For more than a century, the biggest rivalry in all of sports has raged on between the two juggernaut football teams of the midwest. Michigan, the most winning team in NCAA history that just reached the 1,000 win mark, versus Ohio State who is right on Michigan’s heels (and with a better win percentage).
The Game, as it is called, is as epic as they come even in a “regular” year. This year has a litany of special factors making it one of the most pivotal and crucial occurrences of The Game to have ever occurred.
Historically, this rivalry was born on October 16, 1897. Michigan leads the series in its totality, 60-51-6. However, the last 20 years have been Ohio State….until recently.
The Game in its modern iteration began in 1935, playing at the end of the season for all the marbles. This has been going steady ever since (with a few exceptions such as 2020 due to the COVID-19 Pandemic). Both teams coming to The Game undefeated is rare from 1935 to present, having happened 1970, 1973, 2006, and 2022.
The history of this match up is second to none – from Bo and Woody, to “the spot” of 2016 – it doesn’t get more intense or meaningful than this….
What makes this 2023 rendition of The Game even more intense? Several things, actually.
Reason #1, the changes to the CFP and the Big Ten starting in 2024 will DRASTICALLY reduce the significance of The Game (i.e., the Game could be played earlier in the season henceforth, and taking away the divisions of the Big Ten render the Big Ten playoff game a likely 2nd match every year for these dominate teams). Call me a traditionalist, but these changes are not welcome in my view, and the time-honored tradition of The Game is being spit upon with these moves, and NCAA football as a whole is becoming more and more like basketball where the regular season is a warm-up round. Be that as it may, that is reason #1 2023 is so interesting.
Reason #2 – Both teams are undefeated and which ever team wins is essentially promised a playoff spot. Whoever wins this game is almost certainly going to be the Big Ten champs, and will be in the final 4 for the playoffs.
Reason #3- The Michigan controversy itself has raised the stakes, but now add in the fact that Harbaugh cannot be on the sidelines. Michigan’s coach is the tip of the spear, his personality is their lifeblood. Without Harbaugh, Michigan is at a severe disadvantage. That said, last year Michigan did not have Corum and managed – so this isn’t a kiss of death per se. Now cue the faux quote allegedly from Urban Meyer about Ryan Day. The rumor was such that Urban Meyer stated Ryan Day must win in 2023 (given his record against Michigan AND that Michigan is without Harbaugh). Reports have since surfaced indicating this was not accurate. Be that as it may, if Ryan Day loses a third time in a row against a Harbaugh-less Michigan, Ohio State may very well be looking at Ryan Day with questions. Personally, I think that is insane – he is a great coach and having him lose 1 game a year fits perfectly for this Michigan fan. (Joking aside- he is a great coach and should be fine even with a loss. The fact he has maintained the standard at Ohio State and does so ethically is impressive).
Reason #4- Michigan is angry. The players have been mocked and disrespected for most of the season in a myriad of ways, from their ranking being below Ohio State (despite the metrics and head to head comparisons all being in Michigan’s favor, and back-to-back dominations of the Buckeyes) to the ESPN rumor-mill – these kids have something to prove, and this year, they have Corum and it is in Ann Arbor.
Reason #5 – Ohio State has something to prove – Ohio State has has dominated Michigan over the past two decades from to 2021. They are used to winning, but, essentially everyone on the field on November 25, 2023, will only know what it feels like for Michigan to win. That is unacceptable to Ohio State – just as it was unacceptable to Michigan for the years prior. When it comes to these teams, there are three goals every year – Win the Big Ten, Win the Championship, but first and foremost, beat Ohio State / Michigan.
I do write with 1 question that is baffling: As stated, Michigan’s metrics and the raw data shows they should have been ahead of Ohio State for the last several weeks (it is now much more of a statistical debate with Michigan’s poor performance at Maryland, but prior to that, no logical explanation). So, Ohio State is ahead the entire time for the CFP rankings this season, Michigan is dragged through the mud the entire season by the talking heads on ESPN (with few exceptions), and the narrative at every turn has been – Michigan is overrated and Ohio State is Christ-like. How is Michigan a 4 point favorite? Either Michigan is the better team as we sit or not – a 4 point favorite is not merely home-field advantage folks….without Harbaugh, a 4 point favorite?
So, November 25, 2023, all the hype goes away and all the bluster drops – it is simply the scoreboard at the end of the game that matters. Game on for The Game. And quite possible, this is the last version of “The Game” as we know it.