Hours before Michigan players would become aware their in-state rivals Michigan State had upset defending national champion Ohio State, they spoke about how much the Michigan-Ohio State game means.
It is unlikely their sentiment has changed as they prepare for the annual rivalry game on Saturday at Michigan Stadium, the first time Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh will coach against Ohio State’s Urban Meyer.
Michigan is 9-2 overall, 6-1 in the Big Ten and ranked No. 12, while No. 8 Ohio State is 10-1, 6-1 after falling to Michigan State, 17-14, on a final-play field goal. The Wolverines won their second straight road game, remaining perfect on the road in the Big Ten this season, 28-16, against Penn State.
Had Ohio State defeated Michigan State, Michigan and Ohio State would have played for the outright Big Ten East Division title and a spot in the Big Ten championship opposite unbeaten Iowa.
The Spartans snapped Ohio State’s 30-game Big Ten regular-season winning streak and its 23-game winning streak, and removed a bit of gloss off the Michigan-Ohio State game. Tickets on StubHub for the game are now cheaper than they were late last week. The cheapest ticket as of Sunday was $175, $25 less than what they were going for before Ohio State’s loss, and tickets at midfield that were asking $400 are now $300.
The Wolverines would still have an opportunity to win the East Division if they defeat Ohio State and Penn State defeats Michigan State in Spartan Stadium. Regardless, this game is a point of pride for the Wolverines, considering Ohio State has won 10 of the last 11 meetings. Michigan last won in 2011.
“That rivalry means everything,” said Michigan tight end Jake Butt, who grew up in the Columbus-area suburb of Pickerington. “It is the greatest rivalry in all of sports and we haven’t been up there where we’re at right now, so it’s going to mean a lot more no matter what happens (with Ohio State and Michigan State).
“It’s going to mean a lot for both teams. We don’t want to lose to them, they don’t want to lose to us. It’s one of those situations where we’re going to be at our best, they’re going to be at their best. You’re probably going to see a great game.”
Ohio State hasn’t been in this position, following a regular-season loss, since early last season when the Buckeyes lost to Virginia Tech in the second week of the season and then went 23 games without a loss, winning a national title along the way, until the Spartans’ upset.
So how will Meyer and the Buckeyes, including tailback Ezekiel Elliott who publicly complained after the loss about how he was used and the play calling, respond?
“You’ve got the rivalry coming up,” Meyer told reporters after the loss. “It’s easy to lead when everything is going well and you won a bunch of games in a row. That’s not how you judge a team. That’s not how you judge character. That’s not how you judge a leader. That’s how you judge a frontrunner. That’s how you judge when things are going well.
“We’ve been hit right in the gut. We’ll come back and do the best we can next week. We gotta get better.”
Defensive lineman Taco Charlton, like Butt, also is from Pickerington — he attended Central, while Butt graduated from North — and he said it’s been a long year since the last game, a loss at Ohio State.
“It’s just special going against Ohio State every year because it’s a team I grew up around,” Charlton said. “Growing up in Columbus it’s a team I’ve watched every Saturday. Getting my shot to finally go up against them is something I was waiting on since last year.”
Quarterback Jake Rudock started the last two seasons at Iowa before transferring to Michigan for his final year of eligibility. While he has not been part of the Michigan-Ohio State series, he is more than aware of its meaning and reputation in college football.
”Everyone in the entire country is well aware it’s the greatest rivalry in college football,” Rudock said. “That’s what it comes down to so many times, so many historical times that game decides who goes on to the Big Ten championship.”
Ohio native Chris Wormley (Toledo Whitmer) said the team celebrated the Penn State victory in the Beaver Stadium locker room. But they know what’s ahead.
“We know what we’re playing for,” Wormley said. “We’re playing for something bigger than just this game, and when you get this win it’s just the next step closer to what we wanted to accomplish.
“We all know what it is, and what we’re playing for and the type of game it is. We’ve just got to win the next game.”
A long time ago, a young Harbaugh, then the Michigan quarterback, boldly guaranteed Michigan would beat Ohio State in Columbus in 1986. His teammates backed him up and they won the game. It is fairly certain Harbaugh is out of the guarantee business, but he knows exactly what Saturday’s game could mean.
“You move on with humble hearts when you win a game like this (at Penn State) and get ready for the preparation next week,” Harbaugh said. “(We’re) right where we want to be, playing for the championship.”
Ohio State at Michigan
Kickoff: Noon, Saturday, Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor
TV / radio: ABC / WWJ 950, WTKA 1050
Line: Michigan by 2
Records: No. 8 Ohio State 10-1, 6-1 Big Ten; No. 12 Michigan 9-2, 6-1
Series: Michigan leads 58-57-6