Every year, both Ohio State and Michigan have this game marked on their calendars.
Every year, the Ohio State-Michigan matchup brings together one of the all-time biggest rivalries in college football. Michigan leads the series overall with a record of 58-49-6, but in recent years, Ohio State has taken control, winning the past six installments since Urban Meyer took over as head coach.
But this year, for the first time in the Meyer era, No. 4 Michigan (10-1, 8-0 Big Ten) comes into “The Game” as the favorite against No. 10 Ohio State (10-1, 7-1 Big Ten), and it’s the first time since 2004 that the Wolverines are favorites in Ohio Stadium.
“We don’t talk about those things,” Meyer said. “The most prepared team will win the game. It’s not who’s favored and who is not. I didn’t know that. And I don’t imagine our team really does.”
Michigan enters as the favorite thanks to a 10-game winning streak after losing its opener on the road to now-No. 3 Notre Dame 24-17. Included in the streak are wins against then-No. 15 Wisconsin, then-No. 24 Michigan State and then-No. 14 Penn State. The victories against the Badgers and the Nittany Lions were by 25 points or more.
“Whenever you face an elite team, elite defense, which they are, personnel stands out, front seven stands out,” Meyer said. “I think they’re No. 1 in the nation in pass defense. And just very good personnel, very well thought-out scheme and very good defense.”
The Wolverines hold the No. 1 pass defense, as well as the No. 1 defense overall, allowing 234.8 yards per game, more than 15 yards fewer than any other team in the country.
Michigan allows 13.5 points per game, tied for the fourth fewest in the NCAA.
The country’s strongest defense is led by stars in the front seven. Junior linebackers Devin Bush and Josh Uche combine for 85 tackles, 17.5 of which are for a loss, including 12 sacks.
Junior Rashan Gary and redshirt senior Chase Winovich have 7.5 sacks of their own on the defensive line on 94 combined tackles. But Winovich went down with an upper-body injury against Indiana on Saturday, and his status remains uncertain for the game, Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh said.
But Michigan had one of the strongest defenses in the country in 2017 — ending the season with the third-fewest yards allowed per game — when it lost to Ohio State at home.
The difference comes on the other side of the ball.
After ending this past season with the 25th worst total offense in the NCAA, the Wolverines come into Ohio Stadium averaging 36.6 points per game, No. 24 in the country, scoring 40 or more points in six of their 11 games.
Junior quarterback Shea Patterson is the difference maker, throwing for 2,177 yards, 18 touchdowns and four interceptions while completing 65.9 percent of his passes. He also averages 4.2 yards per rush for 252 yards and two scores on the ground.
Patterson has a trio of players who receive the majority of the targets: sophomore wide receivers Donovan Peoples-Jones and Nico Collins, and senior tight end Zach Gentry.
Peoples-Jones leads the team with 32 catches for 477 yards and seven touchdowns. Gentry, the 6-foot-8 tight end, is closely behind with 475 yards and a pair of scores. Collins has 29 catches for 461 yards and four touchdowns this season.
Senior running back Karan Higdon leads the No. 14 rushing offense in the nation with 1,106 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns on 5.3 yards per carry.
Higdon said Monday in a Michigan press conference he guarantees a Michigan victory against the Buckeyes.
Instead of making promises, Meyer is going to let the Buckeyes’ play on Saturday do all the talking.
“How do you show respect for them and the game? You work, which we are. We’re working so damn hard for this,” Meyer said.
Michigan comes in with the momentum, and hopes of ending its losing streak and finishing off the team’s “Revenge Tour” that has motivated the Wolverines all season.
They have gone through three key stops on their tour: Wisconsin, Michigan State and Penn State.
Now, No. 4 Michigan remains one win away from finishing it, facing off against No. 10 Ohio State in Ohio Stadium at noon on Saturday. It enters with the strongest team of the Harbaugh era, and one of the most vulnerable Ohio State teams since Meyer took over.
Now, it comes down to one game to see if the Wolverines can finish what they started, or if the Buckeyes can go to the Big Ten Championship once more. Only this time, they will have to do it as the underdog.
Wyatt Crosher: 34-24 Michigan
Colin Gay: 35-31 Ohio State
Rachel Bules: 38-35 Ohio State
Sydney Riddle: 24-21 Ohio State
Amanda Parrish: 35-30 Ohio State
Zach Varda: 45-17 Michigan
Edward Sutelan: 28-24 Michigan
Jake Rahe: 21-17 Ohio State