How a Win over Ohio State Sets the Foundation for the Future of Michigan Football

How a Win over Ohio State Sets the Foundation for the Future of Michigan Football

Football

How a Win over Ohio State Sets the Foundation for the Future of Michigan Football

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — You know the storylines. The significance. It isn’t just two 10-1 teams facing off against each other. It isn’t cross-divisional foes that just happen to be in each other’s way.

The Game is what the Big Ten is all about. What it used to be. What it’s always been. The BIG TWO and little ten.

Of course, there’s fourteen teams now in the conference, but the two prestige programs, no matter how high they climb or how far they fall are Michigan and Ohio State.

Falling is what Michigan’s done over the last decade-plus. The Game always has had significance, but the Wolverines haven’t held up to their end of the bargain — just like Ohio State hadn’t through the John Cooper era of the late 80s and the entirety of the 90s. Still–even as the maize and blue have struggled throughout the years, there have been big games, games that determined the conference championship. Who got to go to the College Football Playoff. Who would be the toast of the mighty conference to the north of the United States.

For the second time in three years, the winner has a College Football Playoff berth at stake. Sure, OSU would need some help, as the one-loss Buckeyes are ranked No. 10 in the College Football Playoff rankings as of Monday, but the goals remain the same — especially considering that Michigan is in a win-and-you’re-in scenario.

But, even without the post-season at stake, without the chance at greater glory, The Game is a season’s microcosm in and of itself. Who cares about win-and-you’re-in — win, and you’re a legend in either Ann Arbor or Columbus.

“This is one of those games where you’ve just gotta win,” junior linebacker and team captain Devin Bush Jr. said. “No matter what your record is, or what you have going on this season, this is one of those games where you’ve gotta show up and play your best game, no matter what you’ve been through. No matter what you’re going through.

“This rivalry means everything to us, and I’m pretty sure it means everything to them. It’s gonna be a great game on Saturday.”

Of course, there is more to play for, beyond that. Thus, Michigan would like to have it both ways — be a legend and reach the pinnacle beyond the final regular season game in November.

For senior running back and team captain Karan Higdon, the two go hand-in-hand.

“We’ve got to – it’s a must win,” Higdon said. “We’ve got some lofty goals we set up for ourselves early on, and they’re the team that’s gonna stand in our way to achieve them. Better knock them down.”

It means everything to every player on the Wolverines. It is the rivalry, not rivalry. But of course, some players have more skin in the game than others.

There’s all the players who grew up in Michigan, dreaming of wearing a winged helmet and taking down the silver bullets in scarlet and grey.

But for others, it has perhaps even more meaning.

Senior safety and team captain Tyree Kinnel grew up in Wayne, Ohio — a suburb of Dayton — and was always a Michigan fan, despite the relatively close proximity to the Ohio State University.

In his first taste of the rivalry, in 2015, it looked like he was about to block a kick and be a hero early in the game — but a flag was called, and the game went a very different direction in the immediate aftermath.

The next year, when it looked like OSU quarterback J.T. Barrett would come up just short of the line to gain on a 4th and 1 in overtime, it was Kinnel who emerged from the group of Michigan players on the field at The Horseshoe, fist pumping, knowing the game may have been won.

But, alas — we know the ending to that story.

A year ago, Michigan was plagued with injuries, and was a heavy underdog against a potent Buckeyes squad. Still — the game was in question for much of the duration, but Kinnel had to leave the game after getting knocked out with a concussion.

0-3, this is the senior’s last shot. His last chance. Win, and he’s a legend. And there’s at least two games left instead of a certain final one.

Win and he can go home and rest assured that, even in the state of Ohio, he’ll be remembered for being a hero for the maize and blue.

“Me, personally, it means a lot for me,” Kinnel said. “In the locker room as well. Trying to win the East, get to Indiana (for the) championship game. Beating Ohio State means even more. We’re gonna be excited for this week and hopefully come out with a win.”

Others didn’t grow up in the rivalry.

Junior left guard and team captain Ben Bredeson was a five-star lineman from the state of Wisconsin who chose to escape from the Badgers grasp in favor of a different opportunity.

