Ohio State is one game away from finishing out the regular season with only one loss on the year, en route to the Big Ten championship game, where they'll face either Minnesota or Wisconsin. The Buckeyes have improved every week since their second week loss to Virginia Tech at home and have earned their way back into contention for a spot in the College Football Playoff. Ranked sixth in the country by the College Football Playoff committee, Ohio State has just two games to impress the committee members and try and jump into one of the final four spots. Coming off a closer than expected win against Indiana, the Buckeyes will try their best to bury the Wolverines.
Michigan, meanwhile, has been an extreme disappointment in the Big Ten this year, entering The Game with a 5-6 record (3-4 in conference play) with losses to Notre Dame, Utah, Minnesota, Rutgers, Michigan State, and last week dropping to Maryland. Head coach Brady Hoke has been on the hot seat this season, as his team continues to frustrate its own fanbase. While they aren't competing for a Big Ten championship, it's still The Game, and that means Ohio State can't afford to look past the Wolverines at any point.
We give you five things to look for tomorrow afternoon when the Buckeyes host Michigan in the 'Shoe:
Welcome to The Game
If you want to be forever remembered in Columbus, you'd better believe a large part of your legacy will be how many gold pants you own at the end of your career. Ohio State redshirt freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett will face off against Michigan for the first time tomorrow afternoon, with a chance to add to his growing list of accomplishments.
Braxton Miller currently has a 2-1 record against the Wolverines (the loss coming in the last minutes of the 2011 edition), but hasn't lost since Urban Meyer became head coach. Barrett has a chance to solidify his great season with a win over Michigan and with the game being in Columbus, the odds are certainly in his favor. Look for Barrett to have a big day against the Wolverines.
Fired up defense
The defense has played well for the majority of this season and is still improving. After containing Indiana running back Tevin Coleman for much of the day (before allowing long touchdown runs), Ohio State's defense will be ready and fired up for their arch rivals. Every year it seems that the defense plays with a different energy than what they had for the games previous to The Game, which makes sense.
Regardless, it means fun times for Buckeye fans, who have seen players such as Zach Boren sack the Michigan quarterback with bone-crushing force and get his teammates focused on shutting down any attempt to win the game. Look for the Joey Bosas and Darron Lees of the team to come up with big plays against the Wolverines tomorrow.
Job on the line
It's no secret that Michigan head coach Brady Hoke has been on the hot seat this season. With the lack of success for the past two years, the fourth-year head coach could be forced out after the season ends. Still, jobs have been saved before by beating your biggest rival, especially in the Ohio State-Michigan series. There's no guarantee Hoke would keep his job if he did win, but it would certainly give him a fighting chance.
With that being said, it's important that the Buckeyes come out well-prepared for The Game, because Michigan will most likely be playing to keep their current head coach in addition to the adrenaline from playing their biggest game of the season. Look for the Wolverines to try and upend Ohio State and throw the full kitchen sink at the Buckeyes. Coach Meyer and his staff will have to be on their toes with any sort of trick play and beyond.
Adding to the legacy
After Ohio State fans had to endure the incredibly disappointing end to almost every season under John Cooper, Buckeye fans were treated to Jim Tressel and a 9-1 (8-1, if you vacate the 2010 season, which I mean, come on) record against Michigan. Once Tatgate forced Tressel out, a Michigan win in 2011 would bring some concern that Brady Hoke might be the Wolverines equivalent to Ohio State's Jim Tressel.
Since Urban Meyer took over, though, the Buckeyes have continued their winning ways. Coach Meyer is currently 2-0 against his biggest rival and will be looking to add to that record on Saturday. Tressel's first (and only) loss to Michigan came in 2003, his third year with Ohio State. Coach Meyer will do his best to sidestep that piece of history and start 3-0 against the Wolverines.
We don't give a damn for the whole state of Michigan
You can break the Ohio State-Michigan game down any way you want, but at the end of the day, this is the greatest rivalry in all of sports. The previous 11 games from that season get thrown out the window and it's as if both teams have a clean slate with a chance to "win" the season. No matter how down or high up your team is, the goal remains the same every year. Beat Michigan.
The Wolverines currently have a 58-45 advantage over Ohio State in the all-time series record, which is pretty incredible, considering the recent domination by the Buckeyes in the past decade. With plenty of work to be done on Ohio State's side, you can believe that this rivalry is still very much competitive and will be after we're long gone. The Game enters its 111th edition, with the Buckeyes having the current winning streak at two. Let's go beat Michigan.