For both Michigan football and Ohio State, everything is on the line Saturday when the undefeated teams face off for The Game.
The winner will advance to the Big Ten Championship Game to face Iowa and will have an inside track to a top two seed in the College Football Playoff semifinals —
the last time it will be a four-team invitational. The loser will miss out on the former and almost certainly the latter.
Considering the ‘championship or bust’ mentality in Ann Arbor all offseason, losing is not an option for the Wolverines.
With a weak nonconference schedule and having only faced one ranked team in Penn State thus far,
Saturday provides an opportunity to show that the early-season dominance wasn’t just beating up on bad teams,
but that it was just evidence of who the Wolverines have been all along. Given all of the off-field allegations surrounding the maize and blue,
a win would also silence many of Michigan’s critics — many, but not all.
For senior left guard Trevor Keegan, this game is so paramount in importance, a loss would completely erase any good things that took place in those games that precede The Game.
“We think about that every day. This is a game that we prepare for. We don’t win this game, the season doesn’t matter,” Keegan said. “
All of our goals are right there in front of us, we want to go the national championship, we want to win the Big Ten championship.
And we’ve got to beat the team down south in order to do that. So I mean — most definitely.”
Michigan entered the season with five goals, in this order: beat Michigan State, beat Penn State, beat Ohio State, win the Big Ten, win the national championship.
The first two have been accomplished, but neither of the latter two can be accomplished without the middle one, which is arguably the most important of the five.
The Wolverines don’t want to settle for a New Year’s Six bowl game, they want to make their third straight College Football Playoff appearance.
Sixth-year linebacker Michael Barrett echoed Keegan’s sentiments while noting the importance of The Game in this moment.
“That’s kind of every season. We always know we got that big one at the end of the year that kind of matters more than the rest of them,” Barrett said.
“We’ve had our goals from the beginning. And we’ve knocked them all off. And they’re the next team in a way. So if we don’t win this game, then yeah, like our season pretty much be over.
“We can’t get our next goal without getting to this one, without over getting over this one. So yeah, I could agree with that.”
Senior right guard Zak Zinter noted, like Barrett, it’s one of many goals for the maize and blue. And now that it’s here on Michigan’s doorstep, it’s time to scratch it off the list.
“It’s just one of our goals that we’ve had all year,” Zinter said. “Beat Michigan State, Penn State, the next one’s up. So we’re gonna do everything we can do that.”