The greatest rivalry in college football would appear to be a little less sexy this season, since Ohio State is unbeaten, riding a two-year-long winning streak, and possibly headed for the national championship game, while Michigan is floundering in the throes of a late-season swoon that has the Wolverines just 3-4 in the Big Ten.
It would also be easy to surmise that the Buckeyes might be a tad over-confident or too comfortable since they are generally considered two-touchdown favorites even while playing in The Big House in Ann Arbor.
That seems like a bunch of hooey, however, when you scan through the Urban Meyer era and check the details on his resume. There are not many of those "unprepared" or "overlooked" or "taken lightly" events. Throughout his stops at Bowling Green, Utah, Florida and now Ohio State, Meyer has had his team on edge, focused, and ready for battle in just about every instance.
Meyer takes the 11-0 Buckeyes into Michigan Stadium with plenty on the line, even though Ohio State has already clinched a berth in the Big Ten title game. This is Michigan, so little else needs to be said.
"It is different. It's not just another game. It's not, and our players know that," Meyer said as the Buckeyes prepared to face a Michigan team that has lost three of its last four games. "There is an extra pep in the step. We officially started working the game a day earlier than we normally do, and they get it. Our players get it. That is one thing about a new coach -- he doesn't come in here and try to stimulate that rivalry. That rivalry's been stimulated a long time ago, and we need to carry it on and make it stronger."
Meyer, an Ohio native and a former graduate assistant coach at Ohio State under Earle Bruce, said he learned a long time ago to embrace all of the tradition and banter that has accompanied the rivalry.
"I was driving to work on a Monday morning. I was a 21-year-old graduate assistant, and I look up on those twin towers by the stadium, and it says "Muck Fichigan" on a couple of sheets hanging off the building," he recalled. "I said that is really cool right there. So that was in 1986, so there is some old student now that is laughing their tail off saying, yeah, that was my room."
Meyer said that although the Michigan game is not a frequent topic of conversation throughout the season, as soon as the victory over Indiana was completed last Saturday, the lights came on for rivalry week.
"It does feel different. I'm not acting different, but it does feel different," Meyer said about Michigan week. "I can see our staff -- that is the good thing about hiring guys that have lived the rivalry -- they know it, and the coaches and players appreciate it too. Obviously, this one I don't need to be educated on very much."
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
--RB Carlos Hyde became the first player under head coach Urban Meyer to rush for 1,000 yards in a season. Hyde had 1,064 yards and 13 touchdowns in just eight games this season. He sat out the first three games for disciplinary reasons.
--DB Bradley Roby, a junior who is expected to jump to the NFL after the 2013 season, had 10 solo tackles and three pass break-ups in the win over Indiana, which was likely his final game in Ohio Stadium.
--LB Ryan Shazier became the first Buckeye since LB A.J. Hawk in 2004 to record 20 tackles in a game when he tallied five tackles for loss and 16 solo tackles in the win over Indiana.
--QB Braxton Miller rushed for 144 yards and two touchdowns and passed for 160 yards and two more scores in the recent win over Indiana. Miller had a school-record 10th game of his career with 300 or more yards of offense.
--Ohio State has the nation's longest winning streak at 23 games. The Buckeyes went 12-0 in the 2012 season, but could not compete in the Big Ten title game or a bowl game due to NCAA sanctions, and they are 11-0 entering their 2013 season finale against Michigan.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I learned to dislike Michigan at a very young age. But, no, you never really appreciate it until you're behind the walls here and find out how serious it is." - Ohio State coach Urban Meyer on the nature of the rivalry with Michigan