ANN ARBOR, Mich.: If either Ohio State or Michigan had held on to beat Michigan State, a bid to the Big Ten title game would be at stake again on Saturday in the latest edition of one of college football’s greatest rivalries.
But both lost to the Spartans on the final play of the game. The Buckeyes watched a field goal sail through the uprights, and the Wolverines infamously botched a punt.
Sure, Ohio State or Michigan will be pleased to win the first Urban Meyer-Jim Harbaugh matchup. They will walk off the field and up a steep tunnel, though, not knowing if they will play next week in Indianapolis for the conference championship. And later in the day, they will root for the sixth-ranked Spartans to get upset at home by Penn State.
The eighth-ranked Buckeyes (10-1, 6-1 Big Ten, No. 8 CFP) and 12th-ranked Wolverines (9-2, 6-1, No. 10 CFP) insist they are going to play as if a spot in the conference championship is absolutely on the line when they face each other.
“It could be at stake, so why not prepare for it?” Michigan linebacker Joe Bolden said.
Here are some things to watch in the 112th Ohio State-Michigan game:
A new era
Meyer and Harbaugh will match wits against each other for the first time. The first-year Michigan coach and former quarterback refused to add to the angle, dismissing the importance of people who will not block or tackle. At least some of Harbaugh’s players, including tight end Jake Butt, were a little more forthcoming. “I think it is going to mean a lot to him to be back here and coaching in this game,” Butt said.
High school reunion
A key to the game likely will be how much pressure Buckeyes defensive end Joey Bosa can get on Michigan quarterback Jake Rudock, once a teammate at St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. If the 6-foot-6, 275-pound Bosa skips his senior season, he might be the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft. Bosa ranks among Ohio State’s all-time leaders with 25 sacks and 49½ tackles for losses in his career. The defending national champion Buckeyes had won 23 in a row overall and 30 consecutive Big Ten regular-season games before losing to Michigan State. What if they lose consecutive games? “That would be a failure,” Bosa said.
Ohio State has won three in a row and 10-of-11 in the series, its most dominant stretch since winning 11-of-15 from 1954-1968 — that span led Michigan to hire Woody Hayes’ pupil Bo Schembechler. The Harbaugh-led Wolverines appear to be set up to make the series competitive again. “It’s back to the way it used to be, two of the top teams in college football going at it,” Harbaugh said. “It makes it more exciting.”
Back on track
The Buckeyes will probably give running back Ezekiel Elliott the ball early and often a week after he lashed out about getting 12 carries for 33 yards against Michigan State. On Twitter, he later apologized for criticizing the play calling and for announcing he is skipping his senior season to enter the NFL Draft. He has run for 1,458 yards and 17 touchdowns this season after having 1,878 yards rushing and 18 scores last year.
Through the air
Rudock is the first Michigan quarterback to throw for 250-plus yards in three consecutive games. He has two big-play receivers Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson; multiple tight ends, including Butt; running backs and fullbacks as options in the passing game. And, it will not be a surprise if Harbaugh slips Jabrill Peppers on the field for a lot of snaps on offense to get him the ball and to use him as a decoy.