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B1G Thoughts: ‘The Game’ is for all of the Big Ten marbles, just like it should be

This year’s edition of the game is the biggest it has been since 2006, as the bitter rivals are set to play with everything on the line.

Syndication: Arizona Republic Kyle Robertson/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

Every week after the Big Ten slate of games, I will bring you some B1G thoughts on everything that happened! This will include analysis, stats, key players, moments, and maybe a joke. Check out the I-70 Football Show in the Land-Grant Holy Land podcast feed for more in-depth analysis and to preview the next week of B1G games.

The 2022 edition of ‘The Game’ is finally here. This entry into the storied rivalry pits No. 2 Ohio State against No. 3 Michigan for all the marbles. Both teams enter the game at 11-0 and are looking to secure the Big Ten East division and the de facto Big Ten Championship, as it’s unlikely the West division winner can beat either team in Indianapolis. The winner of this game also secures a coveted spot in the College Football Playoff — a field that won’t include Alabama or Clemson (probably).

This year’s national championship race is the most competitive and open it has been in years as every team at the top has flaws. There is not one singular dominant team in the sport. The winner of this game will have a significant opportunity to bring home a national championship to their fanbase and to the Big Ten. This is the biggest edition of the rivalry since 2006, when the No. 1 ranked Buckeyes beat the No. 2 ranked Wolverines 42-39 for a spot in the BCS National Championship Game.

This rivalry is historic. It is one of the most well-known rivalries in college football, as it extends longer than 100 years. In a sport with 131 teams and numerous rivalries, this one is simply known as ‘The Game’, which tells you all you need to know. Saturday’s matchup will be the 117th time these bitter rivals have faced each other. Michigan leads the rivalry 59-51-6 with some early dominance, but Ohio State has controlled the last three decades. I haven’t been alive for three full decades, meaning in my lifetime all I have known is that there is a gap between the Buckeyes and the Wolverines. This is the biggest the rivalry has been in my adult life.

I was born in 1995, and since then Ohio State has played Michigan 26 times, with the 2020 game being canceled due to covid — or Michigan running scared, depending on who you ask. In those 26 games, Ohio State is 18-8 with two long winning streaks, winning seven in a row from 2004-2010 and eight in a row from 2012-2019. The only thing keeping it from 16 straight victories? A scandal that got Jim Tressel fired and caused Luke Fickell to step in as head coach before he was ready. Michigan has beaten Ohio State once in my adult life. That was last season, and that is why this game is the biggest game of my life.

I was 11 when the 2006 game happened. I have fleeting memories of Ohio State during that time. I know we won a national championship in 2002 and got bullied by Florida in the 2006 national title game. I can name players from that era, but I do not remember the game, the moments leading up to it, or the significance. I have been told how much that one mattered, but I don’t need to be told anything about this game. I was there for the eight-game win streak, I watched Ohio State get thrashed in the trenches by Michigan in 2021. I remember the “born on third base” quotes from Jim Harbaugh and the national media using Ohio State as a joke, questioning their toughness, and even taking jabs at C.J. Stroud during the Heisman ceremony.

Ohio State finished the 2021 season 11-2 with a Rose Bowl victory, and it was all for naught because of the results of ‘The Game’. Ryan Day fired his offensive line coach and three defensive coaches, including defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs. Was that solely because of the performance in Ann Arbor? No, but that was a major contributing factor. Coach Day is 45-4 as the head coach of Ohio State, but just 1-1 against Michigan. If he loses this weekend and falls to 1-2 against their northern rivals, Ohio State fans will call for Days’ head on a scarlet and gray platter.

He may not be fired, but his leash will tighten. Wins and losses don’t matter as much as beating Michigan. There is a subset of OSU fans who would rather beat Michigan than win a national championship. How can you celebrate a national championship when your rival has bragging rights?

This game is a legacy game, not just for Ryan Day, but for C.J. Stroud. Stroud may arguably be the best quarterback in Ohio State history, but he is also 0-1 against Michigan. No matter the stats, the wins, and the records, Stroud will never be remembered fondly if he leaves Columbus 0-2 against the Wolverines. His legacy is on the line, and so is his chance to be the first Heisman Trophy winner at Ohio State since Troy Smith in 2006. The parallels to that season are hard to ignore. In 2006, Ohio State beat Michigan but was not able to compete on the field with the SEC as their players were bigger, stronger, and faster. The coach of that Florida team, Urban Meyer, brought that SEC mentality to Columbus, and helped separate Ohio State from Michigan and the rest of the Big Ten.

Ryan Day was handed the keys to a well-oiled machine built by Meyer, and it is his job to maintain a standard and push Ohio State further than Meyer did. In some areas, he has been successful, but Meyer never lost to Michigan. Ohio State looks to come into this game and stake its claim as the best team in the Big Ten, while enacting some revenge for the embarrassment of last season. Michigan hopes to prove that last season wasn’t a fluke or a blip on the radar. Harbaugh must prove that he can beat Ohio State consistently. His record against his rivals the biggest stain on his resume.

On Saturday, both teams will be banged up, with each team potentially missing their starting running backs and key players on both sides of the ball. This isn’t 2006 anymore, but this is the biggest the game has been in 16 years. The table is set. Put 60 minutes on the clock and watch as these two massive rivals play with everything on the line.