ANN ARBOR, Mich. – One of the greatest rivalries in sports seems set up for another classic.
No. 2 Ohio State and No. 3 Michigan will both be ranked in the top five of the AP poll for the 12th time when they meet Saturday at the Horseshoe in what’s known as The Game. No other rivalry in the country has as many top-five matchups.
The winner will earn a trip to the Big Ten championship game and a probable spot in the College Football Playoff.
“This is what we’ve been striving for all year, 11-0, and now to play The Game,” Michigan receiver Ronnie Bell said. “That’s all we wanted.”
The Wolverines are coming off a rare win in the series. Until Jim Harbaugh finally beat the Buckyes last year at home, they had won a school-record eight straight and 15 of 16 against Michigan.
What has it been like for coach Ryan Day to have a whole year to think about that loss to the Wolverines?
“That has not been easy, hasn’t been good,” Day said. “We’ll probably talk about it more this week, but looking forward to the preparation. Our guys have been focused on it all offseason. And during the season, it’s always been in the back of our minds.
“We work it every day of the year. And so, the week is officially here.”
The Buckeyes have been waiting for two years to beat their rivals at home, missing out on the last opportunity in 2020 during the pandemic-shortened season when the matchup was canceled because of a COVID-19 outbreak within the Wolverines’ program.
Michigan has not won at Ohio State since 2000, which is also the last year it won a second straight game in the series.
The Buckeyes have not lost a game since Hassan Haskins matched a school record with five rushing touchdowns and Aidan Hutchinson had three sacks in last year’s win for Michigan.
“Coming off of that game, we were highly motivated this season to get back to where we are right now,” Day said.
After dominating conference opponents for much of the season, both powerhouse programs struggled to earn their 11th win.
Slumping Illinois led Michigan for several minutes in the first half and was ahead from late in the third quarter until Jake Moody made a go-ahead, 35-yard field goal with nine seconds left.
Harbaugh, who has both coached and played in the rivalry, wasn’t in the mood to look ahead to facing the Buckeyes after surviving a scare in the game and with running back Blake Corum.
“I just want to enjoy this one,” Harbaugh said.
Ohio State trailed at Maryland from late in the second quarter until early in the third and led by just three points in the final minutes before pulling away.
Both teams have banged-up backfields.
Ohio State running back TreVeyon Henderson returned against Maryland after missing two games with an injury. He did catch a 31-yard touchdown pass from C.J. Stroud but had just 19 yards rushing on 11 carries.
The Buckeyes are hopeful that running back Miyan Williams will face Michigan after leaving last weekend’s game with a leg injury.
Corum grabbed his left knee after being tackled late in the first half and pulled himself out of the game after one carry and one pass-blocking assignment early in the third quarter against the Fighting Illini. His backup, dual-threat Donovan Edwards, did not play because of an undisclosed injury.
On Sunday, Corum spoke with reporters outside a school in Ypsilanti, where he was handing out turkey dinners and other items as part of a charitable effort.
“The knee’s fine. It will get better. I’ll be back,” he said.
Asked whether he intends to play on Saturday, Corum responded: “I’ll be there.”
Michigan has relied on its running game, but it might have to lean more on its inconsistent passing game that has missed many opportunities with high throws and dropped balls.
“A lot of the meat is still on the bone and it’s ready to come off next Saturday,” quarterback J.J. McCarthy said.