Ohio State-Michigan doesn't matter.
That's the general sentiment around the country this week as college football's greatest rivalry gets ready to resume Saturday at Michigan Stadium (ABC, noon ET). One of my esteemed colleagues called this the "most uninspiring November weekend in recent memory." There are valid reasons for this belief, namely Michigan's 5-6 record, Ohio State's guaranteed BCS bowl berth and the likelihood that Wolverines head coach Rich Rodriguez will be safe no matter what takes place between the lines on Saturday.
I say let them thumb their noses at The Game. You and I know better. The Game always matters.
As I watched the end of the 1987 Ohio State-Michigan game (Earle Bruce's final triumph) and the start to the high-scoring 1988 contest on ESPN Classic during lunch Thursday, I started to get excited about Saturday's contest.
Here are some reasons why:
Throwback jerseys: Ohio State will don helmets and uniforms honoring its 1954 national championship team, a decision that drew mixed reviews from Buckeye Nation. The helmets certainly give the players a different look. Ohio State just hopes there won't be a different result after dominating Michigan under head coach Jim Tressel.
Justin Boren: Boren's departure from Michigan and his parting shot that the team's "family values have eroded" was in many ways the first of several public setbacks for Rodriguez. It didn't help when Boren transferred to archrival Ohio State. He now leads an improving Buckeyes offensive line into the Big House, where he figures to receive a rough reception from the crowd. I'm definitely excited to see Boren take on Michigan star defensive end Brandon Graham.
Last stand for Wolverines: A Michigan loss ends the season for the Wolverines, who seemed destined for a decent bowl game after a 4-0 start. The sense of urgency in this one certainly rests with the Wolverines, who try to end a five-game slide against their archrivals in most unlikely fashion. A win doesn't wash away a miserable Big Ten season, but it certainly eases the pain and allows Michigan the right to celebrate.
Terrelle Pryor and the spread offense: When Pryor sputtered midway through the season, people started buzzing about how the quarterback would have been better off in Rodriguez's offense at Michigan. Last year's Wolverines didn't have the trigger man to effectively run the spread, but freshman quarterback Tate Forcier fits the scheme. It will be interesting to watch how Pryor fares against Michigan's vulnerable defense and contrast that with how Forcier fares against Ohio Sate's D.
Ohio State vs. another young QB: It's hard to explain, but Ohio State's defense has performed much better against experienced quarterbacks than young ones this fall. The Buckeyes shut down Penn State's Daryll Clark, Minnesota's Adam Weber and Illinois' Juice Williams, but they struggled at times against USC true freshman Matt Barkley and Iowa redshirt freshman James Vandenberg, who made his first career start last week. Forcier comes off of a solid effort against Wisconsin, but he needs to have his best performance of the season to give Michigan a shot.
Ohio State aims for outright title: The Buckeyes already have clinched at least a share of the Big Ten title for the fifth consecutive season, but they want more. A victory Saturday clinches the Big Ten title outright for the third time in the past four seasons. An Ohio State loss means the Buckeyes might have to share the crown with as many as three other teams (Iowa, Penn State and Wisconsin).