ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Ohio State has put itself in a position to possibly play in the BCS championship.
The No. 3 Buckeyes (11-0, 7-0 Big Ten) are unbeaten and heavily favored to stay that way after playing slumping archrival Michigan (7-4, 3-4) today at the Big House.
Ohio State has won a school-record 23 straight games since losing to Florida in the Gator Bowl on Jan. 2, 2012, and in Ann Arbor to close the 2011 regular season.
It seems to be set up for more success on both sides of the ball against Michigan.
Quarterback Braxton Miller and running back Carlos Hyde help the Buckeyes strike a balance on offense and linebacker Ryan Shazier leads a stingy defense.
OSU coach Urban Meyer said he may talk to his team about how the 1969 Buckeyes went to Michigan with a 22-game win streak and left with a loss against Bo Schembechler’s first team in what is remembered as the biggest upset in the storied series.
“It’s always good to talk about the history of the rivalry,” Meyer said.
The Wolverines, who are playing for just pride and bowl positioning, insist they’re not motivated by the opportunity to spoil Ohio State’s season.
“We talk about ourselves and what we have to do,” Michigan coach Brady Hoke said. “We’ve never ever mentioned it, and I won’t. That’s not what the game is about. It’s about us playing our best football for our seniors and the greatest rivalry in sport.”
When Ohio State plays at Michigan here are five things to watch:
How can Michigan win?
Hoke said if he wasn’t very confident his team could win, he’d call the game off. So, what does Hoke think the keys to victory are?
“We have to stay away from negative plays offensively,” he said.
Michigan hasn’t been able to do that all season, ranking 123rd and last among major college football teams with more than 100 plays stopped behind the line of scrimmage.
“Defensively, we’ve got to do a great job in the rushing game,” Hoke added.
That will be tough, too.
Hyde has run for 1,064 yards and 13 touchdowns in eight games. The senior has 100-plus yards rushing in six straight games.
By beating Indiana last week, the Buckeyes broke a school record they shared with the 1967-69 teams.
Ohio State won the final four games of the 1967 and went undefeated the next season, including a 50-14 victory over Michigan.
Buckeyes coach Woody Hayes went for a 2-point conversion late in the rout. When Hayes was later asked why he did it, he supposedly said, “Because I couldn’t go for three!”
The following year, with a team Hayes thought was his best in 28 years, the Schembechler-led Wolverines won 24-12. Since then, Michigan’s biggest upset was a 13-9 win in 1996 as a 17-point underdog.
Ohio State has won eight of the last nine meetings with the lone loss coming two years ago in Ann Arbor. When Miller was a freshman on a team that had seven losses under interim coach Luke Fickell — the most since 1897, the quarterback overthrew a wide-open DeVier Posey in the final minute for what could have been a game-winning 76-yard touchdown.
“It was heartbreaking,” safety C.J. Barnett said. “We let the great state of Ohio down.”
Now the Buckeyes get another chance to win at Michigan.
Ohio State has already clinched a spot in next week’s Big Ten championship game. A loss to Michigan would knock the Buckeyes out of the BCS title picture, but they could still earn a conference championship and a trip to the Rose Bowl by beating the Spartans in Indianapolis.
Meyer, though, insisted it hasn’t been difficult to get his players to focus on only the Wolverines.
“Our motto this week is ‘All lasers pointed at one dot,’” Meyer said. “That dot represents the focus we have on beating these guys.”
Devin Gardner has scored five touchdowns in two different games this year, including against Indiana, who let him account for a school-record 585 yards of offense. The Hoosiers also gave up a Big Ten-record 369 yards receiving to Jeremy Gallon.
Even though Michigan has struggled to consistently block well for the pass or run, its occasionally spectacular quarterback has gotten Meyer’s attention.
“He was unstoppable against Indiana,” Meyer said. “I remember thinking, ‘That’s as good a quarterback as there is in America.’”