk off that field as a winner knowing I was on the team that beat Ohio State,” Hutchinson said on Inside Michigan Football radio.
When Ohio State isn’t passing, TreVeyon Henderson has rushed for 1,019 yards and 14 scores.
The Buckeyes lead the nation in scoring (47.2 ppg), total offense (559.9 ypg) and touchdowns (67). Michigan is seventh in scoring defense (16.3 ppg), eighth in pass defense (178.4 ypg) and ninth in total defense (306.6 ypg).
“They’re real good at every position,” Olave said. “It’s going to be a tough challenge for us.”
While Michigan has the 15th-best running game in the nation (218.4 ypg), the Buckeyes are 11th against the run (102.3 ypg) and are also tied for ninth with 36 sacks.
Ohio State coach Ryan Day said the pregame hype has not affected his team’s preparation.
“We certainly don’t need any extra motivation for this game,” he said. “Everything is riding on it.”
–Field Level Media