By MITCH STACY
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – The stakes for this year’s edition of The Game couldn’t be higher.
A win for No. 2 Ohio State (11-0, 8-0 Big Ten, No. 2 CFP) or No. 3 Michigan (11-0, 8-0, No. 3 CFP) means a trip to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship and keep their national championship dreams alive.
While a scenario might exist that Saturday’s game loser could still enter the college football playoffs through a back door, the more likely outcome is a consolation bowl game and 365 days of pain.
“If you lose this game, it’s a tough year,” said Ohio State coach Ryan Day, whose team suffered a 42-27 loss to the Wolverines in 2021. “You can’t hide from that.”
Both teams go unbeaten for the first time since 2006. This is the 13th time they have met as top-five teams in the AP Top 25 since 1942. It’s arguably the biggest game of the series since 2016. Second-placed Ohio State beat third-placed Michigan 30-27 in double overtime.
“It’s like two superheroes going head-to-head,” said Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh.
Ohio State quarterback CJ Stroud and Michigan running back Blake Corum are Heisman Trophy contenders whose teams expect to take charge Saturday. It could be Stroud’s last chance to beat the Wolverines; He’s eligible for the spring NFL draft.
For the state of Ohio, there’s the revenge factor. The Buckeyes were No. 2 last season when they were humiliated in Ann Arbor. That loss led to a streak of eight straight Rivalry Game wins, denied the Buckeyes a Big Ten championship for the first time in five years, and dashed their hopes of getting into the CFP.
“It motivated all of us off-season, so we worked really hard to get to this moment right here,” Day said this week. “And now it’s time to prepare as best we can and that’s what we’re going to focus on physically, mentally and emotionally to play the toughest game we’ve ever played.”
Harbaugh clinched his first win of the series in six attempts last year. He’s just as confident this time. He called his players “happy warriors on a happy mission”.
“I think you’ll find that we’re carved from the right stuff,” he said.
Corum, who was injured last week, said his left knee is fine and he expects to play. The Wolverines are also hoping his backup, Donovan Edwards, will play, as well as tight end Luke Schoonmaker and defensive end Mike Morris after missing last week’s game with undisclosed injuries.
“We don’t spend time investigating whether or not (Corum) is playing,” Ohio State defense coordinator Jim Knowles said. “Only assuming he will play. He is an exceptional back.”
Ohio State star running backs TreVeyon Henderson and Miyan Williams have been battling various injuries throughout the season. Henderson was forced to leave last week’s game against Maryland, ending it on the touchline in hiking boots. Williams didn’t even get dressed for the game. Her status for Saturday is unknown.
A pleasant surprise for the Buckeyes was the emergence of true rookie Dallan Hayden, who delivered his second straight 100-yard rushing game. Hayden carried 27 times for 146 yards and three touchdowns in the Buckeyes’ 43-30 win over the Terps.
IT’S BEEN A WHILE
The Wolverines have not played at Ohio Stadium since 2018.
“Most of the players on that team weren’t there, the last time it was obviously COVID and we couldn’t go,” left tackle Ryan Hayes said. “I’ve heard stories. I expect a noisy, crazy environment. We’ve played these games before. I think we will be prepared.”
LEBRON ON YOUR SIDE
Ohio native LeBron James said he wanted to make sure the Buckeyes had stylish shoes for the big game, so he provided specially designed Nike shoes with his logo.
AP sportswriter Larry Lage contributed to this report.
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