The teams have met at the end of the regular season with perfect records three times, and Ohio State has come out on the better end of it each time. The Buckeyes won 20-9 in 1970 and 42-39 in 2006. In 1973, the teams tied 10-10, but Ohio State was voted into the Rose Bowl by the league’s athletic directors.
(The 1970 game had a lot of local flavor. Head coach Woody Hayes was born in Clifton, leading rusher Leo Hayden hailed from Dayton, and linebacker Doug Adams of Xenia was second on the team with nine tackles.)
The teams played 24 de facto Big Ten championship games from 1935-2010, and this will be the third time the winner decides directly who wins the Big Ten East (2018 and ‘21).
2. It might not happen again.
With the Big Ten and College Football Playoff both expanding in the near future, there might not be another winner-take-all game in the series.
The top two teams in the standings could end up being matched up in the Big Ten Championship Game annually if the league drops divisions when USC and UCLA join next season.
That means in seasons like this (and 2021), a rematch the following week would already be guaranteed regardless of the outcome of the regularly scheduled contest.
A CFP with 12 teams likely would include both teams, too, though both getting into the final four this year is not out of the question, either.
3. Ohio State players still have a bad taste in their mouthes from last season, but they say they are motivated to prove themselves.
Michigan upset the Buckeyes 42-27 in Ann Arbor one year ago, and Ohio State players (and coaches and fans) haven’t stopped hearing about it since.
“Um, it’s a lot,” safety Ronnie Hickman replied when asked about how it felt to lose The Game. “Not only does it impact me, you know, it impacted my teammates. Not just my teammates, but my coaches as well. The city, the state takes a lot of pride in that rivalry, and so do we as a team. And I think it just shows how important this is and how much we respect this rivalry.”
Senior safety Zach Harrison, one of the central Ohio natives on the team, acknowledged the Buckeyes had to take a hard look at themselves after losing last season.
“Everything,” he replied when asked what they had to evaluate. “Everything, just the mentality, the way we work out, the way we lift, the way we run, the way we carry ourselves. We realized that we’ve got to do more.”
Michigan players and even coaches reveling in the win and questioning the Buckeyes’ toughness also resonated with the players.
“Quite a bit,” Cade Stover, a tight end also from central Ohio, said without much elaboration. “Quite a bit.”
4. Ohio State will recognize 23 seniors before the opening kickoff.
Hickman has two years of eligibility remaining, but the fourth-year player revealed this week he intends to enter next spring’s NFL Draft.
“That’s gonna be my last game in the ‘shoe so I’m gonna cherish it,” he said.
Harrison, right guard Matt Jones, right tackle Dawand Jones, defensive tackle Taron Vincent, nickel back Tanner McCalister, cornerback Cam Brown and kicker Noah Ruggles are the other starters set to take part in Senior Day.
Also set to suit up at Ohio Stadium for the last time are Jerron Cage, Josh Proctor, Javontae Jean-Baptiste, Xavier Johnson, Bradley Robinson, Teradja Mitchell, Mitch Rossi, Tyler Friday, Kam Babb, Palaie Gaoteote, Michael O’Shaughnessy, Harry Miller, Marcus Crowley, Lloyd McFarquhar and Ryan Smith.
5. Ryan Day is trying to avoid starting his career 1-2 in the rivalry.
Day has said he embraces the high expectations, stating repeatedly over the past year the Buckeyes’ goals are to beat Michigan, win the Big Ten and contend for the national championship, but this week he sidestepped a question about how this game could impact his personal legacy.
“Well, I just think I think about my first year being the head coach here and one of the first things we started off the press conference was it comes down to this game, and then you have to win every game after that,” Day said. “So it’s not changed. It’s been like this for 100 years here, so I get it. But obviously, this is a great opportunity. And both teams are undefeated. You know, two top three teams in the country coming together at the end of the year. You know, that’s what it’s all about.”
Michigan at Ohio State, Noon, Fox, 1410
Although Day has won 45 of his first 49 games at the helm for Ohio State, doubters about the personal stakes might want to consider an anecdote from the last time the Buckeyes had a chance to beat Michigan in just the situation they face this year — in Columbus one year after an upset loss in Ann Arbor with both teams entering the game undefeated and a Big Ten title shot in the balance.
After Ohio State got its revenge in 1970, Dan Jenkins of Sports Illustrated reported seeing a teary-eyed Hayes clutching a ball on the field at the end of “a football afternoon that couldn’t have turned out any other way if Woody had been forced to climb a ladder and shake his fist at the Lord.”