Ohio State and Michigan will play for the 118th time Saturday in a game that could hardly have higher stakes for either side.
The second-ranked Buckeyes are not only eyeing a Big Ten East Division title but also revenge for last season’s 42-27 beating in Ann Arbor, something they have had on their minds throughout the season.
“We’ll probably talk about it more this week, but we’re looking forward to the preparation, and our guys have been focused on it all offseason,” Ohio State head coach Ryan Day said after the Buckeyes beat Maryland on Saturday. “During the season, it’s always been the back of our minds. We work it every day of the year. And so the week is officially here.”
Here are five things to know about The Game and the series:
1. Everything is on the line as the teams meet as unbeatens for the fourth time.
According to research by the Michigan Sports Information department, The Game has had potential for major impact on the Big Ten standings 48 times since it was moved to the end of the regular season in 1935.
This will be 49 as the winner will finish alone atop the Big Ten East division and head to the conference championship game in Indianapolis a week later.
Whichever team wins will also be one win from a College Football Playoff berth, though the loser might not be out depending on what happens in the Pac-12, Big 12 and ACC races the rest of the season.
2. Michigan is 11-0 for the first time since 2006.
Coach Jim Harbaugh’s team hangs its hat on running the ball and playing defense.
The third-ranked Wolverines are No. 1 in the country in total defense (241.3 yards per game) and second in stopping the run (79.5 ypg.). They are also second in points allowed (11.7 per game) and pass efficiency defense.
On the other side of the ball, Michigan has the No. 4 rushing attack in the country (243.8 ypg.) led by star running back Blake Corum, who is third in the country with 1,457 rushing yards and second (behind Michigan kicker Jake Moody) in points with 114.
Corum was unable to finish last week’s win over Illinois, though, after taking a hit to the left knee in the second quarter so his status is something to watch between now and Saturday.
3. The Michigan passing game could be a wild card.
Harbaugh held a quarterback competition in the offseason, and sophomore J.J. McCarthy beat out Cade McNamara, who led the Wolverines to a Big Ten title, a win over Ohio State and a College Football Playoff berth last season.
A five-star prospect from Illinois viewed as having a higher ceiling than McNamara, McCarthy is second in the Big Ten in passing efficiency but 10th in yards passing yards (1,952).
Both he and Harbaugh have heard the calls of fans for more balance on offense despite its high scoring.
“Everything’s a work in progress,” McCarthy told reporters after the Wolverines beat Illinois on Saturday. “Obviously, we have so much high expectations for us as an offense, especially the passing game. Of course, everyone’s looking at that gap. Like why isn’t it there? There’s really no ceiling to it. There’s always going to be questions of why isn’t it there. We should be throwing for 400 yards a game and all that, but our identity is a smash fest, and we love to run the rock. We love to do it and inflict our force on any opponent we play. A lot of the meat on the bone. It’s still on the bone and it’s ready to come off next Saturday.”
4. Two local players are among the six from Ohio.
Rod Moore, a sophomore safety from Northmont, entered the starting lineup last season and has remained there since.
He is fourth on the team with 40 tackles and leads the squad with three interceptions.
Senior tight end Erick All was expected to be one of Michigan’s top players heading into the season, but the Fairfield High School grad played only three games before having a season-ending surgery.
5. Michigan leads the series 59-52-6.
The Wolverines snapped an eight-game losing streak to Ohio State last season, and they are looking for their first winning streak in the series since winning back-to-back games in 1999 and 2000.
Ohio State has won 17 of the last 20 games against Michigan, including nine in a row in Columbus.
Both teams are ranked in the top five for the 12th time. Ohio State has a 7-3-1 advantage in such games, including the first in 1942 when Paul Brown’s Buckeyes won 21-7 en route to their first national championship. The last time was 2016 when No. 2 Ohio State beat No. 3 Michigan 30-27 in two overtimes.
The underdog won eight of 12 meetings from 1993-2004, including four wins for each team, but the higher-ranked team won the next 13 games before Ohio State scored an upset in 2018. Including that game, two of the last three games have been upsets.
Michigan at Ohio State, Noon, Fox, 1410