COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Game, The Game, The Game.
Ohio State’s annual clash with Michigan is still three weeks away, but fans and players could be forgiven if they started thinking about the Wolverines by, oh, halftime of Saturday’s 62-3 romp against No. 10 Nebraska.
Ohio State still has to get past Maryland and Michigan State (combined conference record: 2-10), and the Wolverines have to beat Iowa and Indiana (combined conference record: 6-6). But if both teams win both games, it will set up a winner-take-all meeting in Columbus on Nov. 26.
The last decade and a half of history in this series has been very kind to Ohio State. With the exception of 2003 and the NCAA-plagued 2011 season, Ohio State has beaten Michigan every year since Jim Tressel showed up in 2001. It’s also worth noting both of those losses came in Ann Arbor, while this year’s game is in Columbus. For the past three months, while Michigan’s storm grew more powerful, Ohio State has been able to point to history. The Buckeyes beat Michigan 42-13 in Ann Arbor last season, and this year the Wolverines will have to try to win in Columbus.
But it’s not 2015 right now (or 2014 or 2013, for that matter). It’s 2016, and this year’s iteration of Michigan has chewed up and spit out anything in its path. It beat Colorado by 17 and Penn State by 39. It sucked out Rutgers’ soul in a 78-0 win and embarrassed Maryland 59-3.
There were closer scores against Wisconsin (14-7) and Michigan State (32-23), but they were still victories. Michigan has the nation’s No. 1 scoring defense (11.1 points per game) and a top-5 scoring offense (48.0 ppg). Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh has engineered his team to dominate.
Ohio State hasn’t looked quite so good. The Buckeyes had their moments, most notably in a 45-24 win at Oklahoma and an overtime win at Wisconsin. But there was also the 24-21 loss to Penn State and the dreadful 24-20 win against Northwestern. Along the way, questions about the offensive line and passing game and offensive distribution began to pile up. Michigan rolled on while the Buckeyes sputtered.
Michigan’s meeting with the Terrapins was an afternoon game, and while waiting for Ohio State-Nebraska it was hard not to be impressed with the beating the Wolverines put on them. But then came Ohio State’s statement game, and what a statement it was. Facing the No. 10 team, the Buckeyes rolled up 62 points and 590 yards of offense.
Every player looked good. Every unit looked good. The whole team looked good.
Having already demolished Maryland at Michigan Stadium, maybe the Wolverines went home and flipped on Ohio State-Nebraska. Maybe they didn’t. Either way, this wasn’t about sending a message to the Wolverines. What’s important is that the Buckeyes know it can play at a level where it’s nearly impossible to beat them. Michigan probably wouldn’t have beaten the Nebraska game version of OSU.
“I think the way we did it was good for our team, being that we’re young,” Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett said. “We’re definitely not in the same place we were at the beginning of the year. Having confidence building into November, I think that’s one of the main things of having a win like this.”
The next two games aren’t throwaways, but they will be more of an exercise in showing up and taking care of business. This was Ohio State’s last chance to stretch itself, to see what it can achieve, before Michigan comes to town.
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer liked what he saw. How could he not?
“Now we’re starting to put it all together,” he said, “and I’m glad it’s happening now.”