|Ohio State faces Michigan hoping for playoff berth|
As is usually the case, Ohio State-Michigan week will generate plenty of buzz around those who support and follow the Buckeyes and Wolverines the most.
However, this year's version of what many Ohio State and Michigan supporters call "The Game" certainly won't have the same buzz nationally.
A year after the Buckeyes and Wolverines met as two of the nation's top three teams, playing for a spot in the Big Ten title game and the College Football Playoff, the stakes won't be as high when they clash at noon ET Saturday in Ann Arbor, Mich.
No. 9 Ohio State team (9-2, 7-1 Big Ten) still has plenty to play for since the Buckeyes have an outside shot at a playoff berth despite having two losses, a case that will be made stronger with a win at Michigan and a win next week over No. 5 Wisconsin in the already determined Big Ten Championship Game matchup in Indianapolis.
The scenario is a lot different for Michigan.
The Wolverines (8-3, 5-3) are out of any championship hunt, so finally beating a team with a winning record this season and the opportunity to ruin any playoff hopes for Ohio State will be the main motivating factors.
Michigan also wants to restore some respectability to the rivalry, given that Ohio State has won five straight and 12 out of the last 13 meetings, none more painful than the 30-27 double-overtime loss in Columbus last year that robbed the Wolverines of playing for really big prizes.
"It's our team's opportunity to put that exclamation point on the season," Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said.
Even some of the most diehard Michigan fans know that is going to be a tall order.
Ohio State has annihilated Michigan State and Illinois in the past two weeks, with a red-hot running game and senior quarterback J.T. Barrett leading the way.
"That's the foundation of any good offense, the offensive line," Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. "We were blessed for 3-4 years of having the best in the Big Ten, and then we didn't. It was hard. It's hard to create plays when that group is not the strength of our team. Right now they are the strength of our team."
The Buckeyes are fully motivated to impress the playoff selection committee, so they likely will have their foot on the gas pedal the entire game, even though their spot in the league title game is secured.
And, of course, losing to Michigan in itself never sits well with folks in Columbus.
"This rivalry is not a one-week deal," said Meyer, adding he and his staff prepare for Michigan week all the way back in spring practice. "It's in your blood and in your DNA."
Quarterback play has been the eyesore for Michigan all season, and that position has plenty of uncertainty once again going into the game.
Redshirt freshman Brandon Peters, who led the team to wins over Rutgers, Minnesota and Maryland, left last week's 24-10 loss at Wisconsin after reportedly being knocked unconscious in the third quarter. Peters was carted off the field, but tests ultimately came back negative and he flew home with the team.
His status isn't clear for the game, and neither is the status of junior Wilton Speight, this season's original starter who hasn't played since suffering three fractured vertebrae against Purdue on Sept. 23.
Speight was cleared to practice last week but wasn't cleared for contact, and as of Monday, Harbaugh wasn't sure Speight would be cleared for contact this week.
If neither can play, Michigan will turn to senior John O'Korn, who relieved Speight against Purdue and started three games before being benched in favor of Peters in the first half against Rutgers on Oct. 28.
Michigan does still have one of the nation's top defenses, and that unit will need to be at its best against Ohio State's high-powered offense.
Running backs J.K. Dobbins (1,089 yards rushing) and now-healthy Mike Weber (100-yard outings in the past two games) have given Barrett plenty of help the past two weeks, and wide receiver Parris Campbell could be a difference-maker against Michigan with his big-play ability.
Despite a disappointing season by Michigan's standards, Harbaugh insists there has been growth.
"I really like seeing the progress being made," Harbaugh said. "I feel like our team has improved each week and it's already showing they can play to the level of anybody in the country."