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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan players know the deal when it comes to Ohio State. They’re aware of the struggles of the past decade-plus when it comes to The Game.
On Saturday, everything is on the line — not just the opportunity to get an elusive win over the Buckeyes, a team Michigan hasn’t beaten since 2011, but also to make it to the Big Ten championship game the next week and a chance to get into the College Football Playoff.
The stakes are very high, and it’s something that the team is embracing.
“It means everything. Not only are we playing our rival, we’re playing this big game, but it’s a playoff game, and there’s a lot on the line and we know that,” team captain and fifth-year senior linebacker Josh Ross said. “It’s gonna come down to how we prepare this week and how we prepare on a day-to-day and how we approach it and attack it leading to Saturday – that’s what wins games.”
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But few are giving the Wolverines a chance, given the history.
From 1969, the year Bo Schembechler took over the program, until OSU head coach Jon Cooper’s last year with the program in 2000, the maize and blue weren’t just competitive with the Buckeyes, they got unlikely wins. Then, Jim Tressel took over and lost only once to Michigan. The lopsidedness continued when Urban Meyer took over the program in 2012, and Michigan’s sole game against Ryan Day in 2019 saw the Wolverines on the wrong end of a blowout loss.
Michigan now is well aware of the shortcomings, with just two wins in the rivalry since Tressel took the reins — 2003 and 2011. Every year, there’s grand talk about getting back on the winning side of things, but these players don’t care about the past, they don’t care about the talk. They’re eager for results.
“It’s brought up – not around here, but social media and stuff,” third-year wide receiver Mike Sainristil said. “That’s the past. None of that matters this week. It’s all about what we have to do to get the job done on Saturday.”
“None of that matters – we’re tired of talking,” Ross said. “None of the past matters. We know what happened in the past. We know all the stuff that happened. But at the end of the day, it’s about right now, having a great week of preparation and attacking it, having great days and having a great game this weekend.”
At the moment, according to Tipico Sportsbook, Michigan is a 7.5-point underdog to Ohio State. In a way, that’s right where this team wants to be.
In 2020, Michigan didn’t face the Buckeyes but went 2-4 in the COVID-shortened season. While teams like Penn State and Wisconsin got the benefit of the doubt from their bad years, the Wolverines did not. That lack of faith implemented a proverbial shoulder chip for these Wolverines, which helped inspire them to get to the 10-1 standing they have now.
When nearly everyone counted out this Michigan program, it was those players in the building that rallied, knowing they were capable of so much more.
“I guess you could say that in terms of the poor performance last year and the attitude of our program,” sixth-year center and team captain Andrew Vastardis said. “But all that matters is the team, everyone inside the building, how the team trusts each other, how the team believes in each other. I would say it’s a great matchup we’ve got ahead of us, a great opportunity. We’re confident in each other’s abilities and we’re just ready to compete.”
So, while the Wolverines aren’t expected to win outside of Schembechler Hall, that suits this team fine. In fact, they’re right where they want to be.
“That’s fine. That’s the attitude we’ve had all year, the underdog mentality,” Sainristil said. “We feed off of that energy. It is what it is – if we’re underdogs, we’re underdogs. We’ll gladly take that and use it to our advantage come Saturday.”
All Betting Lines are Courtesy of Tipico Sportsbook