Truth be told, the two sides can’t even agree on who’s got the most to win and lose in Saturday’s 107th showdown.
No. 8 Ohio State has a stadium full of things on the line, including a share of a record-tying sixth straight Big Ten title and a spot in a Bowl Championship Series bowl.
The Buckeyes say the Wolverines would like nothing better than to ruin all of that for them.
“Just beating us would make those guys’ year,” Ohio State linebacker Brian Rolle said Monday. “That’d be like a national championship for those guys.”
But that’s not even remotely close to being the case, Michigan nose tackle Mike Martin said.
“For us, it’s not about Ohio State—it’s about us and what we do,” he said. “We don’t go into this game to spoil Ohio State’s season. It’s all about us. We’re playing for each other and doing what we can and what we can control.”
Despite everything resting on the outcome—and its impact on untold other teams—the bottom line for both sides is that they just plain don’t like losing to the other guys.
And that’s motivation enough.
“To say that they have more at stake than us, when you look at it from bowl perspective and Big Ten championship—sure,” Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez said on Monday. “To say it’s less important, no. Never.”
The Buckeyes enter the storied grudge match needing a win to match the mark of six straight conference titles won by Woody Hayes’ Ohio State teams of 1972-77. Heading into the final weekend of conference play, the Buckeyes are in lockstep with Michigan State and Wisconsin, with all three teams 10-1 overall and 6-1 in the Big Ten.
Win, and Ohio State would likely be in the running for a BCS berth—either a return trip to the Rose Bowl, should Wisconsin lose at home to Northwestern, or possibly an at-large bid to the Sugar or Orange bowls.
Lose and the Buckeyes could sag all the way to third in the conference and would end up out of the BCS mix for the first time since 2004.
The Buckeyes are also hoping to add to their mastery of their chief rivals. They’ve won the last six meetings, their longest string of success ever in the series.
Some fans say that “The Game” has lost some of its luster in recent years because of the Buckeyes’ domination. They say that for it to remain a true rivalry, one team can’t win every time.
But the alternative is almost unthinkable to Ohio State.
“Already it means so much to us that we don’t need to lose a game to remember how bad it hurts,” said defensive lineman Dexter Larimore.
Michigan (7-4, 3-4) is heading to a bowl game for the first time in Rodriguez’s three years in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines, led by multi-threat quarterback Denard Robinson, are hoping for a victory to prove they’ve climbed out of the dark hole they were in the past couple of years and are headed for a brighter future.
A signature win couldn’t come against anyone better than the Buckeyes.
“I’ve got respect for them,” Robinson said. “But I don’t like them.”
The feeling is mutual. Ohio State has no other major rival besides Michigan. But the Wolverines also circle Michigan State and Notre Dame on their calendars each season.
So this is a special week for players and fans to embrace their dislike of the other team.
“I don’t hate them, but I don’t like them either because of the rivalry,” Ohio State cornerback Devon Torrence said. “Michigan is a great university and institution for college and college football. They do a lot in terms of the whole college football spectrum.
“I won’t say I hate them—but I really want to beat them.”