Once More. With Feelings.

Unless you’re one of the few sports fans that honestly don’t give a whit about football, you’re probably aware that Michigan will be hosting Ohio State in a matter of hours for what will undoubtedly be the Game of the Year.  Suffice to say, they won’t be rolling out a red carpet, or even a blue one.

These two schools don’t like each other, and it’s not just because of all that’s gone on with the currently suspended Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh and his compadres who may–or may not–have stolen a few signs from earlier opponents’ sidelines.  Interim coach Sherrone Moore, who has led the Wolverines to the last two of their 11 victories with methodical takedowns of lesser rivals Penn State and Maryland, will try and deliver a third consecutive win for his school in this storied rivalry.  There’s rarely been more at stake–both schools are undefeated, the Buckeyes ranked #2 and Michigan #3, with the winner moving on to the last-ever four-team BCS Championship playoff brackets, the loser almost certainly headed to a far less consequential New Year’s Six bowl game.  And since next year the playoffs will be expanded to a 12-team field, we’re not likely to see a game of this magnitude with so much upside and downside between these teams for quite some time.

These teams do have a history of big games; indeed, per ESPN’s Bill Connelly, three of the 20 most anticipated regular season games of all times were OSU-Michigan battles.  There’s a common theme between them:

1973: No. 1 Ohio State Buckeyes 10, No. 4 Michigan Wolverines 10

The fifth game in what would be known as the Ten Year War between Woody Hayes’ Ohio State and Bo Schembechler’s Michigan was the closest and most bitter of them all. The teams entered the game a combined 19-0, and in front of 105,223 fans, then an NCAA record, Ohio State set the tone before kickoff, attempting to tear down the M Club banner Michigan’s players ran under.

The game: Somehow the game topped that buildup. Ohio State took command with a 10-0 halftime lead, but Dennis Franklin’s 10-yard, fourth-down score tied it in the fourth quarter. Franklin was hit and injured on a late drive, but the Wolverines still got opportunities to try a couple of long field goals. Mike Lantry barely missed them both, from 58 and 45 yards, and after the tie, with Franklin’s injury looming large, Big Ten athletic directors voted for Ohio State to attend the Rose Bowl. Schembechler never got over it.

2006: No. 1 Ohio State Buckeyes 42, No. 2 Michigan Wolverines 39

The background: When The Game is big, it just feels like the biggest thing in sports, and in 2006 the Buckeyes and Wolverines had their first ever 1-versus-2 matchup. The teams were absolutely loaded, boasting six consensus All-Americans between them. And on top of everything else, Bo Schembechler died the day before the game, creating an almost unfathomable layer of emotion around the proceedings. The Game drew 105,708 in Columbus and boasted the highest regular-season TV ratings since 1993 FSU-Notre Dame.

The game: These two defenses were outstanding, but the offenses were even better. Michigan scored early, but a 21-0 run helped to give the Buckeyes a 14-point halftime lead. The Wolverines kept charging, but Ohio State kept responding. When Michigan cut the lead to 28-24, Antonio Pittman scored on a 56-yard run. When U-M cut it to 35-31, Brian Robiskie scored. Michigan scored one last time, but Ted Ginn Jr. recovered an onside kick, and the top-ranked Buckeyes prevailed.

2016: No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes 30, No. 3 Michigan Wolverines 27

The background: Jim Harbaugh has been Michigan’s coach for nine years, but he’s packed in about three decades’ worth of plots and story arcs. Before a seven-year losing streak to Ohio State really took root, before the back-to-back CFP appearances flipped his reputation 180 degrees, and before Spygate muddied the waters all over again, he was a second-year head coach achieving huge things at his alma mater. The Wolverines hadn’t been in the top 10 in nine seasons before they began 2016 at 10-1, and a win over Ohio State would get them to within one game of a first CFP appearance.

The game: It came down to The Spot. Michigan’s 17-7 third-quarter lead almost held up, but the Buckeyes sent the game to overtime with a last-second field goal and won it when, after this spot went the Buckeyes way, Curtis Samuel scored from 15 yards out.

Notice which school went 2-0-1?

And as Thomas Casale of NOLA.com reminds, they have additional ghosts to exorcise, many of which are on the minds of those who will be wagering a shekel or two:

This game marks just the second time since 2011 that Michigan is favorite over Ohio State. The Wolverines were favored by 3.5 on the road in 2018 but the Buckeyes cruised to an easy 62-39 win. The early number in this game was Michigan -5.5 at Caesars Sportsbook but initial money on the Buckeyes moved it down to 3.5 as of Friday evening. 

And per Forbes magazine, this game portends to be the most-wagered game of this year by far.

Wagered on by a lot of very confident and cocky Buckeye backers, buoyed by the likes of Columbus’ most-viewed sports anchor going above and beyond the call of duty for a typical person in his size market, as AWFUL ANNOUCING’s Ben Axelrod reported:

Taking to social media on Monday morning, WBNS 10TV’s Dave Holmes posted a parody of The Great Lakes State’s famous “Pure Michigan” tourism ads. While the video — which Holmes narrated — began with scenic shots of “That State Up North,” it soon took a turn with spliced in footage of (allegedly) Connor Stalions, fired linebackers coach Chris Partridge and even Jim Harbaugh referring to the Wolverines as “America’s team.”

Bravado aside, the Buckeyes at some level realize they do have something besides relative moral integrity at stake.  They have lost the two most recent games, and there is speculation that Harbaugh may not be the only head coach in today’s game whose future at the school could be undecided.  Per ALL AGGIES on FAN NATION’s Matt Galatzan:

The Texas A&M Aggies are in the midst of a national coaching search to replace former head coach Jimbo Fisher, who was fired after six seasons in College Station early this month.   Recently, rumors have connected the Aggies to Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Ryan Day, who is on the precipice of a Big Ten Championship Game and College Football Playoff berth.  A rumor that, while seemingly completely outlandish, does have a degree of smoke connected to it, according to TexAgs reporter, Billy Liucci.

For now, though, it’s more about the likes of JJ McCarthy and Marvin Harrison, Junior than it about their coaches, active or not.  Lawyers, commissioners, alumni and the media have all had their says.  “Hail to the Victims”, sung either reverently or mockingly, can be silenced.  Time for these schools to butt actual helmets.

Courage…

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