It’s a game so big it’s merely The Game, not The Big Game.
No. 3 Michigan and No. 2 Ohio State.
If Michigan wins, it goes on to its first Big Ten championship game, where it will be favored to win—and advance to the four-team College Football Playoff.
If Ohio State wins, and Penn State handles Michigan State, the Nittany Lions are in the Big Ten title game. And the Buckeyes’ playoff fate is in the hands of the infamous CFP committee.
But this much is known: The Wolverines-Buckeyes rivalry burns as hot as any in the nation in an average year. And this year is an exceptional year.
While acknowledging the game’s importance, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh was appropriately buttoned-down.
A Columbus sportswriter tried to give Harbaugh something to swing at with this question: ``You’re going to a place where they don’t know what to make of you Some say you’re crazy like a fox, some say you’re just crazy. But they all say you’re progressive. Can you describe who you are to Ohioans?’’
[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]There was nothing crazy in his answer: ``I’m not crazy. I wouldn’t describe myself as that. I don’t know my personality, how relevant that will be in the game this week. Probably irrelevant.’’
That’s probably not true. The Wolverines will take their cues from their coach. Which means that they will go into the Horseshoe ready to play their best game, and never mind that a huge question lingers about their quarterback—either backup John O’Korn, who didn’t dazzle in his first start last Saturday, or Wilton Speight, who’s hobbled by a shoulder injury.
This is the 30th anniversary of Harbaugh’s ``guarantee’’ trip to Columbus. As Michigan quarterback in 1986, he told a TV reporter the Wolverines would be going to Pasadena, then led a 26-24 win that put Michigan in the Rose Bowl.
``I haven’t been back since,’’ said Harbaugh, who will be making his coaching debut at Ohio Stadium on Saturday.
There was nothing outrageous from Harbaugh this time—just the usual coach stuff about ``a tremendous challenge. Looking forward to it because the best part is the competition. When you’re playing competition at the highest level, that’s when you’re tested the most, that’s when you have the greatest of opportunities. For all of those reasons, it is the big game. It is the championship game. It is Ohio State and Michigan. We are preparing vigilantly.’’
As if they don’t have enough motivation, the Wolverines haven’t won in Columbus since 2000. They have lost 11 of 12 to the Buckeyes, including the last four. Last year, they were routed in Ann Arbor 42-13 in Harbaugh’s coaching debut vs. Ohio State. And this is the 10th anniversary of their celebrated Game of the Century, in which No. 1 Ohio State edge No. 2 Michigan 42-39, the day after Bo Schembechler died.
I covered that game. Maybe I've been at a few games that might have been as all-around mesmerizing. A Bears' Super Bowl. A Cubs' World Series. A Wisconsin hockey comeback from down 4-0 in the Frozen Four at Boston Garden. An Ohio State overtime national championship game in the Arizona desert. A Colorado Hail Mary to beat Michigan in Ann Arbor.
But 2006 Michigan-Ohio State is right there. For a supposed regular-season game, there was nothing regular. Only superlatives. With the spirit of Bo looking on, the Wolverines and Buckeyes played basketball on grass. And Bo would have loved everything about it except the outcome.
And now, 10 years later, this Big Game is so big that ESPN is expanding its Game Day pre-game show to five hours, up from its usual three hours.
And so, Harbaugh’s players weren’t about to go where their coach did 30 years ago.
``He’d be extremely upset,’’ cornerback Jourdan Lewis said. ``We never guarantee a victory against whoever we’re playing. He always says nothing is guaranteed.’’
Tight end Jake Butt put things in proper perspective, though.
“It’s not as important to win this game for what’s been going on in the past,” Butt said. “We just need to win this game for what we have right in front of us right now. We know our whole entire season is on the line.’’
That's one way to look at it.[/membership]