Throughout Schembechler Hall, the same words are floating around this week ahead of the Michigan football team’s matchup against Ohio State. And it doesn’t matter who you’re talking to.
“Games like next week are the reason you come to Michigan.”
“This is why you come to Michigan, for games like this.”
“You come to Michigan to play Ohio State. You come to Michigan for big games like this.”
Each of the three quotes came from a different Michigan player — junior quarterback Cade McNamara, fifth-year linebacker Josh Ross and sixth-year offensive lineman Andrew Vastardis, respectively, to be exact.
For Michigan, that sentiment is a product of the team’s looming top-five matchup against the Buckeyes — the first since 2016. The Wolverines have already clinched a 10-win season, but Saturday’s outcome will go a long way in determining whether this is the year Jim Harbaugh’s program gets over the hump. Now in his seventh season, Harbaugh has yet to lead his alma mater to a win over Ohio State, Big Ten title game appearance or College Football Playoff berth.
A win on Saturday would check the first two boxes and give Michigan a shot at the third.
“Both these teams have a lot on the line. It’s a true playoff in that sense,” Harbaugh said Monday. “In the College Football Playoff world, this is the start of the playoffs. The team that wins will advance, the team that doesn’t won’t. It’s also the big game — The Game — the rivalry.”
Standing at the Schembechler Hall podium in front of about a dozen news cameras Monday afternoon, Ross made it clear that he knows the stakes. Not just for this season, but beyond. Michigan’s clashes against Ohio State shape the legacies of players and coaches on both sides.
The Wolverines have won The Game only once since 2004, which has fostered the national image of a program mired in mediocrity and lagging behind its fiercest rival. Coming off an offseason of uncertainty surrounding Harbaugh’s future in Ann Arbor, that’s become all the more important. Had he been fired, Harbaugh would’ve become the program’s third consecutive coach to go winless against the Buckeyes across his tenure.
But instead, it pushed him to add extra stress to Michigan’s year-round preparation for the rivalry.
“We definitely felt it needed to be an emphasis on The Game,” Ross said. “There’s always an emphasis in our head. It’s always important to us. It means the world. Starting in winter workouts from last year, going into this year, going into spring ball, going into summer, all that, this game was in our head. It’s here now. The time is now.”
Extra emphasis, however, cannot fix the fundamental flaws that have plagued the Wolverines in recent matchups against Ohio State. In the last two meetings alone, the Buckeyes have poured on 118 points and over 1,100 yards of total offense. Michigan’s defense, led by Ross, has looked helpless at times, leading to former defensive coordinator Don Brown’s exit this past offseason.
This ultimately became a matchup that defined Brown’s legacy. Now, Ross hopes to flip the script on his own before it’s too late.
“None of that matters,” Ross said. “We’re tired of talking. None of the past matters. We know what happened in the past. We know all the stuff that happened. At the end of the day, it’s about right now.”
And with that, there’s only one thing left to do.
“To be honest, as players, we’re tired of talking,” Ross said. “We’re ready to just do.”