Jack Miller hasn’t liked Ohio State since 2002, and the Michigan football team’s redshirt junior center isn’t afraid to say so.
It’s rivalry week, after all.
“I’ll say it in the most diplomatic way I can: I’m not a fan of Ohio State. I never have been,” Miller said. “Ever since they beat Miami in the 2002 National Championship, I always disliked them. I don’t like The Horseshoe, and I don’t like ‘Carmen Ohio.’ ”
And yes, that was the diplomatic statement. He saved the other version for his teammates.
The Wolverines are 20-point underdogs for their game against the Buckeyes Saturday in Columbus. And given the way both teams’ seasons have gone, that line might seem a little too small. Michigan is fighting for bowl eligibility, while Ohio State has secured a spot in the Big Ten Championship and is battling for a berth in the College Football Playoff.
But in this rivalry, one Michigan coach Brady Hoke considers “the greatest one in sport,” rankings often don’t matter. Last year, for instance, the Wolverines opened as 12.5-point underdogs, yet scored what would have been the game-tying touchdown with 32 seconds remaining.
Instead of sending the game to overtime by kicking an extra point, though, Michigan’s seniors elected to go for the win with a two-point conversion. The attempt failed, and the Wolverines lost, 42-41.
“That’s what makes rivalries like this so great, is you know everyone is going to bring their A game,” Miller said. “We were able to put some things together, probably, that we hadn’t up until that point. I wish I knew why. … Hopefully, we’ll be in that kind of situation again, where it’s neck and neck and we can put ourselves in a chance to win the game.”
Hoke was born and has coached in Ohio, while defensive coordinator Greg Mattison coached against the Buckeyes in the 2007 BCS National Championship. But Miller, one of 23 players from Ohio on the Wolverines’ roster, has a different connection to Ohio State — his girlfriend goes to school there.
Fortunately for their relationship, Miller’s girlfriend is rooting for the Wolverines. If she weren’t, the center claimed it would be a deal-breaker.
“Winning means a lot,” he said. “It’s bragging rights for sure.”
Both Miller and coaches expressed a great deal of respect for the Buckeyes, which have won 34 games — compared to 21 by Michigan — since the last time the Wolverines won “The Game,” in 2011.
“They deserve what they’ve gotten, no doubt about it,” Miller said. “They’re a great program, they’ve got great players, they’re well-coached. People get what they deserve, and they’re having a good season, and I’m sure they deserve that.
“It’s not tough to see that. It’s tough that we’re not doing as well as we think we should being doing.”
Saturday could mark the last collegiate game for Michigan’s 12 seniors. That should be enough motivation, and the opponent will add plenty of fire to the matchup. But the Wolverines haven’t done well against rivals this year, losing by a combined 55 points to Michigan State and Notre Dame, plus a home blowout defeat to Minnesota.
But Miller warned that Ohio State week is different.
“As far as rivalries go, they’re all important, but I’d be lying, being from Ohio, if I said this wasn’t the most important,” he said.