COLUMBUS – Every year, the Ohio State-Michigan game seems like it’s partly a football game and partly a history class.
No other team on OSU’s schedule evokes such passion on game day or throughout the year. No other team appears in so many Ohio State fans’ personal highlight film. No other team is an obsession.
No other Ohio State rivalry has so much history in it.
Fans will never forget 2002 when Will Allen’s interception clinched Ohio State’s trip to play Miami for the national championship, or when Anthony Gonzalez’s leaping catch to set up the winning touchdown in 2005.
On the opposite end of the emotional spectrum, OSU fans can’t forget the day Tshimanga Biakabutuka ran for 313 yards in 1995. They haven’t erased the image of Charles Woodson sprinting through Ohio State’s defense for a touchdown on a punt return in 1997 on his way to the Heisman Trophy presentation ceremony.
Fans who can’t recall the score of a game from 30 days ago, can recite Ohio State-Michigan scores from 25 or 30 years ago without hesitation.
That doesn’t happen when the opponent is Purdue or Rutgers or Minnesota. There is no countdown clock to Illinois.
Urban Meyer and Ohio State’s players call it the greatest rivalry in college football and the greatest rivalry in all of sports.
There might be some dissent from Alabama and Auburn fans, Yankees and Red Sox fans and fans in many other rivalries. But, to paraphrase the line in Animal House, “Forget it, they’re rolling.”
The history of the series was painful to ponder for Ohio State from 1988 to 2000 when it won only twice against Michigan during the John Cooper years.
Since then, history has become the favorite subject of Ohio State fans. The Buckeyes were 9-1 in Jim Tressel’s 10 seasons and are 5-0 for Urban Meyer. Even in the chaos of the 2011 season after Tressel was forced out, OSU came within a touchdown of beating Michigan.
As much fun as history might be to talk about these days at Ohio State, all those wins since 2001 won’t have any effect on the outcome of Saturday’s game when OSU takes on its biggest rival in Michigan Stadium.
But one of the first things that could determine the result of this afternoon’s game feels almost like another historical reference.
Thirty-nine years after Bo Schembechler and Woody Hayes coached against each other for the last time, running the football could take center stage on Saturday.
Running the ball has been by far the most effective part of Michigan’s offense this season. And Ohio State’s offense has seemed to find greater consistency with a bigger emphasis on the run lately, with both J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber showing big-play capability.
Woody and Bo would also tell you games are won and lost by who controls the line of scrimmage. And that is an area where Ohio State could have an edge.
Both teams have strong defensive lines. Both teams run block well. But Ohio State is noticeably better at pass protection than Michigan, which has allowed 29 sacks and has seen its top two quarterbacks, Wilton Speight and Brandon Peters, suffer significant injuries after taking big hits. Ohio State has allowed only 16 sacks.
Whose quarterback plays well will also be a major factor, as it is in almost every game, in whether Ohio State can continue its dominance in this rivalry.
The odds would seem better that a healthy J.T. Barrett will deliver a good game than either of Michigan’s banged up quarterbacks or a healthy John O’Korn, who has thrown one touchdown pass and five interceptions this season.
Stranger things have happened in Michigan-Ohio State games than the Wolverines winning this year. Historically, ownership of rivalries has been just temporary. But it’s not Michigan’s year yet.
The prediction: Ohio State 28, Michigan 21.
Jim Naveau is a sportswriter for Aim Media Midwest affiliate The Lima News.