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Rivalry at its best when Ohio State, Michigan are on top

Maybe we would have been better off if the “Game of the Century” never took place.

There couldn’t have been a bigger stage for the 2006 meeting between Ohio State and Michigan: No. 1 vs. No. 2, fighting for the right to the BCS Championship Game. Bo Schembechler’s death the night before even provided an emotional undertone.

Then, the game exceeded expectations, as the Buckeyes escaped with a 42-39 victory in a contest marked by big plays, costly penalties and an uneasy audience.

Four years later, we still clutch onto memories of that epic affair. It spoiled us.

OSU takes pride in beating Michigan, and vice versa. But the Buckeyes’ recent dominance in the series — OSU has won six consecutive and eight of nine against its nemesis — has tamed the rivalry a bit.

The more at stake, the bigger the reward. When OSU and Michigan are the cream of the Big Ten crop, the game has more meaning.

In 2006, the Buckeyes knocked the Wolverines out of contention for a trip to the national title game. On Saturday, an OSU win could redirect Michigan from the TicketCity Bowl to the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl. I’m not sure how much motivation that provides.

Of course, players and coaches will say the right things and play up the significance of the matchup. It still means a lot — there would be no sweeter culmination to an up-and-down Michigan season than an upset at the Horseshoe.

However, the rivalry is at its best when both teams are at their best.

The Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers maintain a rivalry because of their history of games with NBA title implications on the line, not because of a few April meetings in which they jostled for draft positioning.

“The Game” this season will probably never reach the pinnacle of importance it hit in 2006.

It serves the rivalry and its fans better when there’s more on the line. Until both teams return to their typical perch atop the Big Ten, we’ll keep reminiscing about the game that epitomizes what OSU-Michigan is all about.

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