The Buckeyes were back at it on Sunday, hard at work in preparation for Saturday's showdown at Michigan (noon, ABC national telecast). The stakes have rarely been higher for The Game as the winner will be the outright Big Ten champion and have at least a berth in the Rose Bowl to look forward to.
Plus, you have the hype surrounding the 100th rendition of The Game, and you can see that this will be one special game this Saturday in Ann Arbor.
"It's going to be everything a college football recruit and player should get to do in their lifetime," said OSU offensive tackle Shane Olivea. "This will now be my fourth game. The last time we went up there, I got injured and we won the game. Then, the way we won last year was something. It's going to be a tough game. This is the most balanced Michigan team they've had since I've been here. Obviously, they play a lot better at home than on the road.
"It's the greatest college football rivalry. Everybody is going to be watching it and I'll just be fortunate to be playing in it."
OSU coach Jim Tressel arrived on the scene two years ago and promptly served notice by guiding the Buckeyes to their first win in Michigan Stadium in 14 years with a 26-20 win. Last year, OSU clinched a 13-0 regular season and advanced to the national championship game with a 14-9 home win over the Wolverines.
Following the Purdue game, Tressel was asked if his 2-0 record against UM would have any impact on this game.
"No, not a thing," Tressel said.
Even last year – when OSU became the first Big Ten team to reach college football's holy grail with the Bowl Championship Series title game – Tressel focused the attention following that momentous win to the rivalry, not the Fiesta Bowl.
"Ohio State-Michigan is the biggest game of the year," Tressel said after the Purdue game. "It's the last game and it's exciting we have a chance to participate in it."
The coach admitted the Buckeyes would not dwell on the Purdue win for very long.
"When you're in the middle of the long battle like we are, really once this game is over, you can't help but think about the next one, so I doubt we'll get to relish very long," he said.
Ohio State (10-1, 6-1 Big Ten) remained fourth in both the Associated Press media poll and the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll. Some BCS projections predict OSU will move past USC into second place in the standings when they are announced Monday evening.
And yet, with all of that to play for, fifth-ranked Michigan (9-2, 6-1) has been installed as a seven-point favorite over OSU. Tressel said he understands why.
"We get to see team video of the whole league while we're preparing for all the various teams and Michigan is very good," Tressel said. "Shoot, they're an outstanding football team. They're a veteran football team. They have veterans at key positions and they're one of the best teams in the country."
Following the win over Purdue, a number of OSU players were already in the mood to discuss the season-ending showdown.
"It's a perfect script, I guess," said senior tight end Ben Hartsock. "It's going to be exciting. Everybody is excited about it. As big as this game was, it's going to be bigger."
A month ago, redshirt freshman flanker Santonio Holmes was on the sideline. But an injury to starter Drew Carter has moved the explosive Holmes to the forefront. He is looking forward to swapping paint with the Wolverines on Saturday.
"I have played in four games and started three games," Holmes said. "I know we're going into a hostile place and it's going to be tough. We know it's the 100th meeting with Michigan and it's going to be tough. They've got a pretty good defense. I've watched a little bit of film on them. We know they are going to be aggressive. At the same time, we just need to stay focused and do the things we've been doing."
"The coaches were telling us in the locker room after the game that the only thing that matters right now is winning the Big Ten. It doesn't matter about going to the (national) championship or anything else. The only thing that matters is winning the Big Ten.
"Our seniors, I just think they're ready. This is their last chance to beat Michigan and I think they're going to take the opportunity."
OSU has reeled off five straight wins since a midseason loss to Wisconsin. Likewise, Michigan has won five straight since an early loss to Iowa.
"We've tried to do our best to keep working hard and take them game by game," said OSU defensive back Nate Salley. "After we lost the Wisconsin game, I believe that was a wake-up call to everyone to get our stuff together and play harder. At the same time, we knew we still had a chance to make our dreams come true.
"It will be a fun game with the 100th game. It should be exciting."
Olivea said OSU, which has posted a 24-1 mark over the last two seasons, has a lot of tight game experiences to borrow on as it heads to Michigan.
"I just think it's our character," he said. "We never point a finger or get down on each other. It's a team game. It doesn't matter how you win. A win is a win. We have one more game to reach our goal, which is playing on Jan. 4."
Two years ago, cornerback Dustin Fox was a true freshman playing the nickel back for OSU. His final-play interception clinched the rare win in Ann Arbor. He knows the Buckeyes will have to play their best game if they expect to win.
"It's going to be crazy, man," Fox said. "The Big House, it's just going to be a great atmosphere. It's a big-time rivalry. We know they're going to try and pound the ball and they also have a great quarterback. They can run the ball and we obviously have to try and shut that down.
"It's Michigan, I don't know what else you have to say about that."
* Since the inception of the Associated Press poll in 1936, this will mark the ninth time that The Game has matched teams ranked in the top five. OSU holds a 5-2-1 edge in such games, winning in 1942, 1968, 1970, 1974 and 1975. Michigan won top-five battles with OSU in 1977 and 1997. The teams tied 10-10 in 1973.
* This marks the sixth time that Michigan and Ohio State will enter The Game with a combined 19 wins or more. It also happened in 1973 (19 wins, tie), 1974 (19 wins, OSU win), 1995 (19 wins, UM win), 1997 (20 wins, UM win), 2002 (21 wins, OSU win) and 2003 (19 wins).
* This will mark the 12th time that The Game will have an "either/or" impact on the Big Ten championship (i.e. the winner can get at least a piece of the title and the loser does not).
Michigan has a 6-5 win in such games with wins in 1950, 1964, 1978, 1980, 1990 and 2000. OSU won such either/or games in 1942, 1968, 1970, 1975 and 1981.