COLUMBUS – If childhood memories of watching Ohio State-Michigan games aren’t enough to remind OSU football coach Urban Meyer how big the game is, he has a living, breathing reminder.
Former Ohio State coach Earle Bruce, who gave Meyer his start as a graduate assistant in 1986, never lets anyone forget the importance it has.
“I get one of these almost every day when I see him,” Meyer said on Monday, balling his right hand into a fist. “I got one yesterday and it almost hit me,” he said, with a laugh.
Not that Meyer needs anyone or anything to remind him of how big a deal beating Michigan is at Ohio State. But this year it might be something bigger than normal. It might be unique in the history of the series.
With a win on Saturday, Ohio State can finish 12-0. It would be the sixth perfect season in OSU football history. But coming after a 6-7 season and all the turmoil of the last two years, it would be in a category of its own.
When Michigan broke a seven-year Ohio State winning streak last season, it signaled a revival of the Wolverines’ fortunes under first-year coach Brady Hoke, who grew up a Michigan fan in Ohio.
Hiring Meyer and going 11-0 to start this season has delivered a message that OSU’s 6-7 record last season is an aberration. After two or three years of the intensity tank being half full, it’s back to a high level and appears likely to stay there.
Part of that is that the two coaches, both Ohio natives, seem to understand the depth of the rivalry.
"In the era when I grew up, there really wasn't much other than three channels on your television," Meyer said. "There was this game. It was Bo Schembechler, Woody Hayes, Pete Johnson, Archie Griffin. That's all."
And when assembling his staff, Meyer hired eight coaches who had a connection with Ohio State or Ohio.
Meyer let the Big Ten know it was not business as usual when he began recruiting other teams’ verbally committed players. He never says Michigan, preferring instead “That Team Up North.”
Hoke has tweaked Ohio State fans since the day he was hired by referring to it as “Ohio” and insists his players do the same. He tells verbal commitments if they visit any other school he will withdraw their scholarship offer.
Game on. When No. 4 Ohio State (11-0, 7-0 Big Ten) plays No. 19 Michigan (8-3, 6-1 Big Ten) Saturday at Ohio Stadium, the rivalry will be looking very healthy.
“Everybody talks about rivalry games. It was that team up north (Toledo) when I was at Bowling Green. At Utah, there was a team down south (BYU) and there was the team out west (Florida State) at Florida. I think this is just a pure, intense rivalry.
“We’re just talking about winning this game. We’re not talking about what everybody is going to think a week from now, two weeks from now. Our kids are focused in.
“The pregame speech isn’t going to get these kids fired up to play this game. That’s where a lot of people get confused, saying, ‘Hey, what are you going to do special for this week?’ We’ve got to get real good at offense, defense and kicking. That’s what we’re going to do special,” he said.
“We have more conversation about games that aren’t quite as appealing. If we had to motivate them for this one, we wouldn’t be 11-0.”