Michigan and Ohio State are only No. 3 and No. 2, respectively, in the latest Associated Press and College Football Playoff rankings, which means their game Saturday is not technially a “Game of the Century.”
Oh, but it is.
Each team is 11-0 going into The Game (Noon, FOX) for the first time since an actual Game of the Century on Nov. 18, 2006. No. 1 Ohio State and coach Jim Tressel beat No. 2 Michigan and coach Lloyd Carr, 42-39, in a cinematic classic at Ohio Stadium in Columbus. The Buckeyes then lost the BCS national championship game to Florida.
The game Saturday will mark just the fourth time both teams enter their final regular season game against one another with unblemished records. Ohio State won the first of those, 20-9, in 1970, at home to avenge a bitter loss the year before. That is when first-year Michigan coach Bo Schembechler, a former Ohio State assistant under coach Woody Hayes, and his No. 12 Wolverines (7-2) upset the No. 1 and defending national champion Buckeyes (8-0), 24-12, at Michigan Stadium.
The two have been closing regular seasons together since 1935. There was no game in 2020 because of a COVID outbreak with Michigan. That was the first time the two did not play since 1917. Michigan leads the emotional series, which started in 1897, 59-51-6.
The 2022 winner will take the Big Ten East and reach the Big Ten Championship Game on Dec. 3 to play a three- or four-loss West champion in Indianapolis and likely advance to the College Football Playoff. Barring a major upset on Dec. 3, this will be the Big Ten title game.
“Winner takes the East,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said. “Winner takes all right there. It’s the kind of situation that gives you the opportunity to display how strong our team is.”
Michigan-Ohio State Matches Super Powers, Superheroes
This game is such a matchup of super powers that the loser could still reach the CFP final four with one loss, or “Superheroes,” as an almost giddy Harbaugh explained on Monday. Whereas, the previous game of the century this season – No. 1 Georgia 27, No. 2 Tennessee 13 on Nov. 5 – was followed up by Tennessee losing in embarrassing fashion to unranked South Carolina, 63-38, on Saturday.
“I think you’ve got two teams that, it’s like you’ve got two Superheroes going at each other,” said Harbaugh, a native of Toledo, Ohio, who has watched the Michigan-Ohio State game ever since he can remember. He went to high school in Ann Arbor when his dad Jack was an assistant coach under Schembechler at Michigan. Harbaugh then started at quarterback at Michigan from 1984-86, beating Ohio State in his final two seasons to finish 2-1.
“That’s what we’re so excited about – being tested,” Harbaugh said. “See what we’re made of.”
Harbaugh, who left the San Francisco 49ers to become Michigan’s coach in 2017, has not been made of much, by his definition, in the Ohio State series. He is 1-5 in it as a head coach. He won his first as a head coach last season, 42-27, when he led Michigan to its first Big Ten title since 2004.
“Both teams are 11-0, and I know our 11-0 really doesn’t mean anything now,” he said. “It’s all about going 1-0.”
Typically short with the media, Harbaugh was almost glowing on Monday as he waxed on about the game … happily.
“We’ve got a great group of players who are happy warriors, and they’re on a happy mission,” he said. “It’s a tight-knit team that has paid the price. They have taken on every challenge to this date. They’ve attacked it and been ready to play every single game for 60 minutes. And I love this team. I think they’re made of the right stuff.”
Wolverines Survived A Scare Saturday From Illinois
Michigan had just enough stuff to win Saturday in its closest game to date as Jake Moody booted a 35-yard field goal with :09 remaining for a 19-17 win over unranked Illinois in Ann Arbor.
“I’ve been watching Michigan football since I was a kid – consider myself an historian,” Harbaugh, 58, said. “I am nominating him for legendary status.”
And the Wolverines did that without Superhero tailback Blake Corum in the second half. Corum injured his left knee late in the second quarter after gaining 108 yards on 18 carries with a touchdown along with two catches for 39 yards. He has not been ruled out of Saturday’s game as Harbaugh said his knee is “structurally good” on Saturday.
“Anybody who’s on the fringe, they’re going to do everything they can to play,” he said.
But Michigan offensive lineman Ryan Hayes may have accidentally leaked more accurate information Monday during press interviews.
“He’s a great player,” he said of Corum. “But I think everybody else is just going to step up with him out and I think that we’re up to the challenge, and we’ll do that.”
Nevertheless, Harbaugh often sounded like a kid on Monday – like he wanted to play.
“Have at it,” he said. “That’s what I’m going to tell all our players. It’s an honor. Tremendous congratulations to put yourselves in this position. You paid the price. You’ve done the work. Now, go let it rip. Have at it.”
Michigan-Ohio State Features Heisman Battle
The game will feature two Heisman Trophy favorites. Ohio State sophomore quarterback C.J. Stroud is No. 1 in the nation in passing efficiency at 183.3 on 204 completions in 307 attempts for 2,991 yards and 35 touchdowns against four interceptions.
And Michigan’s Corum is No. 3 in the nation in rushing with 1,457 yards on 245 carries and 18 touchdowns. Ohio State junior wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. is No. 8 nationally in receiving yards with 1,037 on 65 catches and 11 touchdowns.
“They have players with Heisman habits. We have players with Heisman habits,” Harbaugh said. “No question, C.J. Stroud and Marvin Harrison Jr. have Heisman habits. Tremendous players. It’s like Superheroes. It’s through a strong opponent that you get to find out who you are.”
Michigan sophomore quarterback J.J. McCarthy is No. 26 in the nation in efficiency on 165-of-247 passing for 1,952 yards and 14 touchdowns with two interceptions. He directed the game-winning drive Saturday, completing 3-of-5 passes for 16 yards with a 4-yard rush. He will start his first Michigan-Ohio State game Saturday.
“Have at it,” Harbaugh said he will tell him. “It’s pretty cool coming off the game he had – fourth quarter comeback, win in the last minute. That doesn’t happen to quarterbacks that often. To be in that situation first time, and win it. He’s got it. Just go have at it. Don’t need to tell him anything more than that.”
Does Michigan Have The Right Stuff?
Harbaugh came close to predicting a win over Ohio State.
“I think you’re going to find that we’re made of the right stuff,” he said. “We know it’s our toughest test of the year, and I think we’re going to find that we’re made of the right stuff.”
But, really, he’s just thankful.
“There’s no need to hate or have anxiety or anger or anything like that,” he said. “It’s about being grateful for – it’s Thanksgiving week. You know, grateful for the opportunity, these circumstances, grateful to be tested against this opponent at this time. It’s going to be great. Be grateful for that experience. It’s a real honor to be in this position to test yourself physically, mentally, emotionally.”