As Michigan football fans across the country watched their team’s path to the Big Ten Championship Game get a little less direct, the team itself waited somewhat blindly.
The Wolverines were still on the plane home when Michigan State upset Ohio State, ruining the winner-take-all buildup to “The Game” on Saturday. The plane had Internet, so Michigan could follow along, but it didn’t get the channel to watch Michael Geiger’s game-winning field goal.
Even with their fate out of their own hands, the Wolverines say Ohio State’s loss won’t diminish Saturday’s game. Michigan defensive captain Joe Bolden was asleep when the game ended, but when he woke up, he said he wasn’t too shaken up by the upset.
“Whatever,” Bolden said. “If they both lost, it (would be) better for us, but that can’t happen, right?”
Indeed, one of Michigan’s two chief rivals had to win on Saturday. And as a result, the Wolverines’ only path to Indianapolis requires them to beat Ohio State and Penn State to knock off the Spartans in East Lansing.
Since Michigan plays the Buckeyes at noon and Michigan State hosts the Nittany Lions at 3:30 p.m., the Wolverines won’t know what they’re playing for until long after their game is over. But Bolden says the absence of a win-and-you’re-in guarantee won’t affect his team’s mindset throughout the week.
“It could be at stake, so why not prepare for it?” Bolden said.
Realistically, most of the team doesn’t need a championship on the line to get fired up for Ohio State. Michigan hasn’t beaten the Buckeyes in the last three years. There are seniors who have never beaten them.
So even if “The Game” amounts to nothing but pride, a win wouldn’t mean any less to the Wolverines.
For players like junior tight end Jake Butt, who grew up just outside Columbus in Pickerington, Ohio, and junior cornerback Jourdan Lewis, who went to Detroit Cass Tech — a high school heavily recruited by both universities — the rivalry has some additional dimensions.
“Honestly, (Cass Tech head coach Thomas) Wilcher is a Michigan guy,” Lewis said. “So we (are) always Michigan guys. Just a few guys stray going to Ohio State. But honestly, it’s a Michigan thing there.”
Eight Cass Tech alumni will be on the rosters for the game: three for Ohio State and five for Michigan. And with former teammates facing off, banter is a given.
“We haven’t really talked about it yet, but I’m pretty sure we’ll get into it later in the week,” Lewis said.
As for Butt, childhood memories make a chance to play in the rivalry even more special. Butt specifically recalled watching the 2006 “Game of the Century,” which the Buckeyes won, 42-39.
“I grew up around that rivalry — friends were Ohio State fans, had friends that were Michigan fans — and it would always just be such a huge event and something you look forward to right after Thanksgiving,” Butt said. “It’s really special to play in that game. Growing up around that rivalry, it’s something I always dreamt of playing in some day.”
Ohio State never offered Butt, but on Saturday, he’ll have his third chance to beat the Buckeyes. Getting his team to the Big Ten Championship game would be gravy on top.