Both Ohio State and Michigan are on the outside of the Big Ten East race after losses to Michigan State, but conference standing never much mattered to one of college football's greatest rivalries. The Buckeyes and Wolverines kick off their annual season-ending hatefest at noon Saturday, with television coverage on ABC.
Ohio State lost its first Big Ten regular season game in nearly four years last week, knocking the Buckeyes out of the College Football Playoff bracket, and have faced some controversy in the fallout of that loss. But Ohio State remains the defending national champion and potent on both sides of the ball. Running back Ezekiel Elliott will certainly get more than twelve carries against the hated Wolverines, and the Buckeye defense is second nationally in points allowed.
Michigan has returned to national prominence even sooner than expected after hiring Jim Harbaugh, and only a fluke loss to Michigan State on a fumbled punt is keeping them from the playoff race. Michigan has done it on defense: The Wolverines are second nationally in total defense, second in pass efficiency defense, fourth in rushing and passing yards allowed, and second in third down conversion percentage allowed. Quarterback Jake Rudock, who transferred from Iowa to Michigan this offseason, has blossomed into an effective passer and efficient game manager under Harbaugh's tutelage.
How to watch, stream and listen
TV: Noon ET, ABC
Online streaming: WatchESPN
Three big things to know
Wherefore art thou, Ezekiel: Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott, who rose to national prominence during last season's playoff run and looked like a potential Heisman Trophy winner through most of 2015, got only twelve carries in last week's defeat. It was his lowest number of touches since the season opener against Virginia Tech, and his 33 rushing yards were his fewest since the 2014 Virginia Tech game. Needless to say, he was unhappy about that. But will Urban Meyer respond to Elliott's criticism of last week's playcalling by leaving his star halfback on the bench? Or will Elliott get a chance to shine against OSU's most bitter rival?
According to Jim: Harbaugh hasn't been a participant in the Michigan-Ohio State game since graduating from Michigan in 1987, but he has added even more fuel to an already-raging fire. Harbaugh is getting involved in rivalry week antics and has circled this game from the moment he returned. Michigan has not beaten Ohio State in four years. Urban Meyer is undefeated against the Wolverines while in Columbus. And Harbaugh is in Ann Arbor, first and foremost, to reverse those two trends.
Beyond rivalry: There are potential title implications in this game, as well. Should Michigan State stumble against Penn State this Saturday, the winner of Ohio State-Michigan would play Iowa for the Big Ten Championship. And with both teams in the current College Football Playoff Top 10, a late run to the Playoff isn't entirely out of the question for either.