COLUMBUS – When the football season began, the talk was that Ohio State’s season-ending game against Michigan would be its bowl game, its consolation prize because it was ineligible for postseason games.
Not many people would have guessed the Buckeyes would also be in a position to use that game to make a claim that they are one of college football’s best teams.
But that’s exactly where OSU (11-0, 7-0 Big Ten) finds itself heading into its showdown with Michigan (8-3, 6-1 Big Ten) this Saturday at Ohio Stadium.
After Oregon and Kansas State were upset on Saturday, Notre Dame and Ohio State are the only unbeaten football teams from BCS conferences.
Following a 6-7 season a year ago and almost two years of turmoil, only the highly optimistic saw this coming in Urban Meyer’s first season as OSU’s coach.
Ohio State’s players say it was always a goal for them.
“It feels great to be 11-0, I don’t think anyone thought we would be 11-0. Now we have a chance to go 12-0 back at The Shoe and I can’t wait,” running back Carlos Hyde said after the Buckeyes beat Wisconsin 21-14 in overtime on Saturday.
Cornerback Bradley Roby said, “11-0. Nobody thought we could do it but we’re doing it right now.
“It has hurt sometimes that we could be one of the best teams in the country and yet we can’t prove it on the big stage,” he said. “But at the same time we just want to win as many games as possible, that’s all we’re working on.”
Ohio State-Michigan games don’t need any extra hype, but the chance to complete only the sixth unbeaten, untied season in OSU football history and send a message adds something.
“It just makes the game even bigger. That team is going to play harder, they’re going to want to ruin our season,” Roby said. “What better would it be for them than to give us the only loss we have all year? We’re going to be ready and it’s going to be a showdown.”
Meyer called the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry “all I ever knew growing up” and said, “This (beating Wisconsin) was a great game against a very good team that has been to the Rose Bowl a bunch, but it is not our rival. The next one is. When you talk about the “R” word you’re talking about next week.”
Michigan also has more than the usual incentive in Saturday’s game. The Wolverines can win the Big Ten’s Legends Division and go to the conference championship game, but only if it wins in Columbus for the first time since 2000 and Iowa, which is on a five-game losing streak, beats Nebraska.
Nebraska holds the tie-breaker over Michigan because it won 23-9 when the two teams played on Oct. 27.
The Wolverines routed Iowa 42-17 on Saturday with Devin Gardner throwing for three touchdown passes and running for three more.
Starting quarterback Denard Robinson returned to the field after missing 2 ½ games with an elbow injury, but spent most of his time at tailback, where he gained 98 yards on 13 carries. He could continue to be in the mix at running back this Saturday after regular tailback Fitzgerald Toussaint suffered a leg injury that required surgery against Iowa.