This rivalry wasn’t something he dreamed of playing in as a kid, but it’s something he’s relished since he arrived in Ann Arbor three short years ago.

His first taste, naturally, was the 2016 heartbreaker. Now, two years later, Bredeson eagerly seeks revenge.

“It’s a unique rivalry – I think it’s the most special in all of sports,” Bredeson said. “It’s something I wasn’t really a part of growing up. I didn’t follow Ohio State or Michigan that much as a kid. But to be a part of it in college, it’s something very special. A game you look forward to all year. It’s a unique, unique place and both teams have respect for each other, but there’s definitely no love lost. I’m looking forward to a win on Saturday.”

Redshirt sophomore defensive tackle Carlo Kemp has had Ohio State on the mind for months now — if not a year.

He didn’t get a chance to play in The Game — or even travel to it — in 2016. When Michigan started stacking up win after win after win after win (it’s 10 straight now), Kemp paid close attention to what was going on in Columbus.

And what was going on? Ohio State was flailing, even when the pundits of the college football world declared it was a top two team in the country.

But Kemp and the No. 1 Michigan defense kept doing what it was capable of, keeping in mind that every game was a test for that one that fell on the last Saturday of November.

“They’re always right there in the back of your mind,” Kemp said. “You’re always watching – what are they doing? How are they doing? And I can’t wait to get to the game.

“You know, when it’s that time, when it is this week – you watch the film of all your opponents that week, but you’re always doing a little bit of watching of how they play against that team. What did they do against that team. You get to bring it all out for this last shot, last shot at them, right before keeping our hopes alive for a Big Ten Championship.”

Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh returned to Ann Arbor to restore the glory of the team that plays on the corner of Stadium and Main streets. And though he took a doormat of a team and returned them to respectability almost immediately, one thing has eluded him in his three years that he managed to get when he was a player: a win over the Buckeyes.

But, he’s not the only one that bears that burden, the pain of the other team getting the honorary sets of gold pants every time they beat their rival to the north.

Knowing that Harbaugh is winless against Urban Meyer is an inspiration to a Michigan team that now has the talent to finally pull it off. A team that’s healthy enough to contend against the juggernaut.

As Tyree Kinnel says, the team remembers the past, and they are determined to change the narrative in short order.

“Not just our coach, we’re also winless too, against this opponent,” Kinnel said. “We know that. We took to strive on that, to change the outcome and now we’re here for this week. This is a game we’ve all been waiting for. Now we have the opportunity in our hands to go change it. We feel very confident about that and we’re gonna practice extremely hard this week and prepare for the game.”

So that’s it. It’s all on the line now.

Saturday’s game means everything. Win and you’re a legend. Win and you’re in. Win and your name will go down forever as the team that slayed the dragon, that took out the mighty, invincible team to the south.

Win, and Michigan has a chance to both do something it hasn’t done since 2004 — win a share of the Big Ten — or something it hasn’t done since 2003 — win it outright. Or do something it’s never done — go to the College Football Playoff.

Lose, and it all goes away, just like that, in an instant.

But Ohio State isn’t just a building block. It’s the foundation upon which everything is built. The location has been selected, the land razed, the ground dug up. Saturday, Michigan will decide if it’s time to start building, or if it will have to continue renting from the program it once was the better of.

Win, and history starts now.

“It would just be a great step forward for us throughout the rest of the year,” Bredeson said. “We work hard for this game all year. Everybody knows what it’s probably gonna mean and what it’s probably gonna come down to for us, like we thought it was gonna come down to – a trip to the Big Ten Championship game. Winner gets to go. We’re definitely looking forward to it. Looking forward to it, and as a team, it would be another stepping stone, a great confidence boost for us. A huge rivalry win.

“We definitely have no love lost between us two. I think it would be great to give the fans of Michigan this one and also ourselves. I think this would just shoot us forward in a new direction.”

“This is the game that determines who goes to play in the Big Ten Championship,” Higdon said. “You’ve gotta win it.”

Contact/Follow @WolverinesWire@isaiahhole

Latest

More WolverinesWire
Home