COLUMBUS — To the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry, let me say just one thing.
Welcome back. It’s been a while.
Ohio State against Michigan always matters. But probably not since 2006 has there been this much excitement, this much passion, this much at stake in an Ohio State-Michigan game as there is this year.
That historic 2006 matchup between No. 1 Ohio State and No. 2 Michigan was the last time that both teams came into the game ranked in the top 10 in the polls.
Last year a wounded, dispirited, unranked Ohio State team saw a seven-year winning streak over Michigan come to an end when the Wolverines won 40-34 at Michigan Stadium.
The three seasons before that, from 2008-10, produced some of the most one-sided games ever between the two schools when OSU outscored unranked Michigan teams 100-24 overall, helping to hasten the end of the failed Rich Rodriguez experiment.
Whether today’s OSU-Michigan game will become a classic will be determined on the field this afternoon at Ohio Stadium.
The best Ohio State-Michigan games, the classics, are of two kinds.
One is when both teams are highly ranked, like in 2006, and like in 1997 when OSU was No. 4 and Michigan was No. 1. The other is when there is much to be gained or much that could be lost by either team, like in 1997 and 2006, and in years like 2002, 1996, 1995 and 1993.
Today, Ohio State has a chance to finish 12-0, which would be only the sixth time a Buckeyes football team went through a season unbeaten and untied.
Win or lose, their season stops after today because of the NCAA sanctions handed them. And that makes today’s game even bigger for the Buckeyes.
For Michigan, it is a chance to crush that dream. It is also a chance for the Wolverines to put themselves in position to win 10 games or more for a second year in a row if they would go on to win their bowl game.
That, along with a second consecutive win over Ohio State, would announce that they are all the way back from the 3-9, 5-7 and 7-6 records they had during the Rodriguez era.
Also, with Urban Meyer in his first year as Ohio State’s coach and Brady Hoke in his second season at Michigan, the coaching matchup is back to being a battle of heavyweights. Those two coaches could be going at each other in the stadium and on the recruiting trail for the next several years
A win would be very valuable to either one of them. A win would set the tone for the future.
So, where do you start when looking for what will decide today’s game?
Ordinarily, the place to begin would be with the two quarterbacks. But in this game it is now the three quarterbacks.
Braxton Miller (1,850 yards passing, 1,214 yards rushing) and Denard Robinson (1,319 yards passing, 1,044 yards rushing) both had huge games in the Wolverines’ win last season.
Robinson has not played quarterback in the last three games because of an elbow injury and in that time his replacement Devin Gardner threw seven touchdown passes, only two fewer than Robinson had in the first eight games. Robinson returned last week but played most of the time at tailback, where he rushed for 98 yards.
Hoke isn’t saying who his starting quarterback will be. If Robinson is healthy, he and Gardner could create some interesting challenges for OSU’s defense.
Miller had season lows in rushing yards and passing yards in a 21-14 overtime win at Wisconsin last week when the Badgers brought both safeties up to defend his runs and dared him to throw. So, OSU will need to prove, either by freeing Miller on the ground or throwing the ball better, that Wisconsin’s success was a one-time aberration and not a blueprint for stopping him.
Defensively, Ohio State needs to control both quarterbacks and keep Michigan from having time to throw to its wide receivers, like Jeremy Gallon and Roy Roundtree, who have been energized by the switch to Gardner. And that will have to be accomplished against a Michigan offensive line that has allowed only 11 sacks all season.
Not many people expected Ohio State to be in a position to go 12-0. The talent is thin at several key spots. Michigan is good.
But the game is at home. The Buckeyes have bought into what Meyer is preaching. They’ve survived one game they probably should have lost and a couple others they could have lost. They will do it one more time today.
The prediction: Ohio State 28, Michigan 24.