So different, in fact, that it took Malcolm Jenkins one year to settle into exactly what the game meant.
Jenkins, in case you had forgotten, isn't exactly a wallflower. In fact, the former cornerback is one of the more confident – and loquacious – players to suit up for the Scarlet and Gray in recent seasons.
But when he was on the sideline for his first installment of The Game in 2005 – Jenkins wasn't a starter his freshman year but played as the team's nickel back – he learned a lot by standing by and watching the Buckeyes' 25-21 comeback win in Ann Arbor.
"That was my first year and I didn't really play in that game, but I just saw the difference in the seniors and the starters in their preparation and their intent as they were playing," he said. "They were really, I could tell, trying to hurt people out there. I could tell they had stepped it up to a whole 'nother level. Just being able to watch it my freshman year was huge for me."
The New Jersey native and current member of the New Orleans Saints went on to star the next three seasons for the Buckeyes, putting up a 4-0 record in the series from 2005-08.
And by the time he was a senior, Jenkins' feistiness came to represent the Ohio State side in the rivalry. On Michigan's first play from scrimmage in the 2008 game Jenkins' senior year, the cornerback bodyslammed U-M wideout Greg Mathews to the ground at the end of the play.
"I remember that," Jenkins said with a grin. "I watch that play from time to time. I remind him when I play him in the (NFL) now.
"I feel it's to a point now where if you're a defensive back or a receiver, if you don't get into some scuffle within the first 10 plays, you're not doing something right, It has to happen. That's just what it is. You come out and you set the tone. That's what kind of game it is."
That might be a little bit over the top – "I don't think I'd do well in a fight," OSU nickel back Tyler Moeller deadpanned – but there's no doubt the intensity will be over the top once the ball goes in the air Saturday at noon in Ann Arbor, and those who haven't been initiated will find out quickly.
Take the example of Moeller, who made his debut in 2007 and remembers the first hard hit he suffered from a Michigan player.
"I forget his name but I definitely remember it," Moeller said. "I was blitzing off the end and I remember I was going to chuck the running back and get to the quarterback and it didn't happen that way. He gave me a pretty hard lick. That's when I knew how tough the game was going to be from then on out. This game is the hardest you've been hit all year.
"Guys who have played the game know that. We need to make sure we address that to the younger guys that this is going to be a tough game so you'd better bring your ‘A' game and be physical because it's going to be the toughest game you've played all year."
The feeling is the same no matter where a player is from. Senior left tackle Mike Adams grew up close to the rivalry in suburban Columbus – Dublin, to be exact – and thus heard about The Game from a young age.
"Your first play you're obviously nervous," Adams said. "Your heart's beating a thousand beats a minute. After that first hit, though, everything kind of slows down and you can really focus in. Just the intensity of the whole game is just awesome."
Meanwhile, senior linebacker Andrew Sweat is from outside the state in Washington, Pa. They don't live and breathe the rivalry there, but he learned quickly just what it meant to suit up in the series as a freshman in 2008.
"It was my freshman year and I was on special teams," he said of his debut. "Just the aura around that game. When you run out of the tunnel and see Michigan run out of the tunnel. Obviously I wasn't an Ohio State fan when I grew up – I was from Pennsylvania – but I had so much respect for that game.
"Michigan vs. Ohio State is something special. Everyone realizes that, but once you play in that game and you feel those emotions and feelings, it's just something indescribable."
Many of the players questioned mentioned that you learn quickly that one yard simply means more than one yard when the winged helmets are opposite the silver tops of Ohio State.
As a result, there is a tendency to get too amped up, but the goal is to strike a happy medium between intense, physical and in control of one's self, offensive coordinator Jim Bollman said.
"One of my all time favorite old-time sayings is, ‘to play this game on a verge of a rage,'" he said. "And if you get into a rage you may not play it very well. You have got to remember it is a football game. You can go back through the years and everybody wants to play this game to the best of their ability, anyone who has the privilege of playing in this game and you got to really examine how you go about doing that."