ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — The Game is going to be a game again, or at least that appears to the case before No. 2 Ohio State plays No. 6 Michigan.
The Buckeyes (10-1, 8-0 Big Ten, No. 2 CFP) are favored to win Saturday at the Big House by about a touchdown, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.
That spread is a relative sign of respect for the Wolverines (10-1, 7-1, No. 5 CFP) based on recent results of the lopsided series.
Ohio State has won a school-record eight straight, one short of the series mark Michigan set from 1901-09, and 15 of the last 16 games. The last two times they met, the Buckeyes beat the Wolverines by a combined score of 118-66 and the games didn’t seem that close.
“It’s our job to continue that legacy,” Ohio State defensive end Zach Harrison said.
Michigan seemed to get its swagger back this season.
And like Ohio State, which almost annually has a lot at stake in the regular season finale, the Wolverines will have much more than bragging rights on the line for a change.
“It’s a playoff game,” said coach Jim Harbaugh, whose success overall at his alma mater comes with a glaring 0-5 record against the archrival Buckeyes. “It’s a rivalry game at the highest level.”
The winner earns the Big Ten East Division title, a spot in next week’s conference championship game and a path to the College Football Playoff with a potential opportunity to win it all.
The season will be spoiled for the loser, whatever bowl it winds up in.
“This is one of the greatest rivalry games in all of sport,” Ohio State offensive tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere said. “It’s called The Game for a reason. It’s the most energy that we ever give to any single opponent that we have because we prepare for 365 days a year. That’s what makes or breaks our season.”
The Buckeyes, who are 23-0 in conference games under coach Ryan Day, are aiming for a fifth straight Big Ten title and sixth appearance in the conference championship.
Michigan, meanwhile, hasn’t ever won a Big Ten division title and it is mired in the program’s longest conference championship drought that dates to 2004.
Ohio State has won 26 straight Big Ten games, a streak that trails only the school’s 30-game run from 2012-15 in Big Ten history, since losing Oct. 20, 2018, at Purdue. The Buckeyes have also won 21 games in a row over ranked Big Ten teams.
THOSE WHO STAY
Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson returned for his senior season, putting his NFL dreams on hold in large part to get another shot at beating the Buckeyes.
“This is why I came back,” he said. “For this team and to beat Ohio State. This has been a focus of ours since January. It’s crazy to think that now we’re about to play them. And if we win, we’re going to the Big Ten championship. If not, see ya later.”
Hutchinson has 10 sacks, two away from the school’s single-season record, and is projected as one of the top picks in the NFL draft.
Ohio State has a shot to be the first Power Five team with a 1,000-yard rusher and a trio of players with 1,000 yards receiving.
Freshman running back TreVeyon Henderson and sophomore receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba have already surpassed the mark. Receivers Garrett Wilson (939 yards receiving) and Chris Olave (848) are on pace to help the group make history.
Olvae, who scored his first two touchdowns as a freshman in a 62-39 win over Michigan in 2018, has a school-record 35 touchdown receptions to top David Boston’s total from 1996-98.
Seven-time Big Ten freshman of the week C.J. Stroud tied a school record with six touchdown passes in last week’s 56-7 rout against then-No. 7 Michigan State.
To try to beat the Buckeyes, Harbaugh shook up his coaching staff. He hired Baltimore Ravens linebackers coach Mike Macdonald to be his defensive coordinator in place of Don Brown, who started his career before the 34-year-old Macdonald was born.
Day said the Wolverines’ new-look defense is significantly different.
“I think this style of defense is a little bit more NFL oriented the way that they’re structured,” Day said. “I felt like coach Brown was a little bit more college-oriented. They’re very good. They have very good personnel. They’ve done a good job this year.”
Harbaugh hopes to have to key players back in the lineup, but he wasn’t interested in tipping off Ohio State with much of an update. Running back Blake Corum and defensive back Gemon Green have missed two-plus games with injuries. Corum, who is averaging 6 yards a carry, has run for 778 yards and 10 touchdowns. Green has one of his team’s seven interceptions.
RENEWING THE RIVALRY
The Game was not played last season for the first time in 102 years because of of a COVID-19 outbreak within Michigan’s program that ended its season prematurely with a 2-4 record.