COLUMBUS — Ohio State has already clinched a berth in the Big Ten title game and is expected to thump Michigan in the Big House on Saturday.
Should be a ho hum week of preparation, right? Ha.
While the Buckeyes are a 13-point favorite to kick four-loss UM while its down, players vowed this rivalry week will be as focused and intense as any.
Forget that 24-hour rule to celebrate its school-record 23rd straight win Saturday night.
"We're working on the game as we speak," said coach Urban Meyer, less than a half hour removed from the Buckeyes’ 42-14 victory over Indiana.
Outsiders may not get the big fuss. For No. 3 OSU (11-0, 7-0 Big Ten), The Game may not be the biggest it plays this season.
The Buckeyes will face 12th-ranked Michigan State on Dec. 7 in the league championship game and likely need only one domino to tip to control their fate in the national title race. With previously unbeaten Baylor’s loss at Oklahoma State, BCS analysts say OSU — and not, under any circumstance, a one-loss team — is the next team up if top-ranked Alabama or No. 2 Florida State falls.
No matter what players say, they will keep one eye trained south, with the happenings in Alabama of particular interest. The Crimson Tide head to No. 4 Auburn for Saturday’s Iron Bowl and, with a win, would play either fifth-ranked Missouri or No. 10 South Carolina in the SEC title game.
Yet for one week, the big picture will retreat to the background. The opponent is Michigan — the team whose name is not to be spoken inside the football complex — and the emotional stakes are the same as ever.
"There’s no bigger rivalry in sports," senior left tackle Jack Mewhort said. "I don’t think records matter. ... I know we’ll be prepared for everything they throw at us, but you don’t take anybody lightly. They’re still who they are."
Which means Michigan is still Michigan.
The Wolverines are 96th nationally in total offense and have lost four of their last six games. Yet what is the rivalry without the seasons it has stunningly made and broken?
Michigan has tarnished five perfect OSU seasons and would love nothing more than to play the spoiler again. Players will surely be reminded this week about the 1969 game, when the team coach Woody Hayes considered the best of his career was upset 24-12 by No. 12 Michigan. The loss ended the same record 22-game winning streak the Buckeyes broke Saturday.
“I’m expecting That Team Up North to bring their ‘A’ game,” senior running back Carlos Hyde said. “We are certainly going to bring ours. It’s going to be an exciting game, my last against them."
Meyer, meanwhile, will experience his first game in Ann Arbor as a head coach. It is not a duty he takes lightly.
"I’m just humbled to be a part of this rivalry," he said. "When I say great respect, it almost makes me in awe. Eight of my nine assistants are from the state of Ohio, and one wishes he was from Ohio.
"The respect we have for this game is incredible, and the responsibility sometimes can be overwhelming, what we have to do next week."