The non-conference schedule is long since over. Showdowns with Penn State and Michigan State are ancient history. The Iowa City trip is a distant memory. Even Illinois glorious defeat is a dim recollection at best. All that remains is Michigan. All that matters is Michigan. Like always, there is only one regular season opponent remaining and the Michigan Wolverines (8-3, 5-3 Big Ten) cannot wait to see the No. 9 Ohio State Buckeyes (9-2, 7-1) at noon on Saturday.
Michigan leads the all-time series 58-48-6. (Fun fact: Ohio State has a winning record against the other 12 Big Ten schools.) The Bucks have won five straight games against their chief rival and eleven of the past twelve (sadly not counting the 37-7 triumph in 2010). The Buckeyes have roundly owned the century, going 13-2 since 2001. OSU head coach Urban Meyer has set a school record with wins in his first five games against That Team Up North.
Michigan has sent out three different quarterbacks during the season, but sophomore Brandon Peters received the start against Wisconsin last week. On the year Peters has thrown 37-of-64 passing for 486 yards, four touchdowns, and zero interceptions. Junior Karan Higdon is the Wolverines’ feature back with 874 yards on 136 attempts (6.4 yards per touch) and ten scores. Sophomore Chris Evans is no slouch either accumulating 594 yards and six TD’s. Junior receiver Grant Perry has 24 catches for 298 yards and a touchdown.
Some of the shine seems to have vanished from head coach Jim Harbaugh’s office. In his third year in Ann Arbor, Harbaugh has again failed to win the Big Ten East. Through almost three full seasons, Harbaugh has accumulated a 28-9 record. His predecessor, Brady Hoke, went 26-11 in his first 37 games. Hoke saw the door after four seasons so it stands to reason that pressure and expectations will be elevated for Harbaugh’s Wolverines in 2018.
The stakes for The Game 2017 are considerably lower than they were last season. Ohio State’s victory over Illinois coupled with Michigan’s loss to Wisconsin last week allowed the Buckeyes to clinch their fifth straight division title. For the second time in four seasons the Buckeyes and Badgers will clash in Indianapolis with a Big Ten Title on the line. It would be outrageous to say UM has nothing to play for, but the lack of conference title game implications does seem to dull the game’s teeth a little big.
J.T. Barret’s name stands atop plenty of records both at Ohio State and in the Big Ten. There is, however, one mark that he can lay claim to on Saturday, a perfect record against Michigan. Even Heisman winner Troy Smith only managed a 3-0 mark against TSUN. Barrett will still have the conference title game and a bowl game (or two?) to put the finishing touches on his collegiate career, but a flawless mark against UM would be an unprecedented feather in his cap.
The Game remains an inescapable part of every Ohio State season. There is something to be said for The Game always ending the regular season and kicking off at noon. In a constantly changing college football landscape its reassuring to know that at least one college football tradition is sacred. If everything goes according to plan the tradition of beating Michigan will continue as well.