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Go ahead and admit it: You’re thinking about The Game. You are thinking about Michigan waltzing into the Horseshoe undefeated, ready to take on Ohio State. 

Maybe you’ve been thinking about The Game for a while: Perhaps you thought sophomore quarterback J.J. McCarthy would give the Wolverines a better chance to beat the Buckeyes, and so you vouched for McCarthy to unseat senior Cade McNamara under center. You may have wondered what Michigan could do to the raucous crowd in Columbus after it tamed a hostile environment in Iowa City, vanquishing the curse of Kinnick Stadium. 

And you’re almost certainly thinking about The Game now, after the Wolverines bludgeoned then-No. 10 Penn State on Saturday. Having passed their stiffest test to date with flying colors, they are making anything seem possible.

It’s only mid-October, but you aren’t wrong to be thinking about The Game. That’s how the rivalry should operate. 

The Game is always circled on calendars; it’s a barometer by which seasons are both judged and remembered. But it’s not quite the same when the stakes aren’t high — when championships aren’t on the line. 

Think of 2017, when Michigan — at one point the seventh-ranked team in the nation — limped into The Game unranked. Or 2019, when the Wolverines — No. 7 in the preseason poll — entered The Game with momentum, but in reality, nothing to play for compared to the top-ranked Buckeyes. 

In each of those instances, Ohio State held up its end of the bargain: a consistent national powerhouse steamrolling its way through the rest of the Big Ten.

Michigan didn’t. 

Throughout the season, you surely kept an eye on the Buckeyes, growing excited when they lost and spiteful when they won. But something felt hollow. 

Now? 

Michigan seems poised to head into Columbus touting an 11-0 record. A berth in the Big Ten Championship Game, and potentially the College Football Playoff, should be on the line — just like last year. 

“Last year we built a foundation,” senior edge rusher Mike Morris said Saturday. “This year, we’re building a mansion.” 

The Game will dictate that, as it should. That’s why it’s OK to think about how Michigan stacks up against Ohio State, even well before November — let alone Nov. 26. 

Finally, it feels like the Wolverines are where they should be, no longer a sleeping national power but a dominant force. The outlook in Ann Arbor has changed. At the onset of this season, questions loomed about how much Michigan could carry over from last year’s revelation. Turns out, it maintained a whole lot. 

“We were good last year, but I don’t think we were good enough to beat Georgia and teams like that in the SEC,” fifth-year cornerback Gemon Green said. “We’re trying to be a lot better than last year.” 

Just like last year, they’re 7-0. So, are they better?

“Of course,” Green said Tuesday. “Especially if we keep getting better. We ain’t at the point where we want to be at right now, but we want to get better every week and eventually we’re gonna be at that peak.” 

Green knows the end goal, and he knows that the peak will be needed in Columbus. Which is why, even though it may feel like Michigan is reaching its peak — having drubbed Penn State — players don’t feel that way. 

“This is our expectation,” senior offensive lineman Trevor Keegan said of the Wolverines’ relentless rushing attack. “It’s going to be our expectation, year after year.” 

Keegan’s statement is applicable to Michigan’s success as a program. Dominance is a realistic expectation. Dominance allows you to look forward to Ohio State. 

It’s why you can wonder if junior Blake Corum, sophomore Donovan Edwards and the Wolverines’ offensive line can replicate last year’s historic performance. It’s why you can ponder if the suddenly revived pass rush can mimic Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo’s exploits from last season. 

But dominance is why you can shutter, too, at the thought of Michigan’s secondary going up against Ohio State’s uber-talented receiving corps. It’s why you can worry over the Wolverines’ linebackers and how they’ll hold up in pass coverage when facing a dynamic quarterback like C.J. Stroud. 

There’s still a fine line between overlooking and looking forward. Michigan has four games left before the clash with Ohio State. Michigan State always has — and always will — play the Wolverines hard. Illinois is suddenly a Top-25 team and arguably the favorite to claw its way out of the Big Ten West. 

But the reality is the Wolverines should be undefeated heading into Columbus; at this point, it would be a failure not to be. Their only road game is in Piscataway against Rutgers, and that might as well be framed as a home game. Michigan State is shambolic. Nebraska is, well, even more of a mess. 

And so the road once again leads to Columbus.

It should be another top-five matchup, another classic rendition of college football’s most-storied rivalry. The stakes will be epic, just like last year. 

It’s OK to begin thinking about that, if you haven’t already. Start dreaming of hypotheticals. Begin to mentally brace yourself for the magnitude and the trash talk. Continue to boast and brag and cling to last year’s game a little longer, while you still can. 

Because The Game will be here soon, and the season is careening toward it, as it always does. It doesn’t always feel like this — anticipation brewing in October, both teams with their aspirations neatly laid out in front of them. 

But that’s the way it should be. So yeah, go ahead. Keep thinking about it